The Knowledge to Act


New Report Tracks Agricultural Progress and How Successful Policies Can Be Replicated

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OTTAWA: Successfully eradicating poverty through agriculture depends whether a country has enough agricultural land, how fertile it is, and the demographic pressures.

That is the key finding of new research by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). The findings come from a first-of-its kind analytical framework, which tracks the performance of 117 countries over 45 years to understand which policies have succeeded or failed.

“Inclusive agricultural transformation is the bedrock of development. It can lead to increased productivity, higher incomes, food security and women’s empowerment,” said Carin Smaller, Senior Policy Advisor, IISD.

This global analysis explains how progress has been achieved in some countries in recent decades and what steps can be taken for countries to succeed - and the outlook is positive.

“Only 10 countries are still categorized by subsistence agriculture, compared with 30 in 1970,” explains David Laborde, Senior Fellow, IFPRI. “Except for countries at war, no country is worse off than they were decades ago. Our report in a clear indication that agricultural transformation fosters economic empowerment for countries and their communities.”

Key findings:

  • To determine the development needs of a particular country, look at how much agricultural land is available, how fertile it is, and birth rates. 
  • Agricultural development took off when countries removed price policies that penalize agriculture.
  • Public investment in research, extension services, electricity and irrigation are important, but the quality of those services can matter more than quantity.
  • Land reforms, research institutions and improving access to credit are also critical, but ultimately no country succeeded without a combination of policies and pubic investments that complemented each other.

“None of the countries studied were able to transform without an appropriate mix of policies and public investment that complemented each other at a given juncture,” Smaller said. “No single measure alone was sufficient to make good progress.”

The report’s analytical framework was complemented by a literature review of 180 papers and reports covering across 28 countries that allowed researchers to compare and contrast the policy priorities of countries with similar starting contexts, to understand the reasons for success and failure. The report’s findings are presented in such a way that any country, by locating itself in the correct cluster, can identify analogue countries and consider the policy and public investment strategies used in the past to help guide future decisions. A time-lapse map shows progress made by the countries highlighted in the report.

About the International Institute for Sustainable Development

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is an independent think tank that delivers the knowledge to act. Our mission is to promote human development and environmental sustainability. Our big-picture view allows us to address the root causes of some of the greatest challenges facing our planet today – ecological destruction, social exclusion, unfair laws and economic and social rules, a changing climate. With offices in Winnipeg, Geneva, Ottawa and Toronto, our work impacts lives in nearly 100 countries.

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