Why Haven’t the Best Agricultural Technologies Ended Poverty in the Developing World?
Today’s agricultural technologies hold tremendous promise for the 800 million worldwide who are chronically undernourished. It remains important to advance agronomic innovations, but average smallholder farm yields consistently fall well below what is technologically possible. This could mean that for many of these farmers, these innovations remain out of reach.
In many ways, poor and smallholder farmers at risk of poverty have been left out of broader agricultural growth. Limited assets and credit and a lack of infrastructure in poor, rural areas are both barriers to adopting more productive technologies and practices. Imperfect and underdeveloped markets can also keep higher yields from leading to higher incomes, limiting these farmers’ contributions to broader economic growth.
Risk itself—from a growing worldwide threat of drought, flood and unpredictable weather—also keeps the most productive innovations out of reach. For many farmers, each disaster carries the potential for losses that could be irreversible. As a consequence, they often protect their future food stores by using familiar but less-productive technologies and methods, choosing not to risk their limited funds on unfamiliar innovations. This struggle especially keeps many farmers from growing their way out of poverty.
Delivering on the Promise of Agricultural Innovations for Smallholder Farmers
Agricultural growth reduces poverty and hunger more than any other form of development. This impact is even greater when that growth includes small farms that are most at risk. To achieve the end of poverty and hunger worldwide requires more than improved technologies and practices alone. We must strengthen everyone’s capacity throughout the food and agriculture system.
The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Assets and Market Access leads research in key areas that manage risk, develop markets and encourage the adoption of transformative production technologies. Our work shows that reducing financial constraints and improving insurance models make it easier for farmers and pastoralists to take advantage of technological improvements for higher yields. Strengthening markets and increasing access can help smallscale producers—especially women—increase their profitability from production to end-market retail.
Maintaining gains in the long-term will require that we explore integrated, flexible systems that cultivate resilience and self-reliance. Our body of research on well-established risk-reducing instruments shows that pulling risk out of agricultural systems helps farmers protect their assets and make prudent investments toward a future free of the need for emergency aid.