Millions Fed: Proven Successes in Agricultural Development

Learning from Success

Source: © AVRDC - The World Vegetable Center
Mungbean cultivation, Asia.

The world needs to greatly accelerate its progress in reducing poverty and hunger. At present, one in six people worldwide suffers from hunger and malnutrition—a tragically high proportion—and many more cannot afford a healthy diet. And as progress is being made, more challenges are on the way: the world’s population is projected to grow to 9 billion by 2050, climate change is raising risks for farmers, environmental degradation is contributing to poor soils and scarce water, and we still face the same problems that led to devastating volatility in food prices in 2008.

It is also important to remember that the world has already achieved great successes in agricultural development that have fed billions. After all, although a grim Malthusian world once seemed inevitable, some 5 billion people now have enough food to lead a healthy and productive life and the proportion of people who are hungry is falling. The experiences of success that led to this achievement may offer valuable lessons about how to put agriculture to work to solve hunger and malnutrition. Until now, however, relatively little evidence has been available on where, why, and how these interventions succeeded.

To identify and examine successes in agricultural development and draw out the lessons they offer, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) called upon the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) to assess the evidence on what works in agriculture—what sorts of policies, programs, and investments in agricultural development have actually reduced hunger and poverty. This project follows on another recent project supported by BMGF and led by the Center for Global Development called “Millions Saved: Proven Successes in Global Health.”

The case studies of success were chosen through a rigorous process that included an open call for nominations, a wide-ranging literature review, and expert consultations. More than 250 candidate case studies were winnowed down using a comprehensive set of criteria that took into account such issues as scale, impact, and sustainability. A committee of recognized international experts provided valuable insights and advice. Ultimately, the project identified 20 proven successes. These spanned from interventions enhancing productivity to combating diseases and pests, conserving natural resources, expanding market opportunities, improving human nutrition, and improving the policy environment. A common thread running through many of these success stories is the confluence of science, policy, and leadership.

Until hunger and malnutrition are eradicated, success cannot be truly claimed. Our hope is that this effort will direct more attention to sound agricultural development investments that cut hunger and to facilitate the scaling up and replication of successes.

Joachim von Braun
Director General, IFPRI

Prabhu Pingali
Deputy Director, BMGF