Millions Fed: Proven Successes in Agricultural Development

What worked?

Source: © Jeremy Horner/PANOS
Family harvest wheat, India

Successes in developing-country agriculture are extremely rich and diverse in nature, varying in time, space, and character. Some are successes that emerged for just a few short years to trigger long episodes of growth and development. Some have emerged from years of dogged persistence that yielded returns despite substantial risks, uncertainties, and doubts. Others have resulted from communities that took action to ensure their own survival under difficult environmental conditions. Still others are successes that were inspired by leaders and organizations who marshaled the resources needed to contain the spread of crop and livestock diseases that know no boundaries.

The pathways to success are also extremely varied. Some cases demonstrate how an improved crop variety or cultivation practice contributed to improving food security by increasing crop output per hectare of land, lowering production costs, or reducing crop losses caused by pests, diseases, drought, or soil erosion. Others demonstrate how new agricultural technologies improved the sustainable use of scarce resources like fertile soil and water, or enhanced the nutritional quality of food that people both cultivate and consume. Still others illustrate how changes in incentives—whether public policies, commercial regulations, or socioeconomic norms—encouraged farmers to produce more food, pursue more sustainable cultivation practices, and participate more actively in the marketplace.

But these pathways to success are not simply about increasing the physical supply of food. Rather, they are about reductions in hunger that result not only from an improvement in the physical availability of food, but also from a change in an individual’s ability to secure quality food. This change may result from any number of situations: an improvement in an individual’s ability to produce food within the farm household; an increase in income that provides a consumer with greater purchasing power in the market; or a shift in norms that reduces the impact of practices and behaviors that limit an individual’s entitlement to food within the household, community, or society.

We look at successes in six different areas:

  1. intensifying staple food production;
  2. integrating people and the environment;
  3. expanding the role of markets;
  4. diversifying out of major cereals;
  5. reforming economy-wide policies; and
  6. improving food quality and human nutrition.