Millions Fed: Proven Successes in Agricultural Development

Diversifying out of major cereals

The emphasis on markets also opened up new opportunities for cultivating and marketing non-staple crops—commodities such as legumes, fruits, and vegetables as well as dairy, livestock, and fish—as a means of increasing farm incomes and improving food security among the poor. Each success offers a different angle on how small-scale farmers, entrepreneurs, and policymakers responded to growth in market opportunities.

Across a range of Asian countries, the move away from food staples was exemplified by the diffusion of improved mungbean, a little-known pulse crop that is high in protein, iron, and other micronutrients, and particularly useful in maintaining soil fertility. Thanks to an international research program and active farmer participation in the research process, a wide range of mungbean varieties was released beginning in the mid-1980s, with traits such as higher yields, shorter maturity times, and other qualities that targeted a variety of agroecological conditions in the region. These improvements contributed to yield gains of 28 to 55 percent among an estimated 1.5 million farmers and were key factors in the 35 percent increase in Asian mungbean production between 1985 and 2000.

Global efforts to control and eradicate rinderpest—a livestock disease that, in its severest form, is capable of killing 95 percent or more of the animals it infects—reiterate the importance of livestock to rural livelihoods and food security. Concerted global, regional and national efforts in recent decades to control the spread of rinderpest through cattle vaccination, quarantine measures, and disease surveillance have played an important role in securing the livelihoods of small-scale farmers who keep livestock, as well as pastoralists whose livelihoods depend primarily on the health of their herds. Programs operating in Asia and Africa have helped to avoid potentially massive financial losses in terms of milk, meat, animal traction and, for many pastoralists, their main livelihood assets, and have brought rinderpest to the edge of eradication, the first time an infectious disease has been eradicated since smallpox in humans.

In India, Operation Flood, an innovative national program that ran from 1970 to 1996, helped create a national dairy industry that integrated small-scale farmers—many of them women—with village-level dairy cooperatives, commercial dairy processors and distributors, and new technologies to modernize the industry. With the backing of a supportive policy environment that ensured the dairy industry’s steady growth and development, India went from being a net importer of dairy products to a major player in the global dairy market. Between 1970 and 2001, dairy production in India increased at the respectable rate of about 4.5 percent per year, with estimates during 2007–08 indicating that dairy production has exceeded 100 million tons per year. As a result, millions of consumers now have better access to milk and other dairy products.

In the Philippines, the Genetic Improvement of Farmed Tilapia (GIFT) project that ran from 1988 to 1997 played an important part in enhancing the role of fish as a source of income and protein for many farmers and consumers. By breeding a tilapia strain that originated in Africa, the project developed a new strain that is faster growing and more resistant to environmental stresses than other strains. These improvements significantly boosted fish yields and output, thus increasing the availability of fish for consumers, reducing market prices, and providing a cheaper source of protein for the country’s poor.