One reason why governments and the multilaterals have failed to give agriculture and agribusiness the support that they require is that the projects involved are usually not very high profile.
The construction of a new dam, school or hospital provides an excellent photo opportunity for those involved to promote both their work and themselves. The facts and figures of fertiliser production are frankly not as eye catching, while photos of canning factories are not as striking as those of a huge dam or smiling schoolchildren.
Yet the situation is changing, as the World Bank in particular is increasing its agricultural and agribusiness investment. The World Bank Group as a whole has set out an Agriculture Action Plan for 2013–15 that will focus on five key areas to help clients improve sustainable agricultural growth, incomes, nutrition and their resilience to climate change via:
(i) raising agricultural productivity and its resilience through support for better land and water management and improved technologies, including through the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research; and greater International Finance Corporation (IFC) support for critical inputs, such as fertiliser and farm equipment;
(ii) linking farmers to markets and strengthening value chains through support to improve infrastructure, post-harvest handling, trade and access to finance;
(iii) facilitating rural non-farm income through improving the rural investment climate and skills development;
(iv) reducing risk and vulnerability through support for risk management mechanisms and greater transparency in food markets; and
(v) enhancing environmental services and sustainability, including support to manage livestock systems, forests, oceans and to enhance carbon capture in soils.
All this sounds very promising but also rather vague, so it is worth looking at how the billions of dollars involved are actually being spent:
Cameroon: The Cameroon National Agricultural Extension and Research Programme Support Project supported the creation of producer groups and promoted community-led development planning: 474 contracts were signed between producer groups and private sector representatives for the provision of credit, inputs and marketing services.
As a result, maize yields increased from 1.3 tonnes per hectare (t/h) to 2.9 t/h; and cassava from 3 t/h to 13 t/h. The beneficiary assessment showed that 93% of women in the project zones received assistance from the project.
Morocco: The Morocco Irrigation-Based Community Development Project improved the quality of life of 58,800 inhabitants of poor rural communities in remote upland areas through the rehabilitation of medium-scale irrigation schemes and related community infrastructure.
There was a shift from lower-value cereal crops towards higher value horticultural and tree crops. Average net revenues doubled from S$1,051 to $2,095 per hectare.
Altogether, 11,022 hectares of irrigation systems were improved; 209 km of rural roads were built and journey times fell by two thirds, aiding the transport of goods to market. A total of 48 drinking water systems were installed, halving the time spent fetching water and increasing the time available for other farm work. As part of institutional strengthening, 69 water user associations were formed and all of these contributed in cash or in-kind to project financing.
Niger: The Niger Private Irrigation Promotion Project increased production and profitability of high value, irrigated crops by private, smallholder farmers with simple, low-cost technologies. Some 30,826 farmers adopted at least one new technology promoted by the project and some 13,087 women participated in project activities. The yields of four main crops increased by between 57% and 85% over seven.