Blog Post

Global perspectives on agricultural development: New IFPRI book released

While agricultural development has long been linked to increased food production and availability, improved farming productivity, and increased incomes for small farmers, the changing global landscape has resulted in agriculture playing a larger role in many other areas of human well-being, including reducing poverty, providing adequate nutrition, improving environmental sustainability, and promoting equity and equality among genders.

These and other issues are explored in depth in our new IFPRI book Agricultural Development: New Perspectives in a Changing World. It is the first comprehensive book to address the myriad issues facing agriculture today. In the four-part volume, dozens of experts examine (1) a global view of agriculture, (2) regional development patterns, (3) the current state of agriculture, and (4) emerging challenges and opportunities. A virtual book launch event will take place Feb. 4.

The book’s contributors explore topics such as nutrition, household decision-making behavior, trade and food value chains, natural resource management, climate change, agricultural research, and political economy. Agricultural Development, which compares developments across seven major regions, analyzes possible policy reforms for encouraging agricultural development and strategies for developing sustainable agriculture and reducing food insecurity and malnutrition.

Dynamics in agricultural growth and value chains

The book observes how the nonfarm economy has grown faster than farming areas, creating an income gap between rural and urban communities. This has resulted in a contraction of the rural labor force across the globe.

At the same time, rapid urbanization is also changing the dynamics of agricultural growth. The close linkage between agricultural development and urbanization is illustrated by the expansion of contract farming, which is designed to promote the production of new high-value products, such as fresh produce and meat and dairy. Such new production opportunities can increase rural incomes and reduce poverty.

Several the book’s chapters explore issues related to markets and international trade. In the past quarter-century, food chains have been transformed in several developing countries as grains and other staples declined and were replaced by animal and horticultural products. Rapid globalization has fundamentally and swiftly changed food value chains in those countries, creating opportunities for income growth and advances in development.

Challenges in nutrition, gender and smallholders

Not all trends in global food systems have been positive, however, and not all the benefits of growth have been equitably distributed.

Agricultural Development examines the links between agricultural development and nutrition, including increases in obesity, which has been seen mostly in lower- and middle-income countries. While obesity is on the rise undernutrition also remains stubbornly high in many developing countries, creating a double burden of malnutrition for countries, households, and even individuals.

Access to resources—from land to capital to information—is fundamental to the success of small farmers. Yet women are often handicapped in ownership and control of agricultural land and other assets in developing countries. Since women tend to devote more resources to children’s education, health, and nutrition, their lack of access to productive resources may lead to underinvestment in their human capital. Understanding household behaviors can inform efforts to improve gender equity and investments in child schooling, nutrition, and health.

For many smallholders, essential tools for investing in boosting the production and value of their crops, such as credit and insurance programs, remain inaccessible. The book explores several possibilities for creating more effective institutions to provide credit to smallholders, which would accelerate agricultural development.

Traditional crop insurance programs are rarely viable for small farmers in developing countries, in part because of moral hazard (when insured farmers do not exert optimum efforts to reduce risk or mitigate its impact) and adverse selection (when only risky farmers purchase insurance) but also because of the high costs of insuring small producers, the book notes. Although high expectations for the wide adoption of index insurance have not panned out, analyses highlight the ways to make insurance programs work in developing countries.

Climate change and future agrifood systems

Looming over all these challenges is the increasing threat of climate change and the need to orient agrifood systems toward sustainable development.

Achieving sustainable agricultural development without sacrificing environmental quality is one of the most important challenges in today’s world, especially if we are to achieve poverty reduction, food security, and better nutrition and health. The global environment, however, has been deteriorating, and climate change is expected to cause a substantial reduction in agricultural production unless adequate investments are made in productivity-enhancing technological development. Also worrisome is increasing water scarcity due to rising demand for water in industrialized and urban areas, dietary changes toward more water-intensive foods, and frequent droughts associated with climate change.

Agricultural Development stresses the need to strengthen our ability to mitigate and reduce environmental deterioration and to use natural resources more efficiently. Agricultural research will be critical for adaptation to climate change.

For more effective adaptation to climate change, greater investments in irrigation will be required. For sustainable resource management at a global scale, it is essential to reduce the cost of measuring, monitoring, and verifying the use of natural resources and greenhouse gas emissions. An international system is needed to determine penalties for resource use and greenhouse gas emissions and to enforce payments. The agricultural sector must contribute to solving climate change by constructing the proper incentive systems in natural resource use and inducing the development of natural-resource-saving technologies to achieve the critical goal of sustainable agricultural development.

Looking toward the future, escalating and new challenges are expected, which only further stresses the need for agriculture to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Agrifood systems are already undergoing remarkable changes, reflected in the modernization of food value chains and rural transformation. The better we understand these changes, the greater our chances of harnessing agriculture to contribute to a wide range of development goals that extend beyond agricultural productivity growth and food security. To this end, Agricultural Development brings together essential analyses to explore the most critical issues in the field today, making it an indispensable resource for policymakers, researchers, and students dedicated to improving agriculture for global well-being.

Keijiro Otsuka a Professor of Development Economics at Kobe University and Chief Senior Researcher at the Institute of Developing Economies, Tokyo; Shenggen Fan is a Chair Professor at China Agricultural University, Beijing, and a CGIAR System Board Member.