By Sylvain Roy
Today the world is more interconnected and interdependent than ever. And yet one in nine people around the world go hungry every day. Food security is more than a nation-by-nation concern. Through investments in agriculture development programs in emerging and developing economies and a sustained global commitment we are making progress towards eliminating hunger but more needs to be done.
The United States has one of the most advanced agricultural systems in the world. Sophisticated technologies—biological, chemical, genetic and mechanical—have transformed U.S. farming into a finely engineered system of food production, processing and distribution. It is our entrepreneurial skills and free enterprise values that set us apart and contribute to our ability to transfer those elements for business success to men and women in every culture.
This high level of expertise has allowed the United States to produce ever greater amounts of food, at very low cost, meet or exceed its domestic needs, and develop important markets for our know-how.
And that same expertise, when introduced and fostered in developing nations, is the key to creating new overseas markets for U.S. technologies, goods and services while supporting less advanced countries lifting out of poverty.
While we should not lose sight of the primary humanitarian goals of U.S.-sponsored programs that fund agricultural initiatives to promote food security in the developing world, the truth is that when those efforts produce positive results, they also generate a concomitant gain in the ability of the recipient economies to eventually buy U.S. goods and services.
The model is simple: When a donor nation helps a developing nation increase and improve its agricultural production, the recipient nation experiences a gain in its GDP contributing directly to the development of its middle-class, high consumers of manufactured goods.
Another advantage to aid spent on agricultural development in these countries is that it also generates a greater economic “bang per buck” than does funding spent on nonagricultural initiatives.
One major reason for this is that smallholder farmers—many of them economically disadvantaged subsistence farmers—play a major and even primary role in the agricultural systems of developing nations, such as those sub-Saharan Africa. In such countries, agriculture also comprises a larger share of the national economy.
It therefore makes eminent sense that because a large share of households participate in agriculture in these countries, agricultural growth directly affects and improves the economic well-being and food security of more members of the population than it would in a developed nation.
This is borne out by various research studies which indicate that agricultural growth in these countries is significantly more effective in reducing poverty than growth in non-agricultural sectors. According to the World Bank, for example, growth in the agricultural sector can be up to 3.2 times more effective at reducing poverty among those who live on $1 a day than growth in other sectors.
Donor-funded programs that increase production in populations where agriculture plays a dominant role enable smallholder farmers to move beyond reliance on subsistence farming, and allow them begin to monetize their production in a way that raises the economic fortunes of their communities.
When these initiatives spread across networks of communities and regions, they engender new opportunities for growth all along the supply chain for those who produce, store, distribute and sell the food products—and for those who provide products and services to the supply-chain participants.
And as is the case when vibrant new economies emerge, consumers and businesses alike can be counted on to ramp up their consumption of imported goods and services that are not available domestically—and which they now can afford to purchase.
And all of this occurs while improving the food security of the recipient nations and—as is critically important in today’s volatile political environment—while helping to stabilize those societies through economic means rather than through other more drastic measures. It reduces the number of people who are hungry and economically disadvantaged declines. Poor and hungry populations contribute to unstable societies, ones which easily fall prey to radicalization that may endanger nations far beyond their borders.
All of these benefits together represent a huge return on investment for donors and recipients alike.
Agriculture is one of the oldest human activities dedicated to increasing mankind’s prosperity and well-being. When we fund programs that share and propagate agricultural solutions with others around the world, we are harnessing one of the most time-tested, cost-effective tools at our disposal to improve the livelihoods of all parties involved in the effort.
And it is a formula for success that is ever more important in today’s hungry world.
About the author: Sylvain Roy is the President and CEO of CNFA: Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture.