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Investment in land and water in the context of the Special Programme on Food Security - J. Poulisse

J. Poulisse, Senior Economist and J. Thomas, consultant rural development
Land and Water Development Division, FAO, Rome


On the basis of a desk review of Special Programme on Food Security (SPFS) projects, this paper presents findings, reviews constraints, and examines how water control, soil management and plant nutrition issues relate to other aspects of the SPFS and to the goal of ensuring food security for all.


The FAO definition of food security is: “a state of affairs where all people at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. An estimated 800 million people worldwide suffer from malnutrition although food is not scarce at the world level. Food insecurity is a problem of lack of access resulting from either inadequate purchasing power or inadequate productive resources needed for subsistence. Other causes of food insecurity are drought, conflict, poverty, population growth, poor economies, and failures in governance and in aid. Rural areas have specific problems with fragile ecosystems, low productivity, neglect of pastoralism, narrow livelihood bases, weak infrastructure, few social services, and slow response to alerts. Resource - poor farmers have seen few benefits from economic liberalization, and financial markets view them as poor credit risks.

A livelihood encompasses income in cash and kind; social institutions such as kin, family and village, gender relations and property rights; and access to education, health services, roads, water supplies and other social and public services. It is sustainable when it can cope with stresses and shocks and maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets both now and in the future, while not undermining the natural resource base.


The SPFS is a principal strategy of FAO. It seeks to help low - income food - deficit countries (LIFDCs) improve their national and household food security on an economically and environmentally sustainable basis. It aims to promote rapid increases in productivity by small farmers in food production and other rural activities, reduce production fluctuations and improve food access through increased household incomes.

SPFS provides an opportunity to test innovative approaches on a small - scale with a view to their wider replication. The SPFS belongs to and is the responsibility of the participating countries with FAO acting as an international facilitator and catalyst. Its eventual success will depend on governments’ willingness to establish a political, social and economic climate conducive to agricultural growth and the alleviation of rural poverty.

The guiding principles of the SPFS are national ownership, a focus on high - potential foods and areas, participation, environmental awareness, and regard for the role of women. The SPFS approach emphasizes participation and building partnerships at all levels. It aims to involve all persons with a role to play: government officials of beneficiary and donor countries; scientists; extension workers; private traders and entrepreneurs; experts from intergovernmental agencies and NGOs; and farmers. It seeks to exclude no social group and to create no inequities and it attaches great importance to promoting the flow of information and knowledge to poor people. The SPFS generally endeavours to equip poor smallholders with productive assets in order to help them realize their potential.

The SPFS began in 1995 and is now operational in 60 countries (36 in Africa, 13 in Asia, seven in Latin America and two in Oceania). It consists of two phases: pilot (Phase I) and expansion (Phase II). Phase I involves demonstrations on farmers’ fields in selected areas within a country. These aim to: introduce farmers to innovative practices; enable participation in the evaluation of the technologies and management practices; identify and overcome obstacles to their adoption. Where reliable water supplies are unavailable, SPFS envisages the introduction of low - cost irrigation and drainage systems, together with better storage systems and land use practices to conserve water. When it begins, Phase II intends to create the environment for large - scale replication of development approaches that have proved successful.

Phase I has four main interrelated and complementary components: water control; crop intensification; diversification of production systems; and constraints analysis and resolution. The focus on water control reflects the fact that timely water availability is crucial for plant development. With some investment and knowledge, many farmers could use water to safely increase the yield, quality and timeliness of crops. Water control entails complementary measures for intensification and the proper maintenance and operation of infrastructures. The diversification of production systems recognizes the complexity of farming strategies and the need to develop ways of generating income, and the benefits of a more diversified nutrition. The constraints analysis process feeds back into Phase I and forwards to Phase II.

Water control

The SPFS focuses on the technologies of farm production including small water supplies under the control of farmers, such as furrow irrigation, pump systems and small water harvesting systems. Such decentralized production systems depend on a few centralized services to supply credit, seeds, animal disease diagnostics and pest control techniques.

Although in principle water is a public good, the 1992 Dublin Statement states that “water has an economic value in all its competing uses and should be recognized as an economic good”. Privatization is increasingly denying the poor access to water, especially for irrigation. The SPFS supports water appropriation by the rural poor to make their livelihoods less vulnerable, and to anchor their water rights in the law.

Realizing the potential of water control for self - employment and wage - employment by the rural poor requires thorough investigation, in particular with regard to gender equity.

The impact of a water control project on the nutritional situation of the community is not easy to demonstrate in a quantitative and objective way. The ultimate measure of a project’s success is the associated change in the nutritional level of the community. However, indicators of better nutrition require considerable time to become significant and meaningful.

Crop intensification and production system diversification

Agricultural intensification requires increased flows of nutrients to crops, a higher nutrient uptake and higher stocks of plant nutrients in soils. However, unless implemented properly, intensification can cause nutrient depletion, threaten biodiversity, increase erosion and, ultimately, environmental degradation. Without nutrient inputs, agriculture in the tropics results in nutrient mining. Thus, the SPFS project report from Guinea underscores the need for soil fertility management. Plant nutrition management depends largely on prevailing economic and social conditions. Farmers’ decisions depend on their economic situation and socio-economic environment; their perception of economic signals; and their acceptance of risks. Plant nutrition management can contribute to food security and to sustainable crop production.

Optimizing the management of plant nutrients while maximizing incomes for farmers within the local economic context entails local - level decisions on the management of and investment in local sources of nutrients (vegetation and livestock). The major aspects are: assessment of nutrient requirements; choice of sources and methods of supply; determination of the level of domestic fertilizer production required; price levels and subsidies for plant nutrients; legislative aspects; and technical support. Policy - making in these areas determines the extent to which farmers have access to plant nutrients and are able to increase their production while maintaining soil fertility. A farmer needs purchasing power to obtain external inputs, and advice on how to use them in a balanced way. In remote areas of developing countries, poor farmers lack purchasing power, mineral fertilizers are expensive because of transport costs and intermediaries, good advice is hard to obtain, and fertilizer subsidies have widely disappeared as a result of structural adjustment (FAO, 1998).

A concern in the SPFS is to overcome the yield gap (the usually considerable difference between per hectare yields in the food - challenged community and in experimental fields under controlled conditions). Among the reasons for this yield gap are: (i) government cuts in support for agricultural research (IFPRI, 1999); (ii) privatized research geared to farmers who can pay royalties rather than to subsistence farmers; (iii) limited research into crops grown in the tropics; (iv) constraints such as production costs and marketing.

Research - developed crop varieties need tending to in a particular context: the “technology package” surrounding the application of the selected seeds and ensuring the development of their potential. The main factors supporting the crop are water management at the root level, plant nutrition and pest protection. In Phase I, the SPFS tests and demonstrates the benefits of using improved seeds while adjusting the package to local conditions. If successful, the technology spreads to use by farmers who have had an opportunity to evaluate its application in their own household context.

Agricultural intensification and diversification have led the SPFS to support cash crops as a flexible way of improving nutrition, in particular for infants, and of facilitating children’s access to education. A diversified productive base, such as in the “field, pond and stable” approach in Southeast Asia, enhances household food security through a more intense use of the available assets, availability of more varied food, and the added ability to generate cash. Such systems are easily internalised, in particular when they offer an opportunity for women to employ their time more effectively. For example, freeing them from carrying water from distant sources can have a positive nutritional impact as they can apply more time and energy to productive activities.

Many urban poor and underemployed resort to the street trade of food though often beset by hygiene and health hazards and lacking suitable land, safe water and adequate inputs. Phase I has evidenced the links between rural and urban poverty and the need for coherent food security policies. Consequently, SPFS activities have incorporated urban and peri - urban agriculture.


This section presents project - specific data from initiatives in Africa and Asia (Boxes 1 and 2).

A Senegal case study

A study carried out in Senegal (Sonko, 2001) identified factors that contribute to food insecurity in the context of a rural village: (i) Lack of landownership. Obstacles include: high population pressure, land parcelling, difficulties in reaching remote land, settlement of borrowed land (owing to migration), social status and gender; (ii) Social disintegration. Disintegration of social culture in general and of the family in particular; (iii) Credit access difficulties. Chronic debt related to former financing mechanisms has removed capital from the rural economy; (iv) Lack of employment. Little development of off - farm employment opportunities; (v) Conflict and insecurity. Some production activities are risky because of low prices, floods and other contextual hazards; (vi) Disability and old age; and (vii) Macro - economic and structural adjustment - related policies may penalise rural activities.

Subsidized support tends to leak to the non - poor, where it is less effective in improving food security. For example, the Senegal study of sustainable livelihood approaches in the SPFS examined the situation at the Saré Bouka demonstration site. Ranking people by wealth, it found that 70 percent of those considered rich (19 percent of the population) received poultry, whereas only 22 percent of those considered poor (50 percent of the population) benefited from the programme. In the context of this village, the rich are people that fulfil their food needs over the year and have some surplus. Most of them have agricultural equipment and are able to recruit temporary workers. Some of them own businesses, save money, lend money or goods and have stocks of merchandise and provisions. Diligent monitoring and conservation can prevent the flow of project resources to the non - poor.

A Tanzania case study

Small - scale rural producers may apply over 80 percent of their household product to meeting their basic food requirements and their livelihood strategies may be complex. For example, a joint FAO/DFID analytical study of the application of sustainable livelihood approaches to SPFS (Temu, 2001), carried out in areas of Tanzania vulnerable to food scarcity, identified strategies that include: (i) providing casual labour against payment, often at distant places; (ii) engaging in off - farm activities such as brick making, quarrying and brewing; (iii) consuming alternative foods, e.g. roots and tubers; (iv) seeking help from the extended family; (v) borrowing food or money; and (vi) reducing food intake. The first three options are common to most livelihood strategies, while the last three relate to a state of food distress. Households on the brink of food insecurity have no savings and limited or no access to credit, and any failure in their strategic enterprises may result in acute food insecurity, dissolution of the household, emigration of the stronger and starvation of its weaker members. Such households adopt conservative risk management strategies and are averse to engaging in any speculation as long as their food supply is not secure.

A nutritional impact survey carried out in Tanzania during Phase I enabled better planning of Phase II (Egal, 2001). In Mali, the failure to conduct a preliminary study had a negative impact on certain social groups. The Tanzania study found no explicit documentation to indicate the undertaking of in - depth surveys and research to establish the food security status and vulnerability in the project area. With decisions based on secondary information and without a full understanding of economic and social forces, action will remain haphazard.

The FAO/DFID study found that current land tenure arrangements provide little incentive for smallholders to fully adopt the SPFS - recommended technological packages. Farmers highlighted problems of conflict between herders and crop producers. Other problems stemming from land tenure include apparent lack of concern to improve the quality of land by investing in it, and also failure to conserve it by measures such as fire prevention, erosion prevention, proper management of water catchments and tree planting.

In Tanzania, the participatory approach was advanced through: (i) formation of homogeneous social economic groups (Participatory Farmers Groups, PFGs); (ii) a participatory process of identifying production constraints; (iii) participatory selection of appropriate production technologies; (iv) farmer training to enable full participation in technology dissemination; (v) creating understanding and acceptance of the programme through awareness and sensitization about SPFS; and (vi) orienting training of village extension workers and equipping them with participatory techniques and relevant technologies. Interviews with officials indicated that the approach recommended in the “Guide on Participatory Group Formation” was valid and succeeded in promoting farmer participation.


Productivity gains depend increasingly on human resources. Professional training and integration of farming populations into the process of development must accompany improved health, nutrition and literacy levels. In this regard, Phase I tackled some activities originally envisaged for Phase II, such as farmers’ field schools. A number of points emerged. For example, technical solutions must be integrated with local issues to provide solutions for resource - poor communities. In very diverse social, economic and ecological environments, technology packages must be diverse and adaptable. Extension staff need to be aware of the technology and the specific needs of their communities. However, extension staff is often poorly prepared in terms of new technology skills and knowledge and their transfer. This handicap, coupled with poor motivation due to low salaries and status, may make them reluctant to face farmers. Extension staff should be a first target for training.

Within the SPFS, water control for irrigation focuses on simple low - cost technologies and involves other specific aspects such as institutional capacity building, promotion of support activities, and integration with other components. Success hinges on group formation and farmer participation in irrigation scheme maintenance, the promotion of relevant technologies and partnership arrangements. The need for multidisciplinary teams to support extension workers has emerged. Unsatisfactory farmer participation in various stages of technology transfer often points to a persisting weakness in the approach. Reporting on irrigation activities should include such aspects as irrigated land increases and cropping intensity improvements.

There is a need to demonstrate that water is a major constraint, to fully determine the level of subsidies in irrigation, and to gather more data on technologies and returns to investments. For example, in Tanzania, Phase I showed farmers in irrigated demonstration areas how to double yields by using improved seeds at the proper planting dates, applying fertilizer, spacing plants properly, and protecting soil and water. Although the exercise was successful, it did not provide a breakdown of the efforts and rewards at the household level derived from the use of irrigation. In Malawi, people interested in irrigation farming faced the problem of access to communal land. Most of the land belongs to particular individuals and unless genuine cooperation exists, using borrowed land for group farming usually results in conflict. There should be a critical assessment of landownership before selecting sites for smallholder irrigation. Land tenure problems also exist in Nepal, where good irrigable land is underused while landless farmers are forced into temporary emigration.

In Pakistan (Box 1), zero tillage technology saved irrigation water and reduced tillage operation costs. In Bangladesh (Box 2), the best practice in channel management decreased pumping costs by 25 percent. In Bolivia, the technique reduced erosion on land that intensification had rendered highly exposed. An important criterion was that the same land could be used for pasture before and after the cropping season.

Human resources


Rural women often have a threefold role within a household: child - rearing, household management and income earning. Women’s share in the labour force is generally high in countries where land availability and income per agricultural worker are low. For example, in Zimbabwe’s communal areas, women constitute 61 percent of the farmers and at least 70 percent of the labour force (FAO, 1996). Comparative studies of the productivity of irrigated plots in Burkina Faso (Zwarteween, 1997) and in Senegal indicate the higher productivity of female - managed plots. In Mali and Tanzania, entrusting women with marketing and managing the returns resulted in net benefits in child nutrition.

In Ethiopia, the SPFS includes 160 sites with over 30 000 participating farmers, more than 50 of them widows. It would thus appear that other women are supposed to participate through the male head of the household. The participation of women in PFGs in Tanzania ranged from 49 to 19 percent. At a national SPFS workshop in Kenya, the 29 field staff was all men. This aspect requires further action, as achieving better nutrition without the full participation of women will be difficult.

Developing the sensitivity and capacity of SPFS staff so they can address inequity towards women and focus on supporting women’s role in food supply and nutrition can have a large impact on its effectiveness, especially in reducing malnutrition among children. However, gender discrimination tends to remain entrenched. Participation in the information gathering phase should involve the stakeholders, that is, women in food - challenged households. The same cultural patterns that result in gender inequity often also make it impracticable for male agents to collect and cross - check the relevant information. Among the subjects in any investigation are land tenure arrangements, water allocation to female - headed households and the non - agricultural uses of water that alleviate the workload and improve health and nutrition for poor women and children. In order to target poverty alleviation and nutritional improvement effectively, the SPFS needs gender - integrated teams.


Special Programme for Food Security in Pakistan, 1998 - 2001


  • supplement national efforts to increase food production through enhancing crop productivity;
  • ensure food security and alleviate poverty at village level through improving productivity and income of small farmers;
  • build a sustainable model to ensure continuity of the food security programme.

Phase I: operational in two pilot villages since August 1998 (and one other since August 1999). Approach: participatory - farmers’ leadership and participation in all field activities. Focus: small farmers (large farmers restricted to 12 acres for input provision from the project). Water Users’ Associations established and federated in a Village Organization. Phase I completed end July 2000.

Phase II: completion of ongoing activities in existing pilot villages and start - up at two new pilot villages with the objective of training local manpower to extend the project model to other villages.

Programme components:

  • water management (watercourse improvements, furrow bed irrigation technology, precision land levelling with laser technology, farm redesigning and planning, water scheduling and minimal tillage technology).
  • crop management (improved and certified seeds, balanced fertilizer application, plant protection measures, modern farming technologies and machinery, and crop diversification).
  • income diversification (small - scale rural poultry farming, bee - keeping, agro - forestry; growing off - season vegetables; fish farming at farm level; and production of certified seeds).
  • human resource development (group extension approach; training in production technology for farmers and field staff of agriculture extension and on - farm water management departments; benchmarks established at village level).
  • socio-economic constraints analysis (at village, district, provincial and national levels).

Food crops such as wheat, maize, rice, oilseeds and pulses are the main focus of the programme. Provincial governments have provided manpower and technical services assist farmers at their doorstep. For ensuring future sustainability, each village now has an input sales centre, farm services centre and revolving fund account under the supervision of the Village Organization.

Farmers pay 100 percent cost of inputs (50 percent at delivery and 50 percent after harvest). For implements, farmers contribute 50 percent and the programme pays the rest.

Crop productivity: Under this project, wheat productivity increases (compared with the benchmark value) in the pilot villages ranged from 28 to 51.5 percent for the first crop and averaged 62 percent for the second crop with a maximum increase of 168 percent, while for rice the productivity increases were 26.7 percent (first crop) and 50.3 percent (second crop) with a maximum of 125.6 percent.

On - farm water management: Furrow bed planting of wheat has given a 13 percent higher yield than with flat bed sowing and a water saving of 22 percent compared with the flood irrigation system. Zero tillage technology has penetrated the rice - wheat system and have farmers bought 50 drills at their own expense.

Income diversification: The SPFS pilot project provided 500 birds and a poultry shed. The farmers then built seven more sheds for 12 000 layer chicks resulting in an 11 - fold increase in poultry shed area and a 24 - fold increase in the number of chicks within one year. From bee keeping, each farmer has averaged a profit equivalent to that from 2.4 ha of wheat, 1 ha of cotton and 2 ha of rice. Farmers have started fish farming at their own expense.

Revolving fund accounts ensure project sustainability, and at some site farmers now rent out their farm implements, so enabling a permanent source of income and access to all kinds of implements.

Many project agents (national and international civil servants, consultants, experts, technicians and extension agents) are reluctant to venture out of their assigned field. Their assumption that others will combine all the elements to improve the nutritional situation is often mistaken and project benefits may accrue, not to the targeted group, but to the non - poor.

Another problem is the communication gap between poor farmers and researchers. Extension services are understaffed, often with ill - prepared, poorly paid and unmotivated staff. The Tanzania study points out that the delivery of extension services has been weak, while the PFG relies heavily on extension services for the dissemination of technological packages and conducting on - farm demonstrations. New approaches and commitment are needed to ensure that farmers benefit from technological innovation.

Elitist tendencies are common. Non - local people find it is easier to deal with the more educated or cosmopolitan locals. But, the task is to ensure that every member of the community has internalised the pros and cons of the envisaged actions and the benefits and obligations of participation. Consensus then needs to lead to action, but not every community has the leaders and the team to do this.

A critical aspect in some projects is that local manpower is not familiar with the technicalities of on - farm water management. However, it is difficult to assess the extent to which training helps overcome constraints. Trainees attend courses because they feel the need for training in order to properly apply the knowledge to securing their livelihood. However, during the high agricultural season, farmers may prefer to tend to their fields. In rural areas with high seasonal or permanent underemployment and disguised employment, the prospect of receiving a financial benefit in the form of a training allowance may attract participants. This may lead to applying limited financial resources in an unsustainable and unsound approach.

Financial, organizational and technical constraints

Credit, funding and the private sector

Large global and regional development banks are available to support government development efforts. However, in conventional banking, small producers are not creditworthy, or the business is too small to justify the transaction costs. Small farmers need more innovative forms of banking. In cohesive communities, small farmers groups can provide collateral, while loans in kind can help overcome practical difficulties.

Within an adequately implemented regulatory framework, the private sector should be increasingly responsible for investments and services such as input provision, credit and marketing services, and the development of agro - industries. However, private investment in agriculture is seldom pro - poor. In many developing countries, traders provide marketing and credit services to farmers that lack access to a market within reasonable distance. However, traders tend to take a monopolistic position, are generally unable to supply technology and unwilling to finance infrastructure. This system leaves farmers no margin for capitalization. For many subsistence farmers, fertilizers are unaffordable. Pesticides are a health hazard as farmers lack training in their use. Under such circumstances, employment generation for unskilled local people is low quality and minimal. Lacking an adequate public policy framework, the potential of the private sector to improve incomes and food security remains underutilized.


Special Programme for Food Security in Bangladesh

The On - farm Water Management Pilot Programme became operational in July 1999.


  • demonstrate and pilot farm - level water management procedures and techniques consistent with farmers’ needs and ensure the sustainability and participative management of surface water.
  • develop and test procedures to strengthen the capacity of authorities and local NGOs to provide effective support to farmers to improve on - farm water management (OFWM) and to intensify crop production.
  • monitor and assess programme effectiveness and prepare recommendations on how to expand the pilot demonstrations into national and regional development programmes.

Activities implemented:

  • Participatory rural appraisal.
  • District workshops and first national workshop.
  • Technical staff training, farmers’ seasonal training, farmers’ field school and technical field training.
  • Pilot demonstration programme with main crops included (i) OFWM improvements and (ii) crop husbandry techniques and technologies adapted to the specific conditions.
  • Community development with local NGOs.
  • Women’s group training.


  • On - farm water management - (i) delineation of manageable irrigation blocks, (ii) improvement of the distribution systems, (iii) irrigation scheduling and (iv) supplementary irrigation of rice.
  • Best practice in channel management - command areas increased 20 percent; pumping costs decreased 25 percent.
  • Crop demonstrations - new crops and varietal shift for agricultural diversification, improved rice nursery, line transplanting of rice, green manuring, balanced fertilization, integrated pest management and small pond fish culture now adopted at pilot sites and adjoining areas.
  • Training for capacity building, skills development and empowerment - involving women
  • Community development and women’s development training - water user groups and associations formed with groups for women.

The main problems small farmers have with input supply and output marketing relate to: enabling policy for private sector marketing; rural infrastructure investments; extension services; market information; and adequate post - harvesting handling and storage. Small farmers, rural traders and extension staff need improved business skills. Within a competitive environment, stable relations between farmers and the private services sector are advantageous. In the Kauti district of Kenya, for example, a wholesale exporter collects French beans produced by smallholders, but there is no formal contract, the exporter does not always take all the harvest and does not provide credits for inputs.

Organizational and technical aspects

Many countries have been slow to set up a national SPFS steering committee. For example, although Burkina Faso committed itself to implementing the SPFS in 1995/1996, in June 1999, while work in the field was advanced, there was still no steering committee. In Tanzania, owing to what may be an overly bureaucratic structure, senior officials and committees have minimal direct influence on farmers’ activities. However, senior managers accept and support farmer ownership of the process. The success of Phase I was due to the active participation of stakeholders at every stage. Various stakeholders (farmer’s groups, input suppliers, credit institutions, research and extension officers, regional and district policy - makers and authorities) participated in identifying key issues and, at a later stage, implementation approaches such as increased production, project financing, technology, expertise and human requirements, and information needs.

In Angola preliminary studies carried out by persons unfamiliar with the reality of the project region failed to provide the information required to formulate a work plan. It is necessary to establish preliminary contacts with the communities in order to identify and address problems that have immediate solutions, and so gain their trust. This makes it possible to obtain a clear picture of the existing socio-economic reality and a list of families, useful for defining the interventions and enabling participation. It is also essential to establish freely elected and recognized (by traditional and political authorities) community development committees which should be active in the planning and execution of all actions.

The full integration of infrastructure and rural development is essential. Projects aimed at water control infrastructure development alone have limited chances of benefiting the poor before they benefit the non - poor.

Although the privatization of public goods, such as knowledge, may aim to improve dynamic efficiency through greater innovation, a loss of static efficiency may result from thwarted competition and the underuse of protected knowledge (Stiglitz, 1999). The SPFS projects do not appear to have used copyrighted seeds, possibly because they are not relevant to the needs of the rural poor. Traditionally, farmers save selected seeds from one growing season and plant them in the next, and in this way are sure of using locally adapted varieties.

Rural people’s skills may no longer be appropriate under changed conditions, but farmers are wary of changing traditional farming methods and need exposing to new techniques without their carrying too much risk. Applying technology to transform agriculture and raise incomes is at the heart of most development assistance in this field. The major problems are not technical but concern reaching agreements on facts, alternatives or solutions. Technology can contribute to economic growth by overcoming resource scarcities and by combining products and inputs to optimise output. However, complex, diverse and risk - prone production environments call for adaptive designs and strategies. Many technologies address single commodities and specific forms of production, such as rainfed or irrigated agriculture. In reality, farming households pursue a range of production activities, which may include spatial diversification to ensure food, fire, shelter and health. Designing support services to cater to such diversity is difficult.

Phase I highlighted other development constraints and problems. They included having open and porous borders with large and relatively developed countries; inappropriate donor policies and dependence on donors; misplaced national priorities; and administrative instability. Also, farmers abandoned newly introduced subsidized cropping patterns once the FAO - recruited team withdrew; there were shortages of seeds and planting and propagation materials (centralized systems of input production, procurement and distribution failed to cater to local needs); and there was a paucity of technical and economic information related to irrigation based on actual experience and observation as well as the fragmentation of holdings.

SPFS has been subject to specific constraints and issues. FAO recruited staff may be operating in a different regime of rewards and incentives, or parallel to the existing network of agricultural research and extension services. Such factors and the associated issues of replicability and sustainability are the principal SPFS - created constraints that may seriously jeopardise its expansion.

Another SPFS - specific constraint relates to the doorstep delivery to farmers of inputs either free or at heavily subsidized rates. An efficient and effective input distribution system is essential to any development programme. The priority national policies attach to rural roads, technology systems, etc. is a testimony to the recognition of these prerequisites. However, the means and style adopted in actually implementing the SPFS may be at variance with its own and national goals. The SPFS approach of delivering key inputs itself or through seeking special favour is contradictory and can become a major SPFS - produced constraint on the programme’s expansion as it is neither replicable nor sustainable. Instead, it should explore ways of improving existing institutions and systems.


There is general agreement that the provision of food security has to start from the household level. Changing the agricultural structure of developing countries while promoting sustainable livelihoods for rural people and reducing poverty requires a long - term commitment. However, as international instruments erode governments’ capacities to implement national policy objectives, national efforts need supporting in a context of food security as a global public good. Food security and rural development are essential precursors to prevent environmental degradation.

SPFS has demonstrated that investment in land and water can promote agricultural intensification and diversification. The resulting sustainable productivity gains can improve household incomes and livelihoods, provided certain identified constraints are overcome. Overcoming such constraints usually requires funds, be they on long - term credit, on concessionary terms or grants. To generate funds, it will be necessary to prepare small, well - designed food security projects with concrete goals and reasonable overheads. Such projects will need to demonstrate what inputs are needed to obtain the results that the stakeholders desire. The results of such projects need to have an immediate and clear relation with the improvement of livelihoods and food security. Reporting changes in the nutritional situation may not be practicable in every case, but nutritional impact surveys and monitoring can provide proof that the SPFS is having an impact where it matters. Transparent implementation of the SPFS and an accurate monitoring and reporting system are preconditions for acquiring credibility. The capacity to generate, analyze and report the necessary data needs strengthening. A key role for FAO lies in collating and disseminating the critical information in a reliable way.

A lesson from the SPFS project in Guinea is that, before launching the project, institutional partners need to provide adequate and timely information at the field level in order to ensure that partners such as farmers’ groups buy into it. The project identified a need to strengthen the capacity to monitor, evaluate and analyze the economic viability of proposed packages. Rural development specialists are a key element in establishing the capacity and professionalism of the SPFS teams.

Incorporating nutritional impact surveys in the SPFS planning process can help direct project benefits to improving the nutritional situation of the poorest households in the target community. There should be a special focus on understanding the role and functions of women in the household, as any action leading to increased effectiveness in family nutrition can free time for other productive tasks. Severe conceptual and methodological biases have undervalued women’s role in agriculture. On the other hand, however, the experience with the SPFS shows the potential to improve upon tenancy rights and contract farming opportunities in some countries as significant developments.

In conclusion, land and water investments are essential components of an approach that seeks to ensure sustainable food security. However, small - scale project success and wider replication will depend on managing all pertinent aspects of investment in water (e.g. irrigation, drainage and water management), land (e.g. plant, nutrient and soil management), human resources and infrastructure in a dynamic national and international context.


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