A question of commitment



Development patterns that perpetuate today's inequities are neither sustainable nor worth sustaining.

World food security depends on increased, and above all, better directed investment in agricultural development in the developing world. This requires greater commitment from both developed and developing countries.

Official aid to agriculture in the developing countries rose from some US$ 11 000 million a year in the early 1980s to US$ 14 000 million in 1988 but has now plummeted to less than US$ 10 000 million a year in today's values. The private sector, including farm households, provides 80 percent of all investment. Public spending on agriculture within developing countries has also fallen. It is difficult to calculate exactly how much is spent every year, but FAO data suggest that between 1977 and 1992 some US$ 26 000 million a year was invested in on-farm improvements and some US$ 16 000 million a year in post-harvest facilities and in agro-industry.

Estimates suggest that the level of net investment will not have to increase much, in most of the world, to meet the needs of the next two decades: the exception is sub-Saharan Africa, where investment must double. However, gross investment, including capital stock maintenance, needs to grow by about US$ 39 000 million a year in primary and post-production operations. Of this, US$ 5 000 million must be spent on rural infrastructure and social services, which have been neglected by both national governments and donors. Less than 10 percent of the US$ 200 000 million spent on infrastructure in the developing world in 1993 went to the countryside.

Priorities for investment have shifted in recent years as a result of diminishing per caput availability of land, environmental concerns and a greater focus on people and poverty. Future needs include the development of new technology; intensification (via irrigation, land improvement, mechanization and the use of purchased inputs); the improvement or construction of facilities to handle, store, process, transport and market produce; and the improvement of rural roads, power supplies and telecommunications. These priorities vary from region to region. In Asia and Latin America, for example, rapid urban growth calls for relatively large investment in marketing and processing. In Africa, rural infrastructure is a top priority.

Issues such as locust and desertification control, early warning systems for drought and famines, outbreaks of plant and animal disease, and shared fishery and water resources involve more than one country at a time. Investment is particularly weak and difficult to organize unless the countries concerned are committed to finding solutions.


Overseas aid flows

Overseas aid per caput, 1992
Click here to see the map


Assistance to agriculture

Commitments of external assistance to agriculture*

*Broad definition
Sources: FAO; OECD


Farmers participation in agricultural extension

Members of the village committee of Ankofafa, Madagascar, inspect the results of community anti-erosion measures.

Small farmers are the major agents of agricultural improvement in the developing world. They invest their savings and labour; they have the most to lose or gain from the projects designed by governments or aid agencies. Their commitment is vital to any success.

In the past, city-based experts and planners have tended to overlook grassroots opinion and expertise. FAO's Investment Centre (IC) helps potential borrowers to design projects for investment by donors and has placed great importance in recent years on involving farmers in the process. This makes it possible to tailor projects to farmers' needs and to establish what innovations they are prepared to adopt.

In Zaire, for example, collaboration between farmers and peasant organizations has helped strengthen agricultural extension in six pilot areas of the country. A wide variety of farmer-driven and government-supported initiatives in agricultural training have enabled an estimated 320 000 farmers to be reached over a five-year period. The farmers were trained in areas such as agroforestry, market gardening and animal husbandry. Similar work in China has led to nearly US$ 1 000 million worth of projects. Further projects are starting in Armenia, Jordan, Mali and Zambia.


Indicators of rural poverty