Feeding a population expected to swell from 5.7 billion in 1995 to 9.8 billion by the year 2050 will require rapid increases in food production, mostly through increasing output from land already being cultivated. FAO projections indicate that the required gains can be achieved... but only with increased and better directed investment in agriculture and rural development.
THE RAPID INCREASES that allowed food production to outstrip population growth over the past 50 years have resulted in significant part from high levels of investment in agriculture, both private and public. FAO estimates that gross investments in on-farm improvements, post-production systems and rural infrastructure in the developing world may have amounted to more than US$130 billion per year in the recent past.
With food energy requirements in the developing world expected to double by the middle of the next century, agricultural production and investment will both need to increase. But figures reveal that official aid and public spending on agriculture in developing countries have fallen sharply in recent years. After climbing from around US$12 billion per year in the early 1 980s to nearly US$19 billion per year in 1986, international assistance to agriculture in developing countries plummeted to less than US$10 billion in 1994. To achieve improved food security, this trend will need to be halted, and even reversed.
External assistance to agriculture
(in constant 1990 prices, US$ billion)
MOST OF THE INVESTMENTS needed to feed a rapidly growing population will be made on the farm by the farmers themselves. Key areas for on-farm investment include:
Irrigation development has slowed in recent years, as high costs and environmental problems have discouraged investment. World Bank lending to irrigation dropped by 50 percent from US$2 billion in 1980 to US$1 billion in 1993. Investment will need to be increased and directed toward less costly approaches to water control, such as rehabilitation of existing irrigation and drainage systems, small-scale, privately owned pump irrigation and water harvesting.
Means to improve land and agricultural productivity may involve changes in cropping systems, tillage and soil cover to improve rainfall penetration, improved management of crop residues and soil organic matter, as well as mechanical means, such as land levelling, terracing and bunding for runoff and erosion control.
Mineral fertilizer has been a major source of agricultural growth for the past century. Fertilizer use in developing countries quadrupled over the past 20 years. Increasing production in a sustainable fashion will require more judicious application of fertilizers, pesticides and other inputs, using integrated plant nutrient and pest management systems. Maximum use must be made of on-farm sources of organic matter.
Mechanization and use of animal traction to replace human labour have a dramatic potential to increase productivity. In future, emphasis must be placed on improving the utilization of village-level renewable energy sources.
Delivering food safely and affordably to those who need it will require significant investment in post-production systems and rural infrastructure. The urban population in developing countries will almost double by the year 2010, from 1.4 billion in 1990 to nearly 2.7 billion, greatly increasing pressure on systems for food handling, storage, transport, marketing and processing. Investments in promoting better food quality and safety are usually quickly recovered through reduced food losses and better consumer acceptance.
Roads, electricity, telecommunications and other infrastructure services are limited in rural areas, even though they are of key importance to simulate agricultural investment and growth. The problem is particularly severe in Africa. Even Nigeria, the country with the highest road density on the continent, has barely reached the level of road coverage that existed in India in 1950.
Investment in improved health, clean water and education services in rural areas is also essential to simulate increased economic growth. Studies have confirmed that primary education, especially for girls, brings high economic returns and may be the greatest untapped rural productivity reserve.
AGRICULTURE-RELATED investment in developing countries for the period from 1990 to 2010 will need to increase almost 25 percent above the levels of the past decade to a total of US$166 billion per year.
Nearly three-quarters of this future investment would, as in the past, come from farmers investing their own labour and funds to improve land, acquire new equipment, expand livestock herds and plantations, and invest in the post-production chain. The other quarter, representing about US$41 bilion per year, will need to come from governments and international aid sources.
Investment in agriculture in developing countries
present levels and future needs
(annual averages in US$ billion, constant 1993 prices)
FAO studies project that in order to secure the increases in food output required in developing countries over the next 15 years:
In sub-Saharan Africa, net investment in primary production, especially irrigation and water management, will need to rise substantially Heavy investments will also be required to upgrade scarce and deteriorating rural infrastructure.
In Latin America, where land reserves are still available but land distribution is very inequitable, appropriately scaled mechanization and market-based land reform initiatives could increase production.
In Asia, investment priorities will include irrigation rehabilitation and agricultural research to tackle problems of degeneration in high-potential areas and to intensify agriculture sustainably on poorer land. incremental gross investment required in agriculture, by region (increase in annual average in US$ billion from actual - early 1 990s through 2010, constant 1993 prices)
Incremental gross investment required in agriculture, by region
LESS WILL BE GAINED in future from Introducing individual technological innovations, such as modern varieties, fertilizers or insecticides. More will depend on developing, promoting and investing in a mix of technologies that is economically and environmentally sustainable and on adapting this mix to the capabilities of less well endowed land and poorer farmers.
Participatory approaches are vital for developing and delivering such technologies. Enhancing farmers' role as stake-holders can also improve the quality of investments. Transfer of irrigation management to farmers' groups and users' associations, for example, has been shown to reduce waste and lead to more realistic water pricing to recover a higher share of operation and maintenance costs.
Equally critical will be increased investment in human resources through improved research, extension and training services.
Most of the investment required will have to come from domestic sources. But its success in contributing to improved food production and food security will hinge on a shared international commitment to basic goals and approaches.
In general, strategies should aim at:
If policies are adopted that reverse the frequent anti-rural bias in development expenditure and that favour domestic savings and investment, even many of the poorer countries have a good chance to ensure food security for their people.
The only durable way of ensuring food security for the poor is by increasing their food entitlement. This can be achieved through raising their income-earning capacity and targeted income-generating assistance programmes, including:
At the national level, food security requires Rising the degree of self-reliance; freeing foreign currency from commercial food imports and making it available for investment in economic diversification.
For further information, please contact:
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy
Information Division, Tel: (39-6) 5225-3276/5225-4781/5225-4243
Internet, http://www.fao.org or gopher.fao.org