Lessons for increasing productivity and incomes
In a number of countries around the world, efforts are being made to better the living conditions of rural communities. New soil management techniques, improvements in the utilization and conservation of water resources, community-managed seed supply systems and other agricultural innovations offer lessons to be learned about enhancing agricultural productivity and increasing rural income.
The Committee on World Food Security (CFS), a policy forum for member countries of FAO and the United Nations, will look at selected case studies from six countries when it meets at FAO headquarters in Rome from 28 May to 1 June 2001. The hope is that successful experiences in improving food security and eradicating poverty can be replicated or adapted elsewhere.
The case studies under review -- from Bangladesh, Brazil, Burkina Faso, India, Thailand and Zambia -- describe community-based actions to improve agricultural productivity. "The emphasis of these initiatives is on sustainable approaches that can lead to long-term improvement in food security and income at both local and national levels" says Barbara Huddleston, Chief of FAO's Food Security and Agricultural Projects Analysis Service. "The active participation of local communities is key."
Raising incomes of the rural and urban
poor in Bangladesh
Since Milk Vita's inception, average milk deliveries per member have quadrupled and regular earnings have increased tenfold to Taka 32.5 a day (US$0.65), improving the food security, nutrition and income of rural families. The project has also generated employment and income opportunities for a number of the urban poor. They distribute milk using locally fabricated "milkshaws" -- traditional rickshaws fitted with insulated boxes -- which has also reduced distribution costs and improved milk quality by cutting delivery times.
A "green" approach to promoting food
security in Brazil
In response, the state government initiated a programme in 1991 to rejuvenate the productive capacity of the soils, control pollution in rural areas and increase productivity and farmers' income. The project focused on "conservation agriculture", characterized by minimal (or no) tillage and other techniques that minimize the environmental impact of agriculture, such as planning crop sequences to minimize build-up of pests. The practices were introduced through a participatory extension system, involving farmers, extension agents and researchers.
The conservation agriculture approach improved yields by 20 to 50 percent in just a few years and resulted in less year-to-year variability. With the reduction of heavy preparatory farm work, labour costs declined 30 percent. Input costs also fell, particularly for machinery, energy and plant nutrients. Labour savings allowed farmers to diversify into livestock production, cultivate higher-value crops and expand into agro-processing. The result was higher incomes and better food security for small-scale farmers. (Click here for more information about the project in Santa Catarina, Brazil.)
Improving water management in Burkina
By the end of 2000, 39 sites were in operation, involving around 6 800 small-scale farmers -- about 25 percent of them women. The new water management technologies resulted in substantial increases in rice yields -- irrigated rice increased by 38 percent, lowland rice by 53 percent -- and reduced production costs. Since the programme began in 1995, earnings from irrigated rice production have increased from 91 000 to 200 000 FCFA per hectare, and from 58 000 to 143 000 FCFA per hectare for lowland rice.
Optimizing land and water use in
As a result, nearly 900 hectares of degraded land was made fit for cultivation. Water supply also rose significantly, leading to a substantial increase in irrigated area from 11 percent to 79 percent of cultivated land, and doubled cropping intensity increased yield by tenfold. One major benefit of the project was a substantial increase in household wealth: over seven years, farmers' incomes increased by more than 600 percent, while those of the landless went up ninefold. The increase in incomes and employment opportunities stemmed the migration of the poor to urban areas. The programme also reduced the sizeable burden on women, who previously spent long hours fetching water, fodder and firewood.
Putting ability first in
The trainees include men and women aged 20 to 35 years old, with disabilities ranging from visual and hearing impairments to amputated limbs. About 70 percent of the project's first group of trainees have taken up mushroom production. Mushroom production provides an estimated 30 percent of total household income for the families of the disabled. (Click here to read more about the mushroom project and other initiatives aimed to help the rural disabled.)
Drought-resistant seeds help farmers
To address farmers' needs, the NGO CARE initiated a community-based seed multiplication and distribution system in two drought-prone districts. First, seeds were "loaned" to farmers -- they had to pay back the same quantity of seed after harvest. Households were encouraged to establish seed groups to meet the rapid increase in demand. These groups were then federated into village management committees, which distributed seeds and, after harvest, collected and repaid the loans. The committees were trained in group management, bookkeeping, crop management, seed handling and storage.
The project has increased seed supplies at low cost, expanded food availability and diversity and empowered rural communities by encouraging community members to participate in project management and by enhancing their ability to engage in development activities.
25 May 2001