Support to Investment

FAO and IFPRI make case for increased investments in farmers

New study to shine spotlight on long neglected issue

Increased use of drones and digital technologies, rigorous food safety and quality requirements from global supply chains, climate change, pandemics like the current COVID-19 crisis.

These are just a few of the disruptive changes that farmers face.

Keeping pace with this rapidly changing environment requires farmers to have stronger capacity to analyse, innovate and respond while managing their farm businesses. But in the past decade or so, scant attention has been paid to investing in human capital in agriculture.

Why the under-investment?

A new global study by FAO, the International Food and Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions and Markets (PIM) will shed light on this and provide guidance on effective ways to invest in farmers, especially small-scale farmers, women and youth.

FAO and IFPRI, along with the PIM team, recently hosted a webinar to launch the study and deepen the conversation around the topic. The event featured panellists from the World Bank, the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU) and the Sasakawa Africa Association (SAA). 

The challenge behind the study is making sure the global population – likely 9.7 billion by 2050 – has regular access to safe, affordable and nutritious food. This calls for a big transformation.

“But you can’t transform agrifood systems without transforming the people behind them,” said FAO Investment Centre Director Mohamed Manssouri during the webinar.

Humans at centre of value chains

Investing in education breaks the cycle of poverty.

Food and agriculture are the mainstay of developing countries’ economies, providing employment to up to 60 percent of the population in some countries.

Evidence shows that globally, rural males have less education than urban ones, averaging four to six years. And women’s level of education is even lower.

Public expenditure on agricultural extensionleads to high returns for countries – on average, 60 percent for developing countries and 98 percent for developed countries.

In his keynote address, Andreas Blom, Manager for the World Bank's Education Global Practice, said that one consistent finding across all studies is that when “farmers have more education, and specifically more agriculture education, there is a higher probability that they will adopt new technologies, new crops, including cash crops, new farming methods, and the like.”

Dr Mercy Oluwayemisi Akeredolu, Theme Director at SAA, said that given that “farming is knowledge intensive, farmers need more education and training to be able to respond to environmental, social and economic challenges.”

“Human beings are at the centre of value chains,” she said, adding that investing in human capital among agrarian communities is key to improved production, livelihoods, food security and commercialization. 

Capturing promising initiatives and successes

There is a wide range of formal and informal education options available in agriculture. These run the gamut from traditional vocational schools, agriculture certification programmes and apprenticeships to farmer field schools, informal farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing and social media groups.

Dr Kristin Davis, Senior Research Fellow at IFPRI and the study’s lead researcher, explained that the work will involve reviewing and presenting the current findings on human capital investments in agriculture.

The study will also identify promising initiatives and successes across all regions, with a focus on new challenges and opportunities faced by family farmers.

Recommendations and guidelines will help public and private investors – governments, international financing institutions, regional development banks, producer organizations, among others – enhance human capital in agriculture in developing countries.

Broad-based contributions from partners, including the Global Forum on Rural Advisory Services and FAO’s Research and Extension unit and Strategic Programme 3 (Reduce rural poverty), will enrich the study, to be published at the end of 2020.

Understanding what farmers need

According to Benito Odala Eliasi, SACAU Program Officer, the constant changes in food systems are driven largely by innovations, particularly in digital technology.

When SACAU conducted a rapid assessment on what farmers considered as their competency needs, financial, business, research, collaboration and digital technology skills topped the list.

He said that sustainably improving agricultural productivity and farmers’ incomes calls for “flexible approaches, decentralized facilities, differentiated human investment services and private sector involvement.”

Preeti Ahuja, Practice Manager for the World Bank’s Agriculture and Food Global Practice, welcomed the study, pointing to the need for more data, evidence and cost-benefit analysis on which human capital investments in agriculture work best.

“Where there has been systematic and deep investment in human capital – from medicine to music – the payoffs have been substantial. When countries fail to invest in building human capital, the costs are enormous, especially for the poorest, putting new generations at a great disadvantage,” she said.

“We need to retain our focus on the long-term development agenda, and not just respond to the crises of today. That is why this topic is so important,” she added.

Manssouri concluded the webinar by saying that it was “just the beginning of the journey” and encouraged people to engage with the issue, including on twitter and other social media platforms, and deepen the debate.


Photo credit ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano