Centre d'investissement de la FAO

‘Invest in farmers’ say Asia-Pacific governments, private sector and financial institutions


At a regional event on agriculture human capital investment, convened by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Bank, representatives of Asia-Pacific  governments, the private sector and international financial institutions united to emphasise the urgent need for investment in farmers, to advance climate-smart agriculture and ensure food security.

The event – moderated by Priti Kumar, Senior Agriculture Specialist, World Bank  – also launched the latest in a ground-breaking series of FAO reports as part of a global study on agriculture human capital investments, focussing on India and Indonesia.

“Today more than ever, farmers face disruptive changes – from climate change, labour shortages and global pandemics such as COVID-19, to an explosive rise in digital technologies, shifting diets and rigorous global and national food safety standards,” said Máximo Torero, Chief Economist, FAO. “This is the culmination of two years of research, focussing on what is arguably our most valuable resource – our farmers – with the ultimate goals of empowering farmers, and ‘future proofing’ the agriculture sector.”

The global study Strategies to invest in human capital in agriculture – launched this week – has generated a wealth of evidence on promising investments in farmers’ human capital. The study was conducted by FAO and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), with support from the FAO Research and Extension Unit and the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM).

Investing in farmers as vital as infrastructure

“The value of agricultural knowledge is often undervalued, with countries persistently under-investing in human capital resources and development,” said Martien Van Nieuwkoop, Director, Agriculture and Food Global Practice, World Bank. “Investments tend to favour the 'hardware' investments, such as infrastructure, rather than the 'software' - which is the vast, vital resource of human capital.”

"Without transformation in agriculture and food systems the Paris Agreement will not be successful,” he continued. “Investing in farmers as providers of ecosystem services is key to climate-smart agriculture."

As revealed by the study, only a meagre amount of development finance has been directed thus far towards improving the skills and capacities of farmers.

Asia-Pacific agriculture human capital investment opportunities

John Preissing, Deputy Director, FAO Investment Centre, outlined some major findings from the global and national study. Focus areas were women livestock farmers in India, public-private-producer partnerships in Indonesia, and education for farmer groups in the Philippines.

“We found that investing in agriculture human capital contributes to farmers’ autonomy, empowerment and economic development,” he said. “There are positive co-benefits, such as increased rural incomes, better health and nutrition, higher animal survival rates, social cohesion and greater inclusion of women and youth.”

He concluded, “The best results for farmers come when delivery methods are well-suited to their expressed needs, inclusively designed and focussing on tangible opportunities – such as market access or digital skills.”

Partnerships for successful human capital development

Successful human capital development relies on partnerships between decision-makers, government officials, representatives from civil society, producer organisations and cooperatives, as well as development organizations, educational and research institutions.

With this in mind, a multi-sectoral panel was facilitated by Wadzanai Garwe, Economist, FAO Investment Centre.

Francisca Silva Torrealba, Chief, Training Division, Institute of Agricultural Development (INDAP), Chile. presented Programa de Alianzas Productivas, where farmers are supported to improve their productivity and to establish a stable commercial relationship with buyers. “This allows them to reduce their market risk and invest with great security, improving their livelihoods,” said Silva.

Mr. N. N. Sinha, Secretary, Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India, described the large-scale interventions underway in India, which are leading the way on agriculture human capital investment. “We are providing training to advance productivity and capacity of approximately 12 million women farmers, with the goal to raise this to 30 million,” he said. “We have built a network of 120,000 farmer advisers in multiple areas –  including fisheries and forestry – with the goal to raise this to 360,000. We have also developed more than 200 advisory 'agri-preneurs'.”

He advocated for moving farmers ‘up the value chain’ through promoting and advancing their skills, particularly to support climate-smart agriculture.

Fay Fay Choo, Asia Cocoa Director for Mars, Inc. described how for the past 20 years, Mars has invested in human capital, much of this in partnership with the Government of Indonesia, working with more than 75,000 smallholder cocoa farming families. The 'Cocoa for generations' initiative has the goal to increase income and productivity, safeguard forests and support communities.

“Farming families and communities are the active champions in the development of the solutions for  their social and material progress,” she said. “Farmers are clearly entrepreneurial and are also the customers of services and innovation. Mars has invested in science and research, including a ‘Cocoa Academy and Cocoa Doctor model’, to provide an enabling environment for farmers to increase capacity over the long term.”

Paul Nicholson, Vice President, Rice Research and Sustainability, Olam, spoke of the vital importance of working in partnership with governments to scale up and institutionalise human capital investment.

“At Olam, we understand the value of engaging with farming communities and forging partnerships, through flexible and often unique solutions,” said Nicholson. “One example in India is the Olam 'farmer diary' initiative, which incorporates a payment system, whereby farmer data is inputted and monetized. We've set up entrepreneurs to deliver farmer diaries and help train farmers on how to farm better.”

Dr. Ir Leli Nuryati, Director, Indonesian Center for Agricultural Training, Ministry of Agriculture, Republic of Indonesia, spoke about the importance of involving young farmers in digital agriculture and e-commerce. “Currently only 34 percent of farmers are in the young/millennial category (Indonesia Central Bureau of Statistic 2020), so farmer regeneration is needed to prepare for agriculture in the future. The Ministry of Agriculture has launched a program to grow 2.5 million millennial farmers over the next five years to make this happen," she said.

Abdelkarim Sma, Lead Regional Economist, Asia and Pacific Division, IFAD, spoke of how human capital investment in rural people is fundamental to the mission of IFAD.  He emphasised how human capital development is a collective effort from governments, national organizations, IFIs, knowledge centres and development partners.

“We cannot build, nurture and deploy human capital without matching it with social capital. This dual capital accumulation requires long-term investments and tailor-made financial tools. Yet the benefits are multiple, with co-benefits related to improved health and nutrition, community resilience, and peace dividends,” said Sma.

Invest now for a ‘climate-smart’ farming future

Speakers demonstrated an overwhelming consensus that there is ‘no choice’ but to invest now in agriculture human capital’– particularly to ensure agriculture can become more climate-smart. 

The human capital invested in the world’s 500 million farmers will undoubtedly influence the sustainability and food security of the entire planet – so the stakes could not be higher.