FAO’s Hand-in-Hand Initiative hits the ground running

Investors are buying into the innovative, inclusive and bottom-up approach to sustainable development

The Hand-in-Hand Initiative, the new development pathway fashioned and championed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), is gaining strong momentum, to be showcased at the Hand in Hand Investment Forum taking place next week (17 – 21 October) at FAO headquarters in Rome.

Several developing countries have been benefitting from the initiative, which is built around providing international support, holistic territorial approaches and inclusive targeting to the most vulnerable countries.

Bangladesh, for instance, is putting the final touches on resource mobilization, including $500 million from the World Bank and $43 million from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD),  plus other major multilateral institutions mulling large additional pledges in promoting sustainable production, increasing entrepreneurship among value-chain actors, modernizing institutions and policy for agricultural transformation.

These are all supported by hefty increases in the Government’s own budgetary allocation for the agrifood system, which employs around 40 percent of the country’s population.

"We are working with the Government, development partners, research institutions, and private sector through the Hand-in-Hand Initiative to develop value chains for profitable commodities, build agro-industries, introduce efficient water management systems, expand digital services, reduce food loss and waste, and address climate challenges and build resilience in the face of weather risks,” said Robert D. Simpson, FAO Representative in Bangladesh. “The results will be raised incomes, improved nutrition and well-being for poor and vulnerable populations.”

Robust interest in the Initiative bodes well for demand-driven deployment of FAO’s policy advice and capacity building expertise through Hand-in-Hand. Governments and investment partners alike have found the process useful, raising transparency as well as identifying new opportunities.

The Bangladesh government’s Agriculture Sector Transformation Programme is focused on helping the country, which has halved poverty levels and more than tripled per capita income since 2005 and is now pushing to move definitively beyond semi-subsistence oriented rural households to an advanced, commercialized and diversified arena with efficient value chains spanning from potatoes and onions to mangos and pineapples and more.

Prospective investors will have the opportunity to talk to Agriculture Minister Muhammad Abdur Razzaque about opportunities at the Hand-in-Hand Investment Forum next week, which FAO has set up as a way to accelerate the “matchmaking” that underpins the new process. Around 20 Hand-in-Hand participant countries with detailed briefs replete with precise geographic areas and anticipated rates of return on specific investments will also present at the Forum, hopefully spurring others – so far 53 countries are part of the Initiative - to up the pace and make their own cases.

A glimpse of those briefs are available by clicking on country names here.

FAO’s role

“The ideal here is to generate inclusive growth and reduce poverty and hunger from the ground upwards and bring in more investment for the countries,” says FAO Chief Economist Maximo Torero.

“The Hand in Hand initiative has many moving parts, which includes the award-winning Geospatial Platform providing Members and aspiring stakeholders with reams of data on natural and human resources at a highly granular level. Advanced geospatial modeling and analytics, as well as a robust partnership-building approach to accelerate the market-based transformation of agrifood systems support country-led efforts to raise incomes, improve the nutritional status and well-being of poor and vulnerable populations, and strengthen resilience to climate change,” says Torero.

The process is country-owned and FAO’s role is to assess differing scenarios, analyze proposals, offer specialized technical support to help target high-value investments. In the final phase, FAO acts as matchmaker between Members and third-party investors, which can range from regional development banks to private-sector players operating at both multinational and local levels – many of which will send representatives to the Forum for one-on-one talks with countries.

Central to the whole approach are two cardinal values that differ from past efforts: The investments should aspire to profitability, not just increased production, and they should improve the incomes and livelihoods of the poorest segments of society. FAO has developed thousands of filters to assess the complex factors that must be aligned to achieve these goals in an effective and lasting way.

The Government of Ecuador, for example, has proven highly proactive in its tapping of Hand-in-Hand Initiative opportunities, identifying four provinces for investments to double Hass avocado output per hectare and five for interventions aimed at tripling cocoa yields and improving quality so that producers earn higher prices. Its plans include investments in packaging facilities and traceability, both essential for greater participation in trade.

Investment partners can engage in various ways, including technical and marketing synergies. Some governments can, like Bangladesh, deploy fiscal incentives such as equipment subsidies or export tax breaks to enhance concrete opportunities and galvanize local participation.

Countries make their pitch

The innovative FAO’s Hand-in-Hand Investment Forum is an opportunity for countries to pitch their plans and prospective investors to make their own queries.

An example of the holistic approach is offered by Ethiopia, which has detailed projects to increase wheat output, replete with carbon mitigation, local production of walking tractors and organic fertilizer production plants, as well as a plan to increase coffee production six-fold in a southern region through an integrated package supporting stumping of older trees in existing farms and several models for washing and milling beans to add value and create and sustain local employment and long term profitability and market access.

FAO’s Hand-in-Hand Geospatial Platform offered valuable high-resolution wealth data to enhance micro-regional targeting of these investments to lift more people out of poverty.

Congo has used FAO’s geospatial mapping technologies to identify areas in which to promote greater production of cassava flour to reduce food import needs and improve local nutrition.

The Solomon Islands aims to draw investors to its plan of boosting coconut value chains, both by rehabilitating older plantations to increase yields and including setting up facilities enabling local farmers to produce high value coconut oil for international markets.

Bhutan is seeking partners for a project to build 500 greenhouses to grow organic strawberries, to expand cultivation areas for asparagus, and to build aggregation centers for post-harvest management do not exist in the country. However, such advanced facilities are critical for reducing post-harvest food loss and achieving high-quality standards, especially for international markets, all for sale in Southeast Asia.

FAO has also organized some regional events under the Hand-in-Hand Initiative, including one for Central America’s Dry Corridor and one for the Sahel region, which aims to complement existing efforts and direct resources where they can have maximum impact and help countries prioritize investment in water management.

Photo credit ©FAO/Ehsan Kabir