Investing in Poor Farmers Pays

Rethinking how to invest in agriculture

Published: 30 June 2009

High in the Andean hillsides of Peru, Jose Gonzalez Condo, an alpaca farmer, does not have enough money to feed and shelter his herd. Aissa Tenin Sidibe, a mother and cotton farmer in the dusty fields of southern Mali, struggles to afford fertilizer for her crops and to manage her work alongside caring for her family. Alami Bera and her husband are wheat and teff farmers in Ethiopia, and worry whether they will be able to feed their eight children. And across a continent, in Cambodia, Rort Kea strives to make a living from growing rice.

All these farmers rely on agriculture for their livelihoods, which are growing more precarious by the day from the threats of climate change, the recent food and financial crises, and falling investments in agriculture. They live in marginalized, diverse, and harsh growing environments. As a result, they are difficult to reach and have varying needs that are often unattractive to donors and the private sector.

Although developing innovative agricultural technologies may prove crucial, to address the needs of these farmers, the gap left by private sector neglect must be filled by the public sector.

No single intervention can help them all. But reducing poverty, mitigating climate change, and building resilience to climatic and market shocks means empowering these farmers and their communities to identify the investments that will best meet their needs.

Oxfam recommends that donors, national governments and private sector investors:

  • Make agriculture center stage: ultimately, to reduce poverty, agriculture must once again become a top priority for governments and donors alike.
  • Invest more, and more wisely: investments in agriculture must be greater than previously envisioned, predictable, transparent, untied, channelled through budget support, and complemented by funding for civil society groups, both as government watchdogs and as complementary service providers.
  • Recognize that one size does not fit all: investments in agriculture and agricultural research for marginalized areas need to be tailored to the conditions of specific locations, participatory, and demand-driven.