Faltering agriculture investments leaving two-thirds of rural poor behind

“We cannot continue to chase hunger-related disasters. We need to deal with the underlying causes of hunger, vulnerability and poverty.”
Emily Alpert
Oxfam Policy Advisor
Published: 30 June 2009

G8 leaders must invest more and more wisely in developing country agricultural aid

Today’s food crisis could worsen dramatically as decades of declining investment in agriculture have constrained the ability of the world’s poorest people to cope with climatic and economic shocks, according to a new report released today by international agency Oxfam International.

The report, “Investing in Poor Farmers Pays: Rethinking How to Invest in Agriculture,” outlines the ramifications of a 75% drop in developing country agriculture aid over the last few decades, fundamentally weakening this vital sector. The report also reveals that two-thirds of the world’s rural poor have been overlooked by what little investments have been made.  More – and more wise investment – is needed, the agency said.

“Investment in developing country agriculture has fallen out of fashion over the last few decades, but it is a crucial part of the long-term solution to the food, financial and climate crises,” said Oxfam report author Emily Alpert, noting that over one billion people around the world are now hungry.

Oxfam called on rich world leaders, particularly those meeting at G8 Summit in Italy next month, to push agricultural development assistance back to at least 1980-levels of around $20 billion from the paltry $5 billion currently invested. The report notes that some rich countries have of course not neglected their own farmers. In 2007 alone, EU agricultural spending was $130 billion and in the US $41 billion.

“A substantial increase in long-term agriculture investments is loose change compared to ongoing investments in rich countries or the trillions of dollars spent globally this year on the financial bail-out,” said Alpert. “Strengthening the agricultural sectors of developing countries is a crucial part of the long-term solution to the world’s food, financial and climate crises.”

“Faltering public investment in agriculture over the last two decades was undoubtedly an underlying cause of poor people’s vulnerability to the food crisis,” said Alpert. “We cannot continue to chase hunger-related disasters. We need to deal with the underlying causes of hunger, vulnerability and poverty.”

The report urged donors, national governments and private sector investors to invest more and more wisely in developing country agriculture, targeting investments towards people, particularly women, to encourage and support social and knowledge capital and enabling them to adopt environmentally sustainable farming methods.

”Women are key to food security,” Alpert said. “Investing equitably in women’s needs and building their capacity to productively engage in agriculture must be at the forefront any solution to improve agricultural growth and reduce poverty.”

Oxfam also urged that donor funding must be predictable, transparent and untied. The agency also cautioned the use of any “one size approach,” ensuring instead that investments are tailored to the conditions of specific locations, participatory and demand-driven. Special attention must be paid to farmers and herders in marginalized land, who often work in harsh and remote environments with inadequate access to markets and services for extension, credit and farming inputs, and fewer off-farm sources of employment. Such farmers and herders shoulder the burden of conserving crop biodiversity and managing some of the world’s most fragile soils and could be critical allies in the fight against climate change.

“Despite perceived low returns on investing in marginalized areas by donors and the private sector, investing in developing country agriculture pays for itself by reducing poverty,” said Alpert. “A healthy agricultural sector acts as a multiplier in local economies, leading eventually to higher wages and vibrant rural markets where farmers and workers spend their earnings.”