Project spotlight: Agriculture

A farmer ploughs a field in India. Nearly 80 percent of India's poor population in rural areas rely on agriculture for a living. Photo by: Kannan Muthuraman / CC BY-NC-ND

Sustainable agriculture’s inclusion in the approved sustainable development goals will likely shine a renewed spotlight on the need to improve the sector in which many of the world’s poor are employed.

While the targets set under SDG 2 — double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, ensure sustainable food production systems, and increase investment in agricultural research and extension services, among others — seem to be a tall order, the costs and consequences of foregoing agriculture in the post-2015 development agenda could be even higher.

Devex dug into the project-level data for donor-funded agricultural activities and looked into ongoing projects to learn more about what’s going on in the sector. Below is a snapshot of some of the most interesting projects from agriculture’s top donors.

Irrigated agriculture productivity improvement, Pakistan (World Bank)

More than half of Punjab’s share of water used for agriculture is lost in canals and watercourses. In Attock District alone, water productivity, whether measured in per unit land or per cubic meter of water, is significantly lower than international standards and worse than in neighboring countries with similar agrarian features.

This $423.5 million World Bank project, which was approved in 2012 and will last until 2018, aims to enhance the productivity of water use in the region. The project has so far improved the efficiency of the irrigation conveyance network and helped farmers produce more crops per drop of water.

African reference laboratory for food security, Africa (European Union)

The decline in honeybee populations, which since 2006 has been commonly referred to as “colony collapse disorder,” has a huge impact on agriculture. Aside from affecting crop production, a decrease in pollinator bees contributes to losses in both productivity and profitability of farming communities, particularly rural and urban poor farmers, subsistence farmers and livestock owners.

East African honeybees, however, seem to have a strong resistance against the pathogens that have led to colony collapses in the United States and Europe.

This EU project, which is implemented by the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology, aims to preserve bee health and improve small-scale farmers’ productivity and profitability by setting up a central reference laboratory and satellite stations across Africa. Last November, the African Bee Health Reference Laboratory in Nairobi, Kenya — also where Icipe is headquartered — was established. One satellite station each will also be built in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia and Liberia.

Olive Oil Without Borders, West Bank (USAID)

Olive trees have become an inadvertent political symbol in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian territories, especially the West Bank. According to the United Nations, from 2009 to 2014, around 50,000 of the Palestinian territories’ fruit-bearing trees, mostly olives, were destroyed in attacks. While olive trees translate to harvest for Palestinian farmers, the trees also represent the struggle for control of their land.

The main goals of Olive Oil Without Borders, a project by the U.S. Agency for International Development, are economic, but they also have an important impact on improving the ties between Israel and the West Bank.

Olive oil prices in the West Bank were previously very low because exports were extremely limited. Through Olive Oil Without Borders, a February 2013 agreement between Israeli and Palestinian officials allowed Israeli citizens to buy olive oil from the West Bank for the first time in 10 years. According to Paige Alexander, USAID assistant administrator of the Bureau for the Middle East, Palestinian farmers increased their revenues by $20 million as a result of this agreement.

Capacity building for the implementation of the national agriculture strategy, Sudan (JICA)

Sudan’s history of conflict has prevented it from cultivating its large, arable lands and diversifying its economy, which has been heavily dependent on oil. To address this, in April 2008, the Sudanese government launched a national agricultural strategy to promote food security and increase its sources of income.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency, through this project, will assist Sudan’s Ministry of Agriculture and relevant organizations in strengthening their human and organizational capacities to carry out these goals. JICA rice cultivation experts will also conduct training in six states — Gezira, Gedaref, Sennar, White Nile, River Nile and Northern State — to equip local farmers with harvesting and post-harvesting knowledge and skills.

Umbrella program for natural resource management, India (GIZ)

Nearly 80 percent of India’s poor population live in rural areas and rely on agriculture for a living, but environmental degradation — which India’s national environment policy recognizes as a contributing factor to perpetuating poverty — has the potential to completely destroy the source of livelihoods of these farmers.

Implemented by India’s National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, KfW development bank and GIZ, this project encourages so-called pro-poor private investments — a significant shift from the completely grant-based funding usually directed toward India’s agriculture sector. Loans linked to capacity-building activities and combined with small-scale grants, as well as public-private partnerships that will connect rural farmers to the overall value chain, will form the strategy of the project.

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About the author

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    Anna Patricia Valerio

    Anna Patricia Valerio is a Manila-based development analyst focusing on writing innovative, in-the-know content for senior executives in the international development community. Before joining Devex, Patricia wrote and edited business, technology and health stories for BusinessWorld, a Manila-based business newspaper.