Saturday, July 7, 2012

The road to food security: What works and what doesn’t?

Considering that donors spend some US$ 150 billion per year in development aid, and that much of this is oriented to poverty alleviation and food security it is perhaps surprising to know how few thorough international reviews that have been made to assess  what works and what doesn’t work. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs has now reviewed existing evaluations in the field and make a summary in the study A systematic review of the impact of interventions in agricultural production, value chains, market regulation.  One conclusion is that most evaluations and impact assessments are not solid enough to allow for any far-reaching conclusions. Of 365 evaluations screened only 38 fulfilled the quality criteria the reviewers had developed.

The review assessed four pathways to food security: increasing production; development of value chains; market reform and land security. Interventions based on access to credit; development of non-farm sector; social safety nets; stabilized prices, hygiene and sanitation were thus not part of the review.

Overall conclusions
Interventions improving land tenure security scored mostly positive, especially when combined with other interventions.
Interventions increasing agricultural production scored generally positive, except for sustainability.
Value chain development scored well on increasing trade, but the most vulnerable people did not benefit.
Market regulation reform interventions score lowest, due to the combination with reduced support to the agricultural sector in several African countries.
Success was most likely where different interventions were combined in a favourable national climate.

As I have been working a lot with value chain development I took a particular interest in that: Intervention in value chain comes out as one of the better strategies for improving food security. The report highlights that there is a big potential in the development of domestic value chains. For example, in Kenya approximately 500,000 smallholders produce vegetables and fruits for the domestic markets while only 11,500 smallholders were engaged in the export market. The export market involves many more large plantations with employees. They employ in total also around half a million people, who are food secure through their income. The evaluation also studied value chains built around GlobalGAP, Organic and Fairtrade.

Number of farmers producing certified products for export markets          
Developing countries
GlobalGAP (2007)

Organic (2009)

source: IOB study 363, 2012

Clearly donors are disappointed with the very limited impact of all the efforts spent to train smallholders in GlobalGAP systems. There have been many donor financed projects for linking smallholder farmers in developing countries to organic markets in developing countries. For example the Export Promotion of Organic Products from Africa. In that programme, more than 120 thousand smallholders in Uganda and Tanzania were linked to organic markets in Europe, USA and Japan. The estimated earnings reached some US$ 30 million per year.  The review assess the impact of organic value chains as successful, but can’t conclude if the efforts have reached the most vulnerable or not. Successfactors have been linking of farmers to commercial exporters (as opposed tp supporting farmer to export themselves), group certification and efforts to improve quality. Also for Fairtrade it was unclear if the most food insecure people were reached and perhaps surprising the report states that, Fairtrade seems to have reinforced men’s role in household an cooperative decision making around cash crops; in one case women’s income had even declined. For the total household income, in four of six cases in Latin America, there had been no increase of household income with Fair trade: ”The low income for Fairtrade farmers is due to the competition between the Fairtrade crop and other farm and non-farm activities, the additional costs for inputs and (hired) labour, and the limited Fairtrade market - only part of the produce is sold as Fairtrade.”

On the opposing side to organic stands a strong drive to increase use of chemical fertilizers, and sometimes GMOs and pesticides. The reports says that the subsidised fertilizer schemes in Zambia and Malawi have been successful. However, another recent special review of such schemes, Agricultural input subsidies in Sub-Saharan Africa from DANIDA comes to a much less positive conclusion after studying such schemes in Malawi, Zambia, Ghana and Tanzania:
Significant increases in agricultural productivity and food production is possible, and the potential for improving agricultural productivity by subsidising agricultural inputs exists. However the estimates are somewhat uncertain. Costs are very high, and given uncertainties it is unclear whether the programmes provide value for money.
There is very little convincing evidence to suggest that outcomes are likely to persist after termination of the programmes. However, the subsidy programmes are designed to address the distortions created by market imperfections rather than the market imperfections themselves. When (if) the programmes are phased out, input use is likely to decline again.
It also concludes that none of the programmes managed to reach the poorest households

On the, rather controversial, effects of market deregulation, the Dutch review shows how market de-regulation in China and Vietnam, in combination with land reform, has contributed tremendously to growth and reduction of poverty. ”The impact of domestic trade reform alone was not evaluated, but together with the other pathways in Vietnam’s agricultural development, it contributed to the production increase, from a deficit of 27% in 1980 to a surplus of 40% in 1999. And for China:
In China, during the so-called household responsibility system reform between 1978 and 1984, national grain production increased from 305 to 407 million tonnes. Increases in efficiency increased labour productivity and reduced production costs and food prices. [... ] As a result, per capita grain consumption increased from 195 to 250 kg per year, and household income increased by 15% per year between 1978 and 1984. The efficiency gains in agriculture made labour available for the rural industry sector that absorbed about one third of the rural labour force by 1996. Poverty declined from 53% in 1981 to 8% in 2001.

On the other hand the report also points to that during the period of big de-regulation
In most African countries, the increase in food import was larger than the increase in agricultural export. The ratio of food import to agricultural export has worsened for all African countries plus Guatemala and Peru, remained the same for Guyana, and had improved for China, India and Chile (1970-2002). In the period 1995-2002, the situation was worst for Senegal which imported food worth more than three times their total  agricultural export. Farmer income from export crops increased in all countries. In contrast, farmer income from liberalised food crops decreased in all countries, except in Chile. Farmer income from food crops that were still protected increased in Cameroon, Nigeria, Morocco, China, India, Chile, Guyana and Peru.

That land reform the report highlights that land titling and solutions based on individual, private ownership may not be the best. As a matter of fact they are likely to benefit more those that are already better off, and exclude women and disadvantaged groups.

As the report points out, there is no silver bullet that by itself can guarantee food security. It stands clear to me that food security – poverty and equality are intrinsically linked, and that the reason for food insecurity is found in an unjust society and unequal access to resources, and therefore,  that the path to food security is to correct those injustices.

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