Pierre Jacquet, President, Global Development Network (GDN) spoke to Sarika Malhotra of Business Today about the challenges and opportunities for a new green revolution, and how scientific knowledge needs to be better owned by all local stakeholders in order to inspire action.
Q: Agriculture seems to be back on the radar of policy makers...What are your thoughts?
A: Structural transformation in developed countries took place through a modernisation of agriculture that not only fed populations, but also freed resources to be employed in manufacturing and services in cities. As a result, agriculture decreased as a proportion of GDP. This may have contributed to make it appear as a traditional sector unlikely to carry innovation and promote development. Yet, in developing countries, and in particular in Africa but also in an emerging country like India, the proportion of the population living in rural areas (close to two-thirds in Africa) and the share of agricultural employment confirm that agricultural development is an essential pillar for growth and poverty reduction. Agriculture came back on top of governments' and donors' policy priorities with the publication of the 2008 World Bank Development Report. Food security is a global issue.
Q: What are the biggest challenges in achieving food security for all?
A: The challenges and solutions may vary from one country to another. However, the African challenges seem most formidable for Africa. For example, according to World Bank data, the agricultural value added represents 15 per cent of GDP on average on the continent, but ranges from 2.3 per cent in South Africa to 45 per cent in Ethiopia and close to 60 per cent in Sierra Leone. In Morocco, it still reaches between 16 and 17 per cent of GDP and in India, about 18 per cent. However, such diversity does not prevent from recognising the fundamental role of agriculture in growth and poverty reduction strategies, or from identifying generic obstacles that come in the way. The population of the continent could double by mid-century to two billion people; climate change brings considerable adaptation problems and might result in substantial cuts in agricultural productivity (the FAO reckons that the decline might be between 15 per cent and 30 per cent), even while productivity growth has been lagging far behind that in other places of the World. It is true that African agriculture has grown significantly over the last 15 years, but it did so mainly through an extension of agricultural land. Land, however, has been constantly degrading, and yields have plummeted down. Financial constraints prevent farmers from buying necessary inputs; poor infrastructure and various regulations penalise production, conservation and market access locally, regionally and internationally. Meanwhile, land tenure rules and property rights deter investment, maintain a landscape of smallholder farming and discriminate against women, who represent close to 50 per cent of farm labour. Scientific research and development are underdeveloped. All these obstacles are compounding some of the most severe current dilemmas: How to encourage productivity gains, while sustaining job creation in rural areas to provide jobs to an abundant rural population (with a large number of young people) unlikely to currently find jobs in cities? How to promote innovation, in agricultural practices when it questions local cultures and traditions? How to mobilise market forces to develop an agricultural specialisation that will meet the continent's needs, create rural income and provide enough food of a good nutritional quality?
Q: What are the ways to deal with these challenges?
A: Most of these obstacles to agricultural development have been known, studied and commented on for quite a long time. Why have they not be addressed properly yet? Why does the priority to agricultural development seem to hardly move from the paper to actual public policy reality? One of GDN's beliefs is that the explanation partly hinges on the fact that global recommendations, however based on an informed understanding of major challenges, cannot by themselves produce coherent local policies. These policies cannot be understood as mechanical responses to well-identified problems: they involve a complex action dynamics intricately related to socio-economic, cultural and political contexts. For scientific knowledge to inspire action, it needs to be more local, more contextualised, and better owned by all local stakeholders. In order to reach that objective, GDN's mission is to mobilise developing country researchers and provide them with resources and capacity building services so that they can produce quality work that will inform local debates and policies. Their work is essential to generate a better, contextualised knowledge of various obstacles and to contribute to shaping the coalitions of interests that can shape better policies.