International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) that has been working towards reducing poverty and improving the livelihoods of rural poor people in India since 1979, by investing more than $928 million in 27 programmes and projects and impacting 4.4 million households, stressed that there is a dire need to focus on technical solutions for rain-fed agriculture, especially in light of climate change.
An independent evaluation report presented on Thursday in New Delhi pointed out that from a technical perspective, interventions need clearer emphasis on reducing the large intra-district yield differentials, as well as risk factors, and to better analyse constraints and opportunities of farming systems. "There is also a need for more systematic partnerships with state and local public research and extension organisations."
It pointed out that investments in agriculture need to be crafted more strategically by organizing them around territorial and commodity clusters, to better coordinate interventions and concentrate on critical mass of initiatives.
Accordingly to the panellists, this would also place projects in a better position to support linkages to markets and opportunities for value addition. IFAD also stressed to improve farmers' information on markets and reduce risks, attention needs to be paid to information technology, and insurance products as many of the problems experienced by farmers in certain regions can be reduced through these inputs.
The panellists said that emphasis on market access and value chains also implies renewed efforts to engage private sector operators at the design stage. They also pointed out that there have been attempts made through one of the projects to cooperate with private sector companies (Tata, Tesco, East West Seeds, FieldFresh, Unilever and Better Cotton Initiatives). Co-financing and technical support opportunities with the private foundation Sir Ratan Tata Trust have materialised for two projects and the experiences are still to be analysed and systematized. It was also felt that the recent legislation on reinvesting a percentage (2 per cent) of corporate profits in corporate social responsibility provides renewed opportunities for collaboration with private companies.
Among other issues, the deteriorating quality of soil and water was discussed. "It is seriously challenging the agriculture sector's long-term prospects, especially in the context of oncoming climate change. The continued low productivity of rain-fed agriculture dampens the overall growth rate of agriculture in India. It also causes high variability in annual food production, which adversely affects the poor and vulnerable population in particular."
The 2016 India Country Programme Evaluation found that a considerable portion of portfolio investment went into agricultural activities. Most of the IFAD target groups comprise small and marginal farmers engaged in rain-fed agriculture and workers earning their livelihood as casual agriculture labour. However, it was felt that the technical content of agricultural interventions was not always sharply conceptualized.
Traditionally, IFAD-funded projects were geared to support subsistence agriculture in very poor areas and were mostly demand-based. Non-governmental organizations (national and international) and state or district departments were in charge of providing improved varieties of seeds or livestock breeds and extension support. This was relevant to simple (although necessary) interventions in the subsistence sphere. However, as the needs of communities evolve and as the Government and IFAD move towards supporting smallholder commercial agriculture and addressing the broader challenges of developing rain-fed areas. It pointed out that a strategy to organize interventions around territorial and product clusters (eg. fruit trees, or goats or dairy products) so as to build a critical mass of inter-connected investments, which would also facilitate connectivity to markets and, when possible, value chains.
The evaluation report confirmed the need to continue giving priority to disadvantaged areas and groups. According to Oscar A. Garcia, Director, Independent Office of Evaluation, IFAD, "In the future, project design, the mix of components and the level of specialization will need to be better differentiated and adapted to the target groups and agro-ecological areas. The traditional 'self-help group' model will continue to be relevant for areas where basic needs are still the priority. In areas where farmers are already experiencing a surplus in production, projects should focus more on commercialization of smallholder agriculture."