Feed the Future
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Agricultural Transformations: Country Context and Priorities Shape Change

This post was written by Jim Oehmke and is the second installment of "Policy Insights", a video-centric blog series focusing on elements of agricultural transformation and policy. Read the first post of the series here.

In a previous discussion of agricultural transformations, I pointed out that putting an end to hunger and extreme poverty requires a transformation from subsistence farming to commercial agriculture and food systems that raise incomes, increase food security and improve nutritional outcomes for both rural and urban residents. But the vision of those transformations can look very different to different people.

Let’s explore those differences in more detail by comparing Brazil and Niger. Brazil has largely completed its agricultural transformation and has low rates of poverty (3.7 percent), stunting (7.1 percent) and underweight (2.2 percent). Niger is only partway through its transformation but has reduced poverty by 36 percentage points, stunting by 11 points and underweight by six points. 

Brazil has ridden the growth of its large commercial farms — the two percent of farms over 500 ha farmed 57 percent of farmland and produced over 68 percent of agricultural production value. Brazil is the fourth largest agricultural exporter and the eighth largest economy in the world. Some of Brazil’s increased agricultural production has come from clearing Amazon rainforest. Despite Brazil’s obvious agricultural success, both the dominance of large farms and ecological concerns raise questions about the suitability of replicating the Brazilian model in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Niger’s agricultural economy is based on smallholder farmers in the southern periphery of the Sahara Desert. Through the early 1990s this area was subject to land degradation and desertification. In the past two decades Niger has reforested 5,000 ha of land, or about one third of total arable land, much of it in agroforestry. Eighty percent of Niger’s population is employed in agriculture. Although there have been advancements, Niger’s agricultural economy is still among the poorest in the world. It faces threats from weather variability, and the population is exploding. Despite Niger’s obvious success in transforming to a more sustainable ecology, concerns remain about the suitability of replicating the Niger model. An extreme critic might even argue that the best solution is to facilitate farmer migration to areas within the country that are more suitable for agriculture.

The question going forward is how to combine the best from different visions and transformation processes to forge new and better options. Stay tuned…

Jim Oehmke is Senior Food Security and Nutrition Advisor for USAID. 

Transformation in Agri-Food Systems: Country Driven Results