Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Enabling Agriculture: How to Promote Increases in Productivity and Food Security

This post was written by Russ Webster, Vice President for Program Development at Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA)For further discussion on the enabling environment for agriculture, register to attend Tuesday's Agrilinks webinar: How Can Enabling Environment Reform Facilitate Agricultural Sector Growth?

Hunger is not an abstraction. A lack of sufficient food, if left unaddressed, can bring about social unrest and mass migrations, incite wars, and destroy nations.

Over the next 35 years, the world’s population is expected to grow by an astounding one-third. By 2050, our planet is forecast to be home to more than 9 billion people, with most of the growth occurring in developing nations.

Clearly, we already have much of the technology necessary to promote increases in productivity and food security. But legal and regulatory barriers continue to slow and impede the advancement of new agricultural solutions in the nations and regions that need them most.

The question today is: How do we create an "enabling environment” that will encourage the level of investment necessary to unleash the full growth potential of agriculture around the world? How do we create an environment that will drive the improvements in productivity, processing and distribution required to feed the world’s growing population?

At first glance, the task may seem far too complex. Too many obstacles block the way. For one thing, there is a general lack of information to help policymakers negotiate the maze of domestic and international laws and regulations. Corrupt behavior is also a challenge in many countries where enforcement is weak or nonexistent. Still other barriers are stubbornly kept in place by those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

The good news is that there are excellent tools available to help policymakers identify, analyze and untangle the legal and regulatory barriers to agriculture that exist in developing countries. A program supported by the World Bank called Enabling the Business of Agriculture (EBA) is one such tool.

In addition to helping to address those barriers, the program identifies positive regulatory practices in the world’s developing regions and nations—ones that drive rather than hinder agriculture. Policymakers can use the EBA program to learn about best practices affecting different production inputs and market enablers, including seed, fertilizer, machinery, finance, markets, transport, information and communication technology, land, water and livestock. And this is only one of many such learning tools available to those who wish to use them.

But policymakers need more than tools. They need the political will to change. And when it comes to expanding food production, nations no longer have the luxury of time. They no longer have the option of pursuing agricultural policy reforms at the usual snail’s pace.

That is why all stakeholders must take a collective role in providing that political will. Producers, processors and traders must speak up, organize and advocate for forward-looking policies. Academic institutions must analyze current legal structures and identify areas where policymakers can simplify laws and ease regulation. And legislative bodies must engage in open dialogue with the private sector.

Only then can nations unleash the power of entrepreneurship to drive agricultural development and expand the business of agriculture in underdeveloped regions. By opening regulatory doors, entrepreneurs can make the investments that will bring badly technological innovations to the markets that need them. And by simplifying the rules to expand access to those innovations, producers can adopt new techniques, apply new technologies, promote increases in productivity and enhance food security.

There are many success stories illustrating how this approach works at the local level.

For example, as an increasing demand for meat in Ethiopia’s Oromia zone brought with it the growing chance that unsafe meat would enter the food supply, enterprising local officials—with the help of outside agricultural experts—have been working with local stakeholders to ensure the quality and safety of the region’s meat, milk and other animal products.

While the government’s establishment of a new Oromia Livestock and Fishery Bureau was a first step in addressing the emerging problem, a huge amount of work still remained to be done to alleviate food safety problems in a region suffering from a lack of infrastructure and meat hygiene expertise.

It was clear from the outset that putting a new regulatory framework into action required the collective input and effort of all stakeholders. Officials began working with a USAID Agricultural Growth Program-Livestock Market Development (AGP-LMD) project to implement “multi-stakeholder platforms” to serve as forums where representatives of municipalities, slaughterhouse operators, human health services officials and representatives of urban industry—as well as workers, communities and consumers—can collaborate to develop solutions to the problems surrounding meat safety.

By bringing these groups together, the project has begun to change participants’ attitudes. Stakeholders have learned about the dangers of consuming unsafe meat and milk, as well as about safe handling practices, better transportation methods, and the importance of regulating slaughterhouses and meat inspections.

While work remains to be done, scores of officials have received meat hygiene training as well as training that allows them to train others as a direct result of these efforts. Several towns also have upgraded their meat transportation, and—critically—a law has been proposed that would hold illegal slaughterhouses and backyard slaughters liable. 

These things do not happen overnight, but programs such as the one AGP-LMD developed continue to generate positive results in countries and regions all around the world.

The message here is clear: stakeholders need to work together to inform and educate one another, promote and advocate for the best solutions, and implement new approaches to feed their populations. Entrepreneurial collaboration produces results. And we need to unleash it now