Washington — Getting new agricultural technologies into the hands of smallholder farmers in developing countries requires increased coordination among governments and research groups, says Rajiv Shah, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
In a December 7 speech at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington, Shah urged policymakers and scientists to aggressively deploy new technologies that can increase yields and improve nutrition. He asked research groups like IFPRI to yearly analyze the design and performance of technologies adopted by farmers in locations throughout the developing world so they know what works and what doesn't and to share that information with other agricultural researchers. The focus should be on long-term results, he added.
Shah said USAID offices around the world will work with country leaders to establish baseline rates of adoption of new technologies by farmers and yearly adoption targets for specific technologies.
Agricultural research is at the heart of the Feed the Future program, gaining $120 million in funding in 2011 -- more than two times the amount devoted to agricultural research in 2008, Shah said. He predicted that the rate of growth in funding research will continue. Feed the Future is the Obama administration's 3-year-old effort to reduce hunger, malnutrition and poverty in targeted low-income countries by supporting development priorities identified by those countries. USAID is the lead agency administering Feed the Future.
Shah said USAID will continue to focus on countries that are "willing to make the tough policy reforms required to sustain the kinds of gains we know can be achieved in agricultural development."
Research has shown that growth in the agriculture sector is twice as effective at reducing poverty as growth in other sectors, according to Feed the Future.
Shah said that in coming years USAID will work with its public and private partners to introduce more farmers to promising new technologies, starting with cereals resilient to a global rise in temperature and wheat that is resistant to rust and has the potential of boosting yields across the globe.
He said USAID has joined a new, Mexico-based network of 20 partners that will work to increase wheat yields by up to 50 percent by 2032.
Promising technologies include drought-tolerant maize with the potential to benefit as many as 40 million people as soon as 2016 and crops like sweet potato fortified with essential vitamins and minerals. They include technologies that boost soil fertility and make it easier to effectively vaccinate livestock against disease in the field, Shah added.
IFPRI is one of 15 independent, nonprofit research groups that belong to the alliance known as CGIAR, or the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. CGIAR concentrates on breeding better staple food crops, natural resource management, food production and ecological protection.
A webcast of Shah's speech is available on the IFPRI website. More information about Feed the Future and CGIAR is available on their websites.