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More than a billion people in developing countries suffer from chronic hunger. Long a neglected topic, the role of agriculture in promoting pro-poor growth is attracting renewed attention in the United States and internationally. CGD’s work in this area focuses on how rich countries’ agricultural policies and practices impact people and economic development in the poor world.
Three out of four people in the developing world live in rural areas and depend on agriculture to support themselves and their families. Yet, since development traditionally involves moving people from subsistence farming into higher-productivity activities in manufacturing and services, governments and donors have neglected agriculture for decades. The spike in food prices in 2007–08, coupled with the consequent increases in hunger and poverty, returned food security issues to the policy agenda.
Senior fellow Kimberly Elliott, author of Delivering on Doha: Farm Trade and the Poor, focuses on how rich countries' agricultural policies and practices affect poor people in the developing world. Non-resident fellow Peter Timmer has written extensively on the role of agriculture and food security in the economic development process. Non-resident fellow Jenny Aker conducts research on food aid in the Sahel and on the importance of mobile phones on food prices.
CGD research on food and agriculture analyzes several other topics:
Trade policies and farm subsidies that protect rich-country agricultural producers from competition at the expense of developing countries
The effect of biofuels production on poor people, including through food prices.
The impact of rich-world consumption of "fair trade" agricultural products, such as coffee and chocolate, on poor people and on development.
The world will struggle to achieve the goals of ending extreme poverty and hunger by 2030 unless there is a sharp increase in agricultural productivity in Africa. Across sub-Saharan Africa, most people live in rural areas and rely on agriculture for their livelihoods; most of them are poor and many are hungry. Could genetically modified organisms (GMOs) help to address some of the causes contributing to Africa’s lagging agricultural productivity? Our answer is a qualified maybe.
Data on Feed the Future's results are just becoming available, and there is strikingly little independent analysis of the program. While we cannot yet assess the impact on poverty alleviation or improved nutrition, we can assess how Feed the Future performs against its stated objective of offering a new, more effective approach to food security. The integrated agriculture and nutrition approach emphasizes increased selectivity in aid allocations along with country ownership and capacity building to increase the effectiveness and sustainability of the initiative’s impacts. We find the initiative has led to an increase in the share of overall US assistance for agriculture and nutrition, and that the Obama administration has increasingly concentrated this aid in selected focus countries.
Ethiopia is facing one of the worst droughts in decades, a painful reminder that food security challenges remain despite low food prices globally. Feed the Future—the Obama Administration’s global food security initiative—has been supporting Ethiopia and 18 other focus countries with projects that aim to boost farmer productivity and improve nutrition. How has the initiative performed in its first five years?
The UN’s World Food Program now estimates that some three million Zimbabweans, or roughly one-quarter of the population, may require food aid this year. Zimbabwe is suffering from erratic rainfall this year, blamed in large part on the El Niño weather phenomena. An estimated 70% of Zimbabweans rely on agriculture, so the impact on poverty and human welfare will no doubt be severe. But in reading about Zimbabwe’s current predicament, something struck me: neighboring Zambia seems to have no urgent food aid requirements.
If Africa’s smallholder farmers are going to lift themselves out of poverty, they need access to formal financial services instead of the unstable, inflexible, informal arrangements that they currently rely on and that keep them poor. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Janeen Madan review the ways in which digital technology is changing how financial services are delivered and made affordable. With the right investments and policies, farmers will be able to access credit, savings accounts, insurance, payment platforms, and other financial products that allow them to invest in their livelihoods without being exposed to exploitation or untenable risks.
Agricultural market liberalization is the linchpin for a successful conclusion to the Doha Round of World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations because these are the most protected markets remaining in most rich countries. But the implications for developing countries, especially the poorest, are more complex than the current debate suggests. In her new book, Delivering on Doha: Farm Trade and the Poor, Kimberly Ann Elliott, a joint senior fellow at CGD and the Peterson Institute for International Economics, examines the structure of agricultural support in rich countries and the challenges and opportunities for reviving and completing the Doha Round of trade negotiations.
With the growth in yields for key staple crops falling and global population projected to increase by two to three billion 2050, global agriculture will need to improve to meet demand. "Pull mechanisms" are one tool that could help. Kimberly Ann Elliott examines to what extent donors have embraced them.
The United States is a major player in global agricultural markets. American farmers account for around 25 percent of world exports of wheat and corn, and are also among the largest producers and exporters of beef, pork, and poultry. This success is partly the result of those farmers having access to abundant land, deep financial markets, and modern technologies. But as I explore in my new book, Global Agriculture and the American Farmer: Opportunities for U.S. Leadership, it is also the result of government policies that distort markets and undermine the provision of global public goods. The poor in developing countries are particularly vulnerable to the negative spillovers of these policies.
The US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is catching flack for recommending that Americans consider the environmental consequences of eating so many burgers. Pointing to climate change and other environmental effects of meat production, the panel suggested Americans contemplate the broader implications when choosing what to eat.