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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.
With a decade since the beginning of the major food price spike in 2007, Ministers gathering at the WTO Ministerial in Buenos Aires this week can make a positive impact on people's lives—with an agreement that will reduce the likelihood and impacts of a food price spike.
Earlier this month the US Treasury’s top international official announced at a congressional hearing that he would like to see the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) “wound down.” Scratching beneath GAFSP’s surface, there are good reasons to be concerned about the potential loss of this particular trust fund. And for those very reasons, it seems unlikely that the other GAFSP donors will be so quick to follow the US lead.
"There are better ways to improve test scores," "food is expensive," "most kids would eat anyway," and other counterarguments contain some truth, but fail to overturn the basic economic logic of free, universal school feeding in poor countries.
Since Charles, Janeen, and I last wrote about the links between drug-resistant superbugs and antibiotic use in livestock, there has been a slew of new interesting, terrifying, and informative things to read on the topic. And they all underscore the need for a global approach to reduce agricultural use of antibiotics to promote animal growth and prevent disease in large, concentrated feeding operations. We offered initial ideas on the essential elements of a global treaty here. You can also read more about the problem, and the steps taken thus far to address it, in my new CGD book, Global Agriculture and the American Farmer: Opportunities for US Leadership.
McDonald's has just gone global with its commitment to serve chicken free from antibiotics that are critically important to human health. Building on a similar phase-out in its US chicken supply in 2016, the company will ban critical antibiotic use from sourced chicken in a handful of high-income countries and Brazil in 2018, expanding to a longer list of “designated markets” by 2027. That's evidence of both the potential to reduce global antibiotic use in livestock and the vital role consumers can play in speeding progress.
Recently the UN warned that 20 million people are facing famine in four countries. How can the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) help? Gilbert Houngbo, former Prime Minister of Togo and new IFAD president, joins the CGD podcast to discuss IFAD's impact and unique mandate.
The US agricultural sector is critical to global food security, but many of the policies that currently govern it negatively impact people around the world. In a new book, CGD visiting fellow Kim Elliott argues for practical policy reforms in three areas that are particularly damaging to developing countries: food aid, biofuel subsidies, and antibiotic resistance in livestock. As the US Congress works through a major new farm bill, Elliott joins the CGD Podcast to discuss how the US can reform agricultural policy to achieve better outcomes.
Originally published in October 2013 and updated January 2015
Food security has arisen again on the development agenda. High and volatile food prices took a toll in 2007–08, and in many low-income countries agricultural yields have risen little, if at all, in the last decade. Moreover, food production in these poor countries is especially vulnerable to climate change. Meeting this demand is a global challenge. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is expected to lead the way in meeting this challenge and, with the arrival in 2012 of the first new director-general in 18 years, it has an opening to restructure itself to do so.
The debate over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has been raging for twenty years and there is still more heat than light around the topic. While some developing countries have embraced the technology, much of Africa has followed the European Union’s precautionary approach. While not a panacea, GMOs could be part of a new green revolution in Africa if governments address the policy and institutional weaknesses that prevented Africa from participating in the first one, and if GM technology continues to develop.
Demand for and supply of “sustainable” coffee (and other commodities) have grown markedly for two decades, as has the literature analyzing the effects of voluntary sustainability standards for coffee. The evidence for assessing the impacts for smallholder producers and the environment remains relatively weak, however.
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.
This paper reviews research on the impact of rice prices on the poor, on real wages in rural and urban areas, and on the broader macroeconomic consequences for investments in labor-intensive manufacturing.
The CGD Working Group on Global Trade Preference Reform
The CGD Working Group on Global Trade Preference Reform shows how changes to trade preference programs could greatly benefit those living in the poorest countires at very little cost to preference-giving countries.