DEVELOPMENT: Investment in Agriculture Falls Alarmingly

  • by Sanjay Suri (london)
  • Tuesday, June 30, 2009
  • Inter Press Service

More than a billion people are now hungry, and food prices have begun to rise again, threatening multitudes of poor people, the report points out.

'Total global investment, in bilateral and multilateral assistance, has declined 75 percent since the 1980s,' Emily Alpert, author of the Oxfam report told IPS in an interview from Hong Kong.

The under-investment over decades has increased vulnerability of many to market and climatic shocks, she said. And the need to act is immediate, she said. 'Investment in agriculture brings slow returns; it can have a long payoff time. Increasing investments today will not bring the desired results immediately.'

The report, 'Investing in Poor Farmers Pays: Rethinking How to Invest in Agriculture' released Tuesday, says that two-thirds of the world's rural poor have been overlooked by what little investments have been made.

Oxfam is calling on leaders of the G8 (the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia) to raise agricultural development assistance back to at least 1980 levels of around 20 billion dollars a year, from the 5 billion dollars at present.

'National investment has followed suit, except in rich countries and in a handful of developing countries such as China, India and Brazil,' Alpert told IPS.

Among the rich, the report notes that in 2007 alone, EU agricultural spending was 130 billion dollars, and in the U.S. 41 billion dollars.

'A substantial increase in long-term agriculture investments is loose change compared to ongoing investments in rich countries or the trillions of dollars spent globally this year on the financial bail-out,' Alpert said in a statement earlier. 'Strengthening the agricultural sectors of developing countries is a crucial part of the long-term solution to the world's food, financial and climate crises.'

The Oxfam report urges donors, national governments and private sector investors to invest more and more wisely in developing country agriculture, targeting investments towards people, particularly women, to encourage and support social and knowledge capital and enabling them to adopt environmentally sustainable farming methods.

'Women are key to food security,' Alpert said. 'Investing equitably in women's needs and building their capacity to productively engage in agriculture must be at the forefront any solution to improve agricultural growth and reduce poverty.'

Oxfam says donor funding must be predictable, transparent and untied. The agency also cautioned the use of any 'one size approach', and said investments must be tailored to the conditions of specific locations, participatory and demand-driven.

Special attention must be paid to farmers and herders in marginalised land, who often work in harsh and remote environments with inadequate access to markets and services for extension, credit and farming inputs, and fewer off- farm sources of employment, the report says.

'Such farmers and herders shoulder the burden of conserving crop biodiversity and managing some of the world's most fragile soils and could be critical allies in the fight against climate change.'

Alpert said that despite perceived low returns on investing in marginalised areas by donors and the private sector, investing in developing country agriculture pays for itself by reducing poverty. 'A healthy agricultural sector acts as a multiplier in local economies, leading eventually to higher wages and vibrant rural markets where farmers and workers spend their earnings.'

The crisis is here already, Alpert told IPS. 'We are already seeing the impact of food price rise on poor people, which is at least in part due to lack of investment in agriculture. The more you increase productivity, the more food there will be for poor people, who spend 50 to 80 percent of their income on food.'

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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