Food Crisis: The Role of Agricultural Productivity


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The current food crisis—increasing poverty linked to price volatility and high food prices—have put agricultural growth and food production issues back on the development agenda. Is productivity growth the only way to address the short-run challenge (the food crisis) and longer-term needs (meeting increased demand for food)? 

Even though today agriculture is the main source of livelihood for 2.5 billion people, including 1.3 billion smallholders and landless workers, public investment in agriculture in developing countries, as well as the share of agricultural expenditure in total government spending, have been gradually declining since the 1980s. Bilateral and multilateral assistance to agriculture, after an increase in the 1970s, also fell starting in the mid-1980s.  It is only in recent years that the World Bank and other aid agencies have increased their lending and boosted their investments. But will these investments be effective? This depends on whether they will have a sizeable impact on agricultural productivity. 

As of today, the growth of agricultural productivity has stalled. The yields of major grains grow by about 1 percent per year, which is lower than the population growth rate. Given that expanding the cultivated area is not a possibility to meet future needs, in order to feed the growing (urbanized) population (who has higher food demand), the only solution is increasing agricultural productivity.

Whether it is possible to increase productivity —which would give a major boost to economic growth and substantially reduce poverty in low-income economies such as Sub-Saharan Africa— depend on a range of factors.  A recent report by IEG and other evaluation offices identifies six action areas: research and extension; access to water; access to credit; access to land and formalization of land rights; transport and marketing; and policies, markets, and agribusiness. Weaknesses in any of these areas can hinder agriculture and agribusiness productivity. There are no “silver bullet” solutions. The most difficult challenges are institutional and are related to market failures, missing markets and property rights—which all imply the need to find solutions to complex social problems and therefore compound the probability of failure.

New approaches to increasing productivity in these countries have to be found. In most parts of the world, agricultural growth will need to come from intensive rather than extensive growth. Intensification is vital not only to meet increasing demand but also to reduce deforestation, environmental devastation, and global warming. The per capita production of cereals did not increase after the mid-1980s. Globally, the growth rates in yields of major grains declined from around 3 percent in 1980 to 1 percent recently—but this global figure masks large differences across countries and regions. In Africa, production of cereals and root crops rose mainly because more land was brought under cultivation; crop yields were largely stagnant. For its Green Revolution, Africa therefore needs high-yielding varieties that are adapted to local conditions. In addition, to guarantee adoption of such crop varieties and to integrate small farmers into modern value chains, existing barriers – such as low education, missing infrastructure, lack of credit and insurance markets – and insecure property rights have to be addressed. And new ways of information dissemination and learning methods, such as the use of communications technology in extension services, can foster adoption and profitable cultivation among farmers.  Increasing productivity among smallholders in developing countries is also an instrument to guarantee food security in the long-run.

Agriculture can also be an engine of growth and employment opportunities for the rural non-farm economy because of its linkages with small cities and rural areas.  Rural development and community-driven development can assist in this process. The government will need to play an important role. It should not, however, be the only purveyor. The private sector will be the main source of investment funds and a supplier of services.  Donors, NGOs and civil society organizations (who benefit from local and external private expertise when implementing projects) will also play a key role. To identify the right mix of these actors and to establish an effective cooperation among them will also be a complex task. 

As if new evidence was required, the 2008 food crisis has demonstrated once again the vulnerability of the poor to income shocks due to food price increases. As commodity prices rise once again in 2011, it seems important to adopt measures to limit volatility and put in place effective coping mechanisms. Macroeconomic approaches to stabilize prices in national markets are not promising. Policies which help the poor to cope with income shocks (such as social safety nets) have a higher potential to mitigate the adverse effects of price increases on the poor and prevent households from falling into chronic poverty.  At the national level, beggar-thy-neighbor trade policies to stabilize prices and guarantee food security have been counterproductive: during the 2008 food price crisis, policies adopted by some developing countries have harmed poor populations and reversed some past gains.  Once again the best instruments to protect small farmers from income shocks are increased productivity or other ex-ante measures that reduce the risk of shocks in the first place. 

Food and agriculture challenges are examined in “Evaluative Lessons for Agriculture and Agribusiness,” by the Evaluation Cooperation Group and written by Xubei Luo (January 2011)  and in “Agriculture and Development: A Brief Review of the Literature,”  by Jean-Jacques Dethier and Alexandra Effenberger, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 5553.


Jean-Jacques Dethier

Manager, Research Services, Development Economics Vice Presidency, World Bank

Join the Conversation

March 10, 2011

Agriculture should be taken up as an Industry. NGOs and Government should develop crop exclusive, multi-crop, perennial crop, high-yield clusters called 'Fertile Ilands' with the active participation of small farmers. These ilands should be backed by single window support w.r.t. research, credit, marketing and analytics. Successful model could be replicated any where across the country or foreign lands too. This method would help the farmers, help economy, reduce risk, and increase food production.

The other method is stopping the migration of farmers or farmer families from their traditional farming avocation. This could be through any means of single window support system.

Let NGOs stake their funding on agriculture avocations to enhance food production.


Naushad khan Lecturer Agricultural university peshawar
November 19, 2011

The development definition is Still not cleared. Some say per capita income increasing is called development while some claim that per capita income increasing, mortality rate decreasing and litracy rate increasing is called development. However development definition is confused. According to my view any positive change is called development.It is the food which take place positive change in human being and give satisfiction to them. So development is linked with food If human being satisfied more by food then this satisfication of the human being by food is called real development because the world every thing is linked with human being and affect their activities positively or negatively, if the affection is positive for humna being then it is called development. So the main thing for human is essential food and without this survival is impossibl.It is the food which give satisfiction to human being and it is the agriculture which produce the food and solve the problem of food crisis in the world. For example if we shall keep a person in the room for six month and put two month food and also put other valuable item with him in the room. After two month he will be died while the valuable goods will do nothing for escaping from death, so food is the essential item for them. Therefore it is necessary for every government to start research and produce new varieties to produce more food for future because without food survival on earth is impossible and it is also recommended to not give due attention to other sector development more than agriculture because without food human satisfiction is impossible and without agriculture food solution is impossible

Naushad Khan
December 10, 2011

It is a that development where the fate of the future generation is escape and take a positive change in the country. Now a day the govt or agency solve the problem of the present generation while create problem for future generation and destroy the life expectancy of the futre population. Therefore it is advised to development agencies and department to plain properly the development project and to not damage the fate of future generation.

Naushad Khan
December 13, 2011

Finance is essential element for development of agriculture and development of agriculture is necessary for development of a country. So they both depend on one another The majority people of the world live in rural area and majority depend on agriculture while the people of that area is very poor and can not purchase input for their agriculture for increasing agricultural productivity.Sometime they take loan from the banks or friend, relative and money lender while interest rate is higher than the return rate so in the last run the poor farmer can not repay the said amount to lender and later on they affect their agriculture activities which decrease their production in the long run.So it is concluded that agriculture finance is essential element for the development of a country and for food crisis solution it is necessary for every govt to give due attention those farmers who want to cultivate the land while due to lack of finance they not increase their field output.

Naushad khan Lecturer Agricultural university
December 16, 2011

As a rural development expert it is necessary for the govt to developed first their human resource not only for agricultural development but also for other sector development because every sector depend on one another while agricultural is a very crucial and important sector for other sector development because they supply food and raw material to other sector and survive their human resources while train and skillful farmer is compulsory for the boosting of agricultural economy.For the said purpose train and skillful staffs are required and for skillful staffs training, qualitative institutions in the country is highly needed.For the said purpose qualitative teachers in these institutions are required because to teach well in that institutions and give a quality education to those students who are working in the field and conduct the research in that area for agricultural development and invent the new varieties whose production is more than the other desi variety in per acre yield. So finally it is concluded that good institution only produce good expert for the field and good expert only increase the production more than the other non educated experts who work locally in their area..

Naushad Khan Agricultural university peshawar
December 16, 2011

The world 75% population cover the rural sector. in the said area 60-70% population engaged with agricultural sector.The 30% population links with non_farming activities.They both depend on one another.Without rural development other sector development is impossible because both rural sector supply food and raw material to other sector. If the govt not give due attention to this area then development of other is very difficult and then the country can not escape from the vicious circle of poverty and poverty is the main disease which affect the whole country economy and create problem for the whole world and make the make the world miserable in long run as well as in short run. Due to poverty the farmer of the rural area not purchase input for their farming actities which affect the production of the farming community and particulary affect the per acre yield of the farmer. So finally it is concluded that without rural development world development is impossible.However govt due attention to this sector is highly need becuase this sector development affect the whole sustainability of the world.

Naushad Khan Lecturer Agricultural University Peshawar
January 16, 2012

Any thing which is present in the universe they have some link with agricultural developments. Agricultural evelopment is the dependent variable and other things are the independent variables.The independent variable positively or negatively affect the dependent variable. Among these the sun rays, hill, river, moon etc are the major independent variable which affect the agricultural development.For the said purpose the equation is given below which shows the whole process of agriculture development.

Y= a+B1S2 + B2R2+B3H2+B3m2

Naushad khan Lecturer Rural development Agricultural univers
May 03, 2012

Price is highly required for sustainable agriculture. Without price stability sustainable agriculture is imposssible. Price is a that factor whice increase or decrease the total output in the world. If price increasing the farmer grow that crop whose price in the market is high and not grow that crop whose price is less so the farmer encircle from the price and grow that crop whose price is high. While in the world there is no stability of the agriculture crop when the price of the oil increasing then they also affect the price of the field crop in the world so price stability in the world is highly required because without price stability sustainable agricultural development in the world is impossible