By Amanda Strickler
In 2009, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), published Millions Fed: Proven Successes in Agricultural Development. Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Millions Fed project analyzed over 250 agricultural success stories from developing countries over the past 50 years. Based on a set of criteria focused on agriculture including scale, proven impact and sustainability, the success stories of 20 countries were selected and presented in the final Millions Fed report.
Intercropping of fodder along contour lines in Ibumila village, Njombe, Tanzania. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)
As follow-on, IFPRI published a second volume to Millions Fed. Proven Successes in Agricultural Development: A Compendium to Millions Fed provides readers with technical insight into the pros and cons of each agricultural success story featured in the original publication. The book also features a chapter on measuring overall gains or losses when carrying out projects in the field-a term known as impact assessment. Using impact assessment is especially important in agricultural projects to determine positive and negative relationships between farming and the environment. Many of the case studies reviewed in Proven Successes in Agricultural Development: A Compendium to Millions Fed are success stories in this way. The studies prove that agriculture, development and the environment really can work hand-in-hand.
Two highlights from the IFPRI case studies with respect to environmental sustainability include community-based movements. Degradation of the Himalayas in the 1970’s brought about the governmental creation of the Master Plan for the Forestry Sector and eventually the national Forest Act in 1993. Through the development of community forest programs, the Forest Act enabled local communities to take on total control of government-owned forest. From this ownership, environmentally sustainable businesses emerged at the local level. Communities were able to sell fodder, timber for construction and medicines extracted from trees. Furthermore community forestry rehabilitated the environment, setting the stage for sustainable agricultural production.
A second environmentally sustainable success is the re-greening movement of the Sahel in Africa. Droughts in the Sahel during the 1970’s and 1980’s caused an environmental crisis-particularly in Burkina Faso and Niger. Agricultural land dried up and repeated attempts at cultivating the land significantly degraded soils. Farming plots were barren and open to wind erosion which resulted in continued migration away from once-inhabited areas. With an initial leg-up from local NGOs, however, farmers began to reclaim their land. They effectively reversed effects of the drought by using two indigenous farming methods: contour bunds and improved planting pits. Contour bunds, which are walls of stone assembled to follow the contour of the land, help prevent soil erosion and nutrient loss while planting pits provided highly-fertilized, individual growing wells. The low-cost, low-input nature of these methods made them easy to transfer. Furthermore, farmers worked with the natural environment to allow the regeneration of wooded areas around farmland. The result is an environmentally sustainable re-greening effort implemented and managed by farming communities.
Each case study presented in IFPRI’s Proven Successes in Agricultural Development: A Compendium to Millions Fed is a remarkable achievement in recent agricultural development history. But some of these success stories, like the ones mentioned here, made significant agricultural gains while working in harmony with the environment. With proof that this can be achieved, a food secure and environmentally sustainable future is possible.
What are other agricultural innovations that are helping to feed the hungry? Let us know in the comments section!
Amanda Strickler is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.