Neil Palmer / CIAT

Agricultural Research for Rural Prosperity: Rethinking the Pathways

Agriculture remains a major source of income in developing countries and plays a central role in reducing poverty. However, it is not the only route to reducing poverty. Furthermore, poverty reduction is a multidimensional concept that is not limited to increasing incomes. The links between agricultural research and poverty reduction are complex and interdependent, and depending on context, there may be multiple, interacting pathways through which agricultural research could contribute to reductions in poverty and associated vulnerabilities. 

In April 2016, the ISPC organized a Science Forum on: 'Agricultural Research for Rural Prosperity: Rethinking the Pathways'. The objective was to reassess the pathways for agricultural research to stimulate inclusive development of rural economies in an era of climate change. Nearly two hundred participants from around the globe, including 114 from Africa attended the Forum. Following the Forum, we worked through various materials to produce an ex-ante list of 18 impact pathways, linking agricultural research for development (AR4D) with poverty reduction in a results-based management format. These pathways involve innovations to increase agricultural productivity; innovations to minimize agricultural production risks; addressing market imperfections and failures; agricultural diversification; improving natural resource management, governance, property rights, and rural livelihoods; improving human nutrition and health; enhancing food supply and reducing food system waste; creating and managing food safety nets; and enhancing national food and agricultural policies and programs.

The impact pathways framework was then used to generate an idealized “wish list” table of contents for a special issue, proposing research papers that in most cases were intended to cover more than one pathway. It proved challenging to get stand-alone papers across the full gamut of 18 pathways and therefore some pathways have been covered in our introductory paper. Nine papers are now in various stages of peer review (with some having been already accepted for publication). The special issue (edited by Tom Tomich, Preet Lidder and Peter Carberry) is expected to be published in the journal Agricultural Systems by the end of 2017/early 2018.

This set of papers does not constitute the proceedings of the Forum. Instead, we have endeavored to use the insights from the Forum to frame a coherent and comprehensive collection of research papers on this strategically important topic from a systems perspective. The aim of the special issue is to explore the pathways through which agricultural research can have practical impacts on poverty, using evidence and perspectives from a range of disciplines and in many cases transcending conventional disciplinary boundaries. 

Our concluding paper in the special issue attempts to present a consistent set of conclusions emerging from the collection of papers. For example, the indirect effects of agricultural research on poverty (e.g. reduced national food prices for consumers) dominate the direct effects (e.g. income gains from on-farm productivity growth) and thus much greater attention needs to be given to assessing indirect impacts. Consequently, prioritizing AR4D that takes into account potential indirect effects occurring over a longer period of time is critical. Our paper then makes an effort to cluster the impact pathways into operational AR4D impact networks. Stand-alone pathways are rare and there are complementarities and dependencies among pathways, with some pathways possibly being more important than others in some contexts. Building on the analysis of impact pathways (possibly reconceived as impact networks), this paper suggests partnership priorities to achieve development impact, as well as implications for international agri-food systems R4D priorities and program design.  

We would like to thank the authors for contributing valuable papers to the special issue. We are also grateful to the reviewers for insightful comments on the manuscripts.

Preet Lidder & Tom Tomich

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