World Bank Report Ties Agriculture Technology Adoption to Increased Productivity and Income

16 September 2019: A World Bank report argues that developing countries need to “dramatically” increase agricultural innovation and the use of technology by farmers in order to eliminate poverty, meet the rising demand for food and adapt to climate change. The publication cautions that while new communication technologies make improving access to information, finance and insurance more feasible, small farmers still face major barriers.

Titled, ‘Harvesting Prosperity: Technology and Productivity in Agriculture,’ the report is the fourth volume in the World Bank’s ‘Productivity Project’ series, which examines the “productivity paradox” – a persistent slowdown in productivity growth despite technological advancements. The report explores the drivers of and constraints to agricultural productivity and provides policy recommendations.

The publication mentions that while in East Asia crop yields have increased six-fold in the past 40 years, contributing to the significant reduction in poverty in China and other East Asian countries, crop yields have only doubled in Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South Asia, with corresponding lower reductions in poverty. The report further notes a “widening research and development (R&D) spending gap.” In developed countries, investment in agricultural R&D was 3.25% of agricultural gross domestic product (GDP) in 2011; in developing countries, investment in agricultural R&D was only 0.52%. Among developing countries, the publication observes that Brazil and China invested “relatively high amounts” into agricultural R&D, while Africa and South Asia had the lowest spending relative to agricultural GDP. In half of African countries, the R&D spending was in decline.

The report identifies the adoption of innovative technologies and practices by farmers as a “key driver” for increasing agricultural productivity and rising income. It explains that this would enable farmers to raise yields, manage inputs more efficiently, adopt new crops and production systems, and improve the quality of their products while conserving natural resources and adapting to climate challenges. Cautioning that climate change, coupled with a deteriorating natural resource base, will greatly impact agriculture and the poor and vulnerable depending on it, precisely in Africa and South Asia, the report makes the case for increasing investments in new knowledge and ensuring its adoption.

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