Debating the future of small-scale agriculture and rural development

The new research series will feature a diverse range of themes related to IFAD's work in smallholder agriculture and rural development.
The new research series will feature a diverse range of themes related to IFAD's work in smallholder agriculture and rural development.

Rome, 10 March – A new research series launched today at IFAD aims to spark debate around critical global issues that affect smallholder agriculture and rural development.

"We initiated this series in order to bring together cutting-edge thinking and research on smallholder agriculture, rural development and related themes," said Josefina Stubbs, Associate Vice-President and Chief Development Strategist of IFAD's Strategy and Knowledge Department.

The IFAD Research Series was initiated by IFAD's Global Engagement and Research Division within the Strategy and Knowledge Department. The series will feature a diverse range of themes related to IFAD's work in smallholder agriculture and rural development. Thematic areas will encompass policy, social sciences and specific areas of technical specialization, while touching on broader issues which impact the daily lives of small-scale farming families including food insecurity, nutrition, climate change, migration and conflict. 

Steve Wiggins of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) presented the first paper in the series, "Agricultural and rural development reconsidered: A guide to issues and debates," at an event in Rome.

In the paper, Wiggins examines the role of small-scale family farms within the international community, and probes  the  changing narratives around agriculture and development policy. The paper highlights two issues that are central to agricultural development but do not always feature prominently in policy: gender and migration.  

While the main focus of the paper is Africa – the region with the most low-income countries that remain rural and agrarian – insights were also drawn from comparisons to Asia and Latin America.

"There are two big things I would want a policymaker to take away from this paper. One is that the future of rural Africa depends on us overcoming rural market failures," said Wiggins.

"If we can't get inputs and finance to small farmers, the game is lost in Africa. Larger farmers will get inputs and finance, smallholders less so, and rural communities will become how Latin America used to be. Horribly unequal. Big farms and small farms. Rich people and poor people."

The peer-reviewed series will include reviews and evidence-based quantitative and qualitative research approaches, all aimed at addressing issues or questions that matter for smallholders and rural development, said Rui Benfica, IFAD's Lead Technical Specialist, Global Engagement and Research Division.
The peer-reviewed series will include reviews and evidence-based quantitative and qualitative research approaches, all aimed at addressing issues or questions that matter for smallholders and rural development, said Rui Benfica, IFAD's Lead Technical Specialist, Global Engagement and Research Division.

"My second main point is that we should never underestimate, however unfashionable they are, how important it is to do simple things (such as straightforward policy instruments) and relentlessly push ahead," said Wiggins.

"It does not need to be complex or difficult. Just simple services, basic primary health care, clean water, education, girls in school. Countries that have done this have seen really good results,'' said Wiggins.

Sharing knowledge, improving lives

According to Rui Benfica, IFAD's Lead Technical Specialist, Global Engagement and Research Division, what differentiates this research series from other publications is its multidisciplinary nature and the fact that is covers a broad range of thematic areas that are relevant for sustainable development.

“There is a lot of information available in the world today and accessibility has been widely improved, but the information is so scattered around and hard to digest,” said Benfica.

“It may be useful, but unless it gets systematized into knowledge and disseminated in a very objective fashion, it will have no effect on what we do to improve people's lives,” said Benfica.

The peer-reviewed series will include reviews and evidence-based quantitative and qualitative research approaches, all aimed at addressing issues or questions that matter for smallholders and rural development.

Staff from across IFAD’s global operations as well as prominent experts in the development community will be encouraged to use this series as a platform.

"The set of topics to be covered in this research series are not confined to the usual economic, social science-type,” said Benfica.

“There is also space for development practitioners in specific technical areas like crop and livestock science, land tenure, environment and climate change, among others, to put their papers forward.”