Poverty reduction is achieved through many routes of which agriculture is just one. Agricultural strategies for poverty reduction have been debated for decades. Apparent lack of consensus concerning the key links between agricultural research and its impact on poverty reduction should not come as a surprise. Consensus has been elusive because these multiple links are complex and interdependent, the strength and effectiveness of each depends greatly on structural and contextual elements that extend beyond agriculture to include not just rural non-farm activities but the entire economy; and, as a result, these relationships differ significantly among countries. Moreover, these opportunities to reduce poverty also are shaped by multiple interacting drivers of change, including but not limited to climate change.

Smallholder farmers in the developing world who most often are the stated focus of agricultural research for development face numerous challenges, risks, and vulnerabilities, including pests and diseases, adverse price changes, droughts and floods, institutional failures and political upheaval, to name a few. And yet, smallholders are not the only potential beneficiaries through which agricultural research may contribute to poverty reduction; rural landless laborers and the urban poor also are among the groups that can benefit. Moreover, effects on poverty (for good or ill) often depend on additional complementary activities and investments both within and beyond agriculture, and the likelihood of success overall is shaped (often decisively) by the broader context, including structural, social, political, and environmental factors.

Thus, depending on context, there may be multiple, interacting pathways through which agricultural research could contribute to reductions in poverty and associated vulnerabilities, for example:

  • innovations can increase smallholder productivity, raising their incomes in cash and kind; innovations can also reduce risk of losses.
  • improved marketing and policies that enhance competition and rural access to markets can lower prices farmers pay for inputs and raise prices for goods they sell, raising incentives for investment and production as well as smallholder profits.
  • improved marketing and policies, combined with appropriate innovations and information, also can expand and diversify smallholders’ production options, including horticulture and livestock.
  • broad-based agricultural productivity growth also can impact rural non-farm economic opportunities (multiplier effects), in part by expanding labor demand both on- and off-farm and, thereby, influencing rural employment and wages.
  • technological, institutional, and policy innovations can improve natural resource management and environmental health as well as strengthen capacities to cope with risks, including climate change, thereby reducing vulnerability and increasing certainty of returns.
  • complementary policy reforms and institutional innovations to improve access to key public goods (e.g. basic education and transport infrastructure) can help diversify income and employment opportunities both within and outside agriculture. Policy and institutional innovations can also result in security of tenure and access to resources (i.e. land, fisheries, grazing, forests, water for rural populations) and thereby have implications for poverty and vulnerability reduction. Finally, such reforms can enhance governance and communal rights to exploitation and management of the local commons.
  • more generally, investments in people and institutions can empower the rural poor and improve their livelihoods through greater access to information and strengthened organizational capacities.
  • food policy, combined with increases in food output, can decrease prices consumers pay for basic staples or create safety nets for the poor as well as increasing access to more nutritious foods in both rural and urban areas.

SF16 explored the characteristics, scope and geographies of poverty as well as the pathways through which agricultural research (including research on agricultural systems, natural resource management, human nutrition, and institutional and policy research as well as germplasm improvement) can have practical impacts on poverty. Specifically, SF16 aimed to yield insights to inform improvements in the design of agricultural research which seeks to reduce poverty, including pathways, identification and strengthening of strategic partnerships, and developing processes for active learning and adaptive management, including metrics and indicators for this SLO, monitoring, evaluation, and impact assessment.