The majority of the world’s poor live in rural areas, with 70 percent of the rural poor working in agriculture. Ramping up agricultural productivity will be critical to lifting these households out of poverty.
“Governments in developing countries spend large amounts on agricultural extension services,” said Director of Research Asli Demirguc-Kunt at a recent Policy Research Talk on agriculture. “But there are many other constraints that impede productivity-enhancing investments. It’s quite challenging to design policies that will deliver the biggest bang for the buck.”
These constraints are most evident in Sub-Saharan Africa. While the Green Revolution has helped triple or quadruple cereal yields in most regions of the world over the last 50 years, agricultural productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa has been stagnant.
According to Florence Kondylis, a Senior Economist at the World Bank, many “big push” agriculture projects that focus on multiple constraints—from technology to finance to irrigation—have benefited farmers. But these projects often fail to catalyze a rural transformation that could significantly reduce extreme poverty and free up labor for growing industrial and services sectors. The evidence base on what works to promote agricultural productivity has been too sparse.
Fortunately, that is changing. The World Bank is currently running over 30 impact evaluations on agriculture projects, with the majority based in Sub-Saharan Africa. Most of these employ an experimental approach to ensure rigorous findings.