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1. Rural infrastructure

Possible policy indicator questions: rural infrastructure

  • What percentage of the national budget is allocated to agriculture?  Are funds earmarked specifically for interventions that benefit smallholders?
  • What is the level of investment in appropriate and sustainable rural infrastructure - rural feeder roads, modern energy services (including off-grid provision), irrigation and drainage, and storage and warehousing?
  • Are any measures in place to incentivise and support Ministries of Agriculture and Finance to take into account the needs of smallholder farmers in their budget planning and allocation?
  • Are any incentives in place for private enterprises to provide alternative infrastructure services; to develop demand-driven prototypes and models that promote sustainability and access, and creative financial models to accelerate provision of sustainable infrastructure services?

24. Investment in rural public goods such as infrastructure and public services has been shown to be essential for agricultural growth and poverty reduction.  Improved infrastructure is strongly associated with better functioning markets as well as reducing poverty. IFAD’s 2011 Rural Poverty Report quotes examples from Bangladesh, Morocco and India where better rural roads had a positive impact on agricultural production, input use, use of extension services, rural incomes and off-farm wage earning opportunities.  In India, every additional million rupees spent on rural roads during the 1990s was found to lift 880 people out of poverty (Fan 2010 in IFAD 2010).

25. Governments should be encouraged to increase their spend on rural infrastructure, and donors should align their support behind this objective.  Ghana provides an example of where such investment has delivered very positive returns.  Increased investment in rural roads and electricity was an important part of the economic reforms started in 1983; it contributed the turnaround in Ghana’s agriculture sector and helped make it one of the top 5 performers in the world in terms of agricultural growth over the past 25 years, realising average growth of 5.1% per year between 1982 and 2007 (Wiggins 2011).

26. However, Foster and Briceño-Garmendia (2010) describe how Africa continues to suffer from a significant infrastructure gap.  Moreover, based on current trends this gap is set to keep widening. Africa’s networks lag behind those of other developing countries on almost every measure of infrastructure coverage, and are characterised by missing regional links and stagnant household access.  The gap is particularly large in paved road coverage: in low-income African countries the density of paved roads is only one-quarter of low-income countries in other regions, and infrastructure services are twice as expensive.  Of particular relevance to smallholder farmers, access to infrastructure in rural areas is only a fraction of that in urban areas, even when urban coverage is already low by international standards (see also Livingston et al 2011).

27. Energy access is essential for economic development, as recognised by the UN in marking 2012 the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All. In the 2012 Poor People’s Energy Outlook, Practical Action notes that access to energy services can enable a smallholder farmer to:

  • increase productivity and yields via improved efficiency of land preparation, planting, cultivation, irrigation, and harvesting;
  • improve processing, providing better quality and quantity of products at less time and effort via energy supported cooking/heating, storage, preservation, or transformation into higher quality/added-value forms;
  • earn more from produce through new market opportunities and access to information about pricing.

For poor farmers to achieve these goals and realise higher incomes as a result requires improved quality and affordability of energy supplies, an increase in the amount of energy used, and access to a wider range of appliances providing energy services.  The report highlights how most current investment in energy in Africa tends to be focused on large-scale electricity infrastructure, generation, grid and regional interconnection projects.  Whilst this investment is likely to improve the general rate of access to electricity and its efficiency, security and affordability, it is unlikely to address the needs of poor rural populations, including small-scale farmers. For the tens of thousands of remote villages in sub-Saharan Africa that are far from the grid, decentralised provision represents the least-cost option for accessing energy.  The report argues for greater allocation of funds to local-level financing that can better address the energy needs of poor communities (Practical Action 2012).

28. Another form of rural infrastructure of great relevance to smallholder farmers is large-scale irrigation and drainage. The productivity of irrigated land is approximately three times greater than that of rain-fed land (FAO 2011b), but only 4% of the arable land area in Sub-Saharan Africa is irrigated compared to nearly 40% in South Asia.  CAADP identifies investment in water programmes as a priority; it estimates that as part of a wider set of measures to promote agricultural and rural development, an annual investment of around US$2 billion would be needed to boost irrigated agriculture in Africa.  Investment in dissemination and resourcing of low cost irrigation technologies that are suited to the needs of small scale farmers (such as hand pumps, water harvesting and sand dams) is specifically needed, from both the public and private sectors.

29. Public investment in warehousing and post-harvest storage facilities is also of great importance.  Post-harvest losses leave farmers with less to sell, reducing their income; while lack of access to safe storage forces them to sell their output immediately, often at less-than-optimal prices.  Smallholder farmers lose between 10 and 40% of their crop due to post-harvest losses from disease, pest infestation, or rotting (Garvelink et al 2012). Losses often occur close to where crops are grown, and in many cases could be prevented with very basic interventions. In addressing this problem the focus tends to be on large-scale warehouse storage combined with warehouse receipt systems; but smallholder farmers typically do not produce enough to meet the minimum volume requirements usually associated with these systems.  Joining forces with other farmers in cooperatives or other farmers groups can help overcome this obstacle, but for many farmers household or village-level storage presents a lower-cost alternative.  Simple and low-cost interventions are often available and more accessible to small-scale producers; for example, post-harvest losses of maize can be substantially reduced through training on drying techniques and providing basic storage tools like actellic dust and storage bags (Garvelink et al 2012).

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