Growth for Good

May 21, 2019

By Ana Bilik, President, Tanager

As a mother raising a teenage son, I think about the world that he is growing up into, that he will ultimately inherit from us. My son thinks about this too, and he often challenges me and opens my mind to think about things in different ways. This weekend, with the opening of Marvel’s most recent installment of the Avengers franchise, we had a lively discussion about whether or not supervillain Thanos snapping away half the living things in the universe would be the best way to feed the galactic populations.

As the president of Tanager, an ACDI/VOCA affiliated international nonprofit with a global mission to help solve problems of poverty, food insecurity, nutrition and gender inequity, I have some ideas about less draconian courses of action. We believe that the solution to ending global hunger lies in connecting people in food systems around the world. We need more actors to engage in the global food system, not less (sorry Thanos).

Productive, Sustainable Growth for Good

Through our work we have learned that by bringing smallholder farmers, foundations, non-profits, and the private sector together, we can co-create opportunities for life-changing, sustainable growth.

According to the Global Agriculture Productivity Report (GAP Report), produced by the Global Programs Office in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech, global agricultural productivity needs to increase by an average of 1.75% annually to sustainably provide food, feed, fiber and biofuel for 10 billion people in 2050.

By working closely with farming communities to improve good agronomic practices, Tanager has been able to increase productivity and incomes in the communities where we work. Agricultural productivity, measured as Total Factor Productivity, or TFP, is a ratio of agricultural inputs to outputs.  TFP increases when more livestock or crops are produced with the same amount or fewer inputs, including land and labor.

A woman mint farmer in Uttar Pradesh, India, harvests her crop as part of the Mars Wrigley Confectionery-funded Shubh Mint Project. The Shubh Mint Project helps farmers – especially women – farm mint more efficiently and effectively while also organizing Self Help Groups to encourage women to thrive economically and socially. Photo: Tanager.

Thanks to productivity growth, farmers are able to grow more and increase their income without needing to increase the land being cultivated. With one-third of the earth’s surface being used for agriculture, efficiency of productivity is important. This means conserving and improving the productive land while maximizing the utility of water used is imperative. Tanager is contributing to productivity growth by working with farmers to rationalize the use of inputs, to adopt bio-organic farming practices, and to improve irrigation practices.

With total factor productivity (TFP) at 0.96% in low income countries, there is a gap that needs to be addressed if we are to meet the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 2.3) of doubling agriculture productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers.

Farmers in Andhra Pradesh harvest cabbages as part of the Walmart Foundation-funded Andhra Pradesh Farmer Market Readiness Project. The project helps farmers form Farmer Producer Organizations to increase the quality and quantity of their produce, helps establish market linkages to buyers, and provides training on gender mainstreaming. Photo: Tanager.

Through our work with producers, we have found that women contribute up to 75% of the labor associated with small farm agriculture. However, they often do not control productive assets like land, make decisions about crops, or receive direct payment or income for their productive efforts. And yet, as the 2018 GAP Report notes, women are considered the “chief purchasing officers” of households.

By addressing barriers to control over assets and income, as well as ability to participate in household spending decision-making, we can ensure that these CPOs have the resources, access and knowledge to make purchasing decisions that increase diet diversity and ultimately the nutrition and health of members of the household. We can achieve good gender and nutrition outcomes through good agriculture.

A poultry farmer in Burkina Faso feeds her chickens as part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded Se Lever Project in Burkina Faso. This project introduces poultry farming to rural communities to empower women both economically and socially. Photo: Tanager.

All of this progress towards increased productivity and income, gender equality and food security is made possible by partnering with like-minded people who have the vision, social capital and financing to bring about thoughtful, sustainable real change. Tanager has the privilege to have earned the trust of forward-thinking producers, community leaders, and market systems leaders to transform food systems. The investments being made today towards improvements in total factor productivity and market systems strengthening will help us end hunger.

Change won’t happen in a snap and it doesn’t come with all the trappings of a big-budget action movie. But if we bring like-minded people together, we can achieve growth for good.

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