I am an agricultural economist by training and by passion. It is my core belief that agriculture development is fundamental for hunger and poverty reduction and for jump-starting economic growth.
My belief in the transformative role of agriculture is not just based on reading textbooks on economic development—it comes from experiencing the incredible impact that the Green Revolution had on my own life.
My roots are rural. I was born and brought up in a small rice-growing village in the coastal delta region of Andhra Pradesh in South India. During my lifetime, I have seen the village transform itself from growing a single crop of low-yielding rice, mainly for subsistence, to producing two crops of high-yielding rice. I was a young boy when my village first started planting the high-yielding rice variety. I remember my father and grandfather discussing how to store and market the surplus that was generated from this new variety—a novel problem for the village.
I am a first-generation beneficiary of the Green Revolution and very proud of it. My schooling and my college were paid for from the surpluses generated on our farm. My ability to leave the farm was made possible by the farm’s productivity growth. My early experiences have made me a passionate spokesman for the role of agriculture in economic development and for the transformative role that technology, markets, and policy can play in raising agriculture productivity growth.
Despite the enormous success of the Green Revolution, countries like India and Bangladesh still have unacceptably high levels of hunger and poverty. We have made progress, but we are moving too slowly.
History has shown us that when conditions are right, farmers have consistently responded with dramatic improvements in productivity growth. Consider the case of dry-season rice production in Bangladesh. Boro rice production has increased from 10 percent of Bangladesh’s rice production in 1966, when the Green Revolution started, to 61 percent in 2008. The additional rice cultivated with improved varieties now feeds nearly 22 million people annually.
Another example is the rising popularity of women-managed homestead gardens across Bangladesh that produce micronutrient-rich fruit, vegetables, and poultry. The homestead garden food production program, started with 1,000 households in 1990 by Helen Keller International and Bangladeshi nongovernmental organizations, now covers more than 4.7 million individuals in 870,000 households across the country. Homestead gardens increased food supply and improved nutritional status, especially for women and children, in the poorest households.
These are just a couple of amazing examples of the ability of farmers to rapidly grasp opportunities when they make sense to them. In that respect, farmers in these two countries are no different from farmers anywhere else in
The route out of hunger and poverty starts with smallholder farmer productivity growth. What poor farmers need from us are the innovations, institutional support, and the enabling policy environment that will allow them to profitably enhance their productivity.
I believe we can see a hunger-free South Asia in our lifetime, but it will require us to take urgent action to re-energize the agricultural sector. It will require us to focus on rapidly enhancing farm productivity. We must seize the opportunities to win the war against hunger and poverty.
This was originally published on Impatient Optimists, a publication of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.