Conference Overview

Historically, the agricultural sector has been the driving force of early developed countries’ economic growth. As popularized notably by Arthur Lewis (1954), the modernization of agriculture, through a mechanization process that led to an important rise in productivity, solved the food equation as well as freed labor which could then be used to sustain the industrialization process in cities. Farm productivity growth also contributed to equalizing incomes between urban centers and rural areas. The outcome of that process has been a steadily declining share of agriculture in both GDP and employment in developed countries.

Several issues have emerged which suggest that this traditional structural transformation model may not be the one that will or should characterize economic development and the process of structural transformation in many developing countries. This invites to revisit the role of agricultural development, especially as the post-2015 development agenda takes shape, to promote sustainable and inclusive growth and poverty reduction. Among these issues, the following stand out for the challenges they represent:

- The current situation in many countries does not point to a virtuous circle between rural and urban development: farm productivity has been stagnant, and demographic pressures (from indigenous growth as well as migrations) have led to a process of urbanization that is chaotic and grows faster than the ability to provide essential services to the urban population.

- This also implies that urbanization cannot be the only strategy of poverty reduction, and that rural development is a priority in many developing countries. In low income countries, production of food, fiber, animals typically employs 75% of the labor force, contributes 50% of net national product and generates 60% of exports (including manufactured agricultural products). Rural development therefore appears as a key component of poverty reduction.

- Agricultural development also faces a number of environmental constraints and challenges. Climate change as well as the depletion and degradation of land and water poses serious challenge to producing enough food and other agricultural products to sustain livelihoods and meet the needs of urban populations (WB Sources). Conversely, the development of farming may also contribute to environmental protection, both through improved techniques (such as agro ecology) and through the valuation of environmental services from agriculture.

- For the 70 percent of the world's poor who live in rural areas, agriculture is the main source of income and employment. Given the lack of absorptive capacity in cities, the stakes of rural development also include job creation for rural poor and rural youth at least during the process of structural transformation. As a result, the nature of structural transformation will be different from the “historical model”, even though agricultural development will still play a key role.

- Finally, beyond calorific intake, the issue of the quality of nutrition has emerged as a central challenge, in developing and developed countries alike. Malnutrition and obesity have become high concerns, so that an important policy focus is on how food systems can produce better nutrition.

The 2015 Conference aims at a better understanding of the nature, role and prospects of agricultural development in the context of post-2015 Development Agenda. It aims to provide a unique opportunity for researchers, policy-makers and development practitioners to answer challenges of agricultural development in all its form and to outline new solutions for developing countries. There is a tremendous need for South-South learning and knowledge cross fertilization on these issues, which the Annual Conference would facilitate.

Conference Sub-themes

The competitive call for proposals in the conference will be structured around four main interrelated sub-themes, each of them calling for a variety of disciplinary approaches, as below:

  • Food security and nutrition
  • Environmental challenges and natural resources management
  • Economic, social and political transformation: effects and impacts of agricultural development
  • Financial and technological innovation: which new tools for the next ‘green revolution’?

Sub-theme 1: Food security and nutrition

Despite impressive reductions in the proportion of undernourished, continuing population growth means that progress in reducing the total number will be slower. The World Food Summit of 1996 set a target of halving the number of undernourished people to about 410 million by 2015. But this aim may be difficult to achieve (FAO Sources) . In terms of the challenges of economic, social and environmental sustainability now facing agricultural and food systems, is it enough to reform existing systems or do we need to think through a radical change in the trajectory of the global food system? What are the nutrition effects of existing food systems? What are the determinants of the dietary transition? How to improve food systems for better nutrition? Moreover, food systems face many risks that can hamper food security, such as market price volatility of agricultural commodities and inputs for instance. Simultaneously, we observe that 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted every year (1/3 of the global food – Sources FAO). How do these risks impact food security? How to mitigate these risks?

Sub-theme 2: Environmental challenges and natural resources management

In developing countries natural capital represents the predominant part of national wealth. Natural resource sectors can drive growth and poverty reduction when governments put in place the right conditions and policies and focus on managing their resource wealth for the common good. What are the specific conditions required for natural resource sectors to thrive and how to optimise revenues from natural resources and invest them strategically to promote diversification? How to combine sustainability with the demand for growth and urbanization in terms of access to energy and natural resources? What can we measure and how natural accounting should improve the biodiversity conservation, inform efficiently policy-makers, corporate and consumers about the use of natural resources, land, sustainable behavior? Agriculture and climate change are inextricably linked. Agriculture is highly exposed to climate change because the agricultural activities depend on climate  but also have an impact and can provide solutions to the climate change. How new farming practices can address environmental concerns?

Sub-theme 3: Economic, social and political transformations: effect and impact of agricultural development process

The reallocation of economic resources from activities with low productivity –such as family farming– to more productive ones –such as manufacturing– implies the movement of resources and labour from traditional activities to these newer ones. How to reconcile agricultural productivity increases with the creation of more jobs in rural areas? How does city attractiveness and incentives influence migrations patterns? How does education and labor market skills add value to agricultural productivity? What are the effects of changes in consumption patterns and behaviors of households? It implies modification in cultural and social structure, transformation of intergenerational and gender relationships.

Agriculture has been reinstated as a priority in the multilateral development agenda: what change and impact can have the development assistance in agricultural sector? What is the role of institutions, governance and public policies? What are the implications of world trade agreements and agriculture food pricing on growth and sustainability of small and medium land holders? Which cooperation between private and public sector? How will emerging south south cooperation engage stakeholders to reap benefits? What is the role of health-related government or private sector interventions on participation of women in rural and urban agricultural sector?

Sub-theme 4: Financial and technological innovation: which new tools for the next ‘green revolution’?

In the context of an increased demand for agricultural products, resource scarcity and changing market environment, agricultural development requires new ways to ensure sustainable and resilient food systems. Moreover, we observe a lack of specific products designed for developing countries’ agriculture to help them raise their productivity and cope with risks. Can new insurance products help mitigate climate risks? Biotechnologies promise a means of improving food security and reducing pressures on environment: how can biotechnologies support farmers in the developing world to raise their yields? How can they have access to these new technologies and take part in the innovation process? How can the institutional setting foster investment in innovation? In times of crisis, the needed funds of traditional resources tend to be restricted: what are the alternative resources such as innovating financing mechanisms (in addition to Official Development Assistance and national budgets)? How innovative financing mechanisms (market/guarantee mechanisms, taxes, private citizen contributions, micro finance, insurance…) can benefit agriculture?


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