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As we approach the May G8 summit in Chicago, the June G20 meeting in Los Cabos, and Rio+20 in June, agriculture and food security promise to be high on the international agenda; and once again, we will be awash in jargon that is rife with acronyms indecipherable to the uninitiated. Some acronyms are impossible for anyone to remember or pronounce –  like GAFSP (Global Agriculture and Food Security Program)— which is so incomprehensible that Connie Veillette tried, unsuccessfully, to rename it REAP (Resources for Enhanced Agricultural Productivity) and ONE recently launched an effort to rename it before the G8.

Rebranding aside, there are two more acronyms that are neither elegant nor intuitive that you should commit to memory because they are key parts of international efforts to tackle food security: AGPM (Initiative) and AMIS. Both the Agriculture Pull Mechanism Initiative (AGPM) and the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS) were launched last year to promote innovation and information, respectively.

Innovation to boost agricultural productivity and information to improve market functioning were at the top of the list of five objectives for promoting food security embraced by leaders in the G20 declaration from Cannes last fall. AMIS aims to strengthen agricultural markets and policy by improving the collection, dissemination, and analysis of data for four key staple crops:  maize, rice, wheat, and soybeans. AMIS will also assist with capacity-building in countries where the collection of quality data is weak, and it includes a Rapid Response Forum that aims “to enhance policy dialogue when the market situation and outlook indicates a high food security risk.” If support and cooperation are adequate, AMIS could help countries anticipate potential price shocks, coordinate policy responses, and avoid beggar-thy-neighbor policies of the type that contributed to recent price spikes.

The AGPM Initiative, where I have been more focused of late,  aims to “pull” innovation and leverage private resources to promote food security and agricultural productivity, particularly among smallholders. Readers of this blog may recall my June 2010 working paper on “pulling agricultural innovation and the market together,” which analyzed how and why “advance market commitments” or other pull mechanisms, which pay for results ex post, rather than up-front for inputs, might be adapted for agriculture. That paper briefly summarized how various market failures lead to underinvestment in innovation in general, but for agriculture in particular, and how pull mechanisms could be preferable to traditional, up-front “push” funding for R&D in many situations.  In Toronto that same month, the G20 leaders’ declaration applauded the creation of the unfortunately-named GAFSP and then committed to “exploring innovative, results-based mechanisms to harness the private sector for agricultural innovation.” Then, in Seoul in November 2010, G20 leaders went further, endorsing a “multi-year action plan for development” that included a food security pillar and a specific request to relevant international institutions to pursue the idea:

In order to strengthen existing agriculture research systems we request the FAO and the World Bank to examine and recommend potential innovative results-based mechanisms, such as those examined by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and advanced [sic] market commitments for enhanced agricultural productivity.

Over the next six months, the World Bank worked with the governments of Canada, the United States, UK’s Department for International Development, and other interested donors, along with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to explore how such an initiative might move forward. As detailed on the World Bank website for the initiative, the interested donors created a steering committee and an oversight panel that appointed an Experts Advisory Group to help identify potential pilot projects. The G20 Development Working Group endorsed this approach in its report to the leaders in Cannes in November 2011:

The informal group of donors supporting the scoping process for AGPM Initiative: To encourage public and private sector investment in agricultural research in developing countries, we support the implementation of the “Agriculture Pull Mechanisms” initiative, and welcome pilots that embrace an innovative, results based approach such as “Advanced [sic] Market Commitments” for specific applications.

Last fall, the expert advisory group and steering committee culled a short list of proposals from more than three dozen ideas generated by groups of technical experts in four areas: inputs and increasing yields; outputs and post-harvest management; livestock; and nutrition. And finally, earlier this month, six potential pilot projects were listed on the AGPM website:

  • on-farm crop storage for smallholders
  • delivery of biofortified African staple crops
  • adoption of aflatoxin biocontrol for African crops
  • development and delivery of vaccines for a small livestock disease
  • a more efficient fertilizer adapted for smallholder needs
  • an improved hybrid rice variety

This list will likely be culled further, with the aim of launching two or three pilots later this year and perhaps selecting one or more of the others for further analysis and development for a later launch.

While it is not yet known which of these will be chosen to present to donors as pull mechanism pilots, half—storage, biofortification, and aflatoxin biocontrol—involve technologies that already exist. The focus in these areas is how to overcome incomplete information and other market failures that inhibit commercialization and adoption. A second challenge in applying the pull mechanism idea appears to be that the private sector is proving even harder to pull than initially thought. As noted in my earlier working paper, the private sector is less involved in agricultural R&D than in some other sectors, for example pharmaceuticals, because the gains are more difficult to appropriate. Agricultural markets, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, also face a variety of challenges arising from the lack of infrastructure, credit, and secure land rights that are needed for farmers to feel comfortable investing in new technologies.

So, when it comes to agricultural productivity and food security in developing countries, pull mechanisms are likely to be just one of a variety of incentive-based and other innovative financing mechanisms that will be needed. To read more on incentive-based programs for development in general, see here. I’ll also be exploring these issues in more depth in an upcoming working paper on pull mechanisms and agriculture that should be out in a few weeks.

Thanks for sticking with me through all the acronyms, but the AGPM Initiative for innovation in agriculture, and the AMIS system for improving market information could be important for food security. Stay tuned to see what the donors decide to do in June.

Disclaimer

CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.