Soybean field

The world has seen dramatic decreases in global poverty over the past three decades, and improvements in agriculture in poor and middle-income countries have been “at the core of this progress,” a new report says.

The report by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs says further progress is possible if the world pursues smart strategies to support agricultural development and innovation. Former Nebraska U.S. Rep. Doug Bereuter co-chaired the task force that developed the study, along with former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman of Kansas.

Population growth worldwide makes such an ag- focused effort especially important. The world’s population, now at 7.4 billion, is projected to rise to 8 billion by 2024 and 10 billion by 2056.

Half the growth is expected to be in Africa, the report states. Nigeria’s population is projected to climb from 180 million now to almost 400 million by 2050, making it the third-most populous nation.

Strengthening agriculture can produce positive ripple effects in a country’s economy, the new report says. “Experience from the world for the last 200 years shows that increases in agricultural productivity are central to growth in other sectors.”

Investments in agricultural development, the study says, “have been proven to be more than twice as effective at reducing poverty as investments in other sectors.” Improvements in agriculture have been one of the main factors promoting poverty reduction globally, the findings show.

From 1990 to 2015, the number of people worldwide living in extreme poverty (less than $1.90 per day) fell by more than 1 billion people. In 1990, 23 percent of residents in low- and middle-income countries were deemed chronically undernourished. The figure now is much lower: 13 percent.

At the same time, challenges remain. Many countries face food insecurity. The Chicago Council report cites particular problems along that line in Central America, and famine is now a serious threat of parts of East Africa.

As for agricultural production in Africa, the Brookings Institute reported last year that Africa’s ag producers “need more electricity, more irrigation and better infrastructure.” Cargill says African farmers “at all scales of production need access to the inputs required to produce a successful crop — high-yielding seeds, effective fertilizer and sufficient water.” The Chicago Council report spells out a wide range of strategies to help, with recommendations on innovative finances, public-private collaborations and greater investment in ag research by universities.

It’s encouraging to see the ways in which the University of Nebraska’s ag-science and natural resources programs are working to strengthen agriculture in developing countries.

NU outreach in Tanzania has promoted livestock health and increased literacy for rural women. Work by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s National Drought Center aims to anticipate drought and flooding in the Horn of Africa.

NU’s Water for Food Global Institute pursues water-science initiatives around the globe. And foreign students studying ag science at UNL describe production conditions in their home countries while studying innovations used here.

Agriculture has been at the center of recent economic progress for many developing nations. Outreach by our country, as shown by NU’s efforts, can help those nations make further improvement to meet future needs.

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