Investing in farmers – the so-called “agricultural human capital” – is essential to meeting the challenges facing our global agri-food systems, whether it is sustainably feeding the growing world population with safe food, healthy and nutritious or to find innovative solutions for more resilient systems. and climate-smart agriculture. Investing in farmers is just as important as investing in infrastructure and other physical capital. Yet less than 3% of global agricultural development funding between 2015 and 2018 was invested specifically in building the skills and capacities of agricultural producers.
How do you invest in building the human capital of agricultural producers? What are the success factors of this investment? The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and IFPRI, with support from PIM, sought answers to these and other questions in their joint global study. This report presents a summary of the findings of this study. It examines recent trends, including changes in funding and increased digitization. It also provides six recommendations to governments, international financial institutions (IFIs) and the private sector on investing in the development of the human capital of agricultural producers, including women and youth.
Human capital, as an economic term, refers to assets that enhance individual productivity. These include skills development, training and education, as well as public health and migration. They also include more abstract aspects such as self-esteem, empowerment, creativity, increased awareness and states of mind. In this report, the focus is on human capital in agriculture (including farming, fishing and forestry activities) – that is, the skills and capacities of small-scale agricultural producers to successfully manage agricultural businesses. And it looks at individual human capital rather than that of organizations or groups, although these are important and related to individual capital.
The research team carried out work in several stages, beginning with reviews of the literature and datasets to illuminate current trends and typology development. This was followed by the collection of empirical data from published case studies on human capital development in Cameroon, Chile, Ivory Coast, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Peru, Rwanda and in the United States of America. Eleven other cases developed as short text boxes – ranging from pastoral training centers to the inclusion of indigenous communities – enriched the analysis, as did iterative engagement processes, key informant interviews, an evaluation economics of investing in agricultural human capital and discussions with experts.
A global group of experts validated the typology, co-developed the case study selection criteria, and helped select the cases. The team presented the study framework in a first global webinar, followed by a technical workshop and culminating with a capstone event to share study results and gather feedback from a global audience .
The cases studied – whether formal system-wide approaches or more informal farmer-to-farmer models – saw the development of technical agricultural skills, functional and social skills, empowerment and changes in mentality as well as managerial and commercial skills. Good agricultural practices have been adopted and producers have acquired the necessary skills for market analysis. Intermediaries such as community service providers had better communication skills. Other impacts noted include increased incomes and yields, improved livelihoods in rural areas, greater inclusion of women and youth, social cohesion and social capital.
Looking to the future, investment in agricultural human capital development needs to be significantly increased. This can lead to good results and impacts in the medium and long term, with many positive societal benefits such as increased rural incomes, improved literacy, and improved food security and health.
Second, partnership and collaboration are crucial for greater impact first at the political level, as investment is always limited or enabled by the existing political environment. Partnership is also essential for scaling up successful approaches and models.
The delivery method is important. Using a flexible approach tailored to the needs of the target audience, whether it’s a classroom or WhatsApp, is key. As producers learn, it is helpful to reinforce these skills through hands-on training or coaching. Additionally, the use of digital tools can amplify investment by reaching more people at lower cost.
It is also important to ensure that no one is left behind. When investing or designing an investment model in agricultural human capital, it is essential to first understand the cultural, societal and economic factors limiting the participation of young, indigenous, remote, poor or feminine.
Understanding what motivates farmers and involving them is also key to success. Learning incentives should be rooted in farmers’ needs and aspirations, achievable and clearly communicated and explored with farmers in a participatory manner.
Finally, it is clear that more research on investing in the agricultural human capital of smallholders is needed. What are the long-term impacts of investing in farmers? What types of agricultural human capital development have good returns on investment, both monetary and societal?
How is human capital developed among the different target groups? These are just a few of the many remaining questions that deserve further analysis.