Ensuring food and nutrition security in the face of growing populations, increasing incomes, and a changing climate will require countries to transform their food systems to be more sustainable and equitable. A 2016 report published by IFPRI and the Compact2025 Initiative looks at recent successful food system transformations in Brazil, Rwanda, and Vietnam that helped significantly reduce hunger and undernutrition in these countries. The report provides several best practices and ways forward that other countries can use to launch their own improved food systems.
Strong agricultural productivity growth, increased private sector investment, and enhanced partnerships between government, private sector, and civil sector stakeholders were common factors in the food system transformations of all three countries. However, each of the three study countries took context-specific approaches that best targeted their individual needs and conditions.
In Brazil, food system transformation has hinged on a combination of strong macroeconomic policies, increased investment in agricultural research and development (specifically technology-driven agribusiness), and strong social protection programs. These strategies helped Brazil transition from being a net food importer in the 1960s and 1970s to exporting USD 100 billion in agricultural raw materials and food in 2013. During the same general time period (1975-2010), Brazil reached annual agricultural productivity growth of 3 percent.
Government-led efforts in Brazil have focused on agricultural research and development, run primarily through the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), which comprises 46 research centers across the country. Brazil’s official credit system has also played a leading role in the country’s food system transformation by providing bonds for long-term agricultural investment and investing in basic infrastructure such as ports and roads throughout the country. Investments in warehouse capacity and agricultural insurance have helped improve farmers’ resilience against risk, while investments in climate-smart agricultural approaches (including no-till agriculture, integrated crop-livestock production, planted forests, and nitrogen fixation) have made Brazil’s agricultural sector more sustainable. Finally, the government has also prioritized important social safety net programs, including: Bolsa Família ( a conditional cash transfer program for health and education); the National Programme for Strengthening Family Agriculture (providing agricultural insurance and technical assistance); and the Food Acquisition Program (PAA) and National School Nutrition Program (which collaborate to purchase food from smallholder farmers to provide free meals for schoolchildren). These safety net programs have helped drastically improve the country’s food and nutrition security, according to the report.
Private sector investments in Brazil focused on extension services, the adoption of new technologies along the agricultural value chain, and nutrition education programs. Public-private partnerships led to the development of new, more nutritious crop varieties, including fortified rice and improved soybean varieties, and overall macroeconomic stability and favorable international prices supported the growth of Brazil’s agribusiness sector.
In Rwanda, agricultural transformation has centered on improving agricultural productivity and agribusiness through private sector investment, land tenure reforms, and rural development. Key to these strategies has been the government’s Vision 2020 program, which was established in 2000 and aims to lift the country to middle-income status by 2020. Government-led programs include the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resource’s (MINAGRI) Crop Intensification Program and the Rwanda Development Authority (RADA), both of which focus on improving land management and encouraging regional crop specialization, and the 2007 National Land Tenure Regularization Program (NLTRP), which resulted in the registration of more than 10 million parcels of land and the issuance of around 8 million long-term leases. The government also provides subsidies for seed and fertilizers and emphasizes disaster risk management through its Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy, which provides weather-indexed insurance.
The government has also worked to create an effective business enabling environment to stimulate more private sector investment. Reforms to the country’s legal and regulatory institutions have removed many barriers to business, and the country’s Special Economic Zones have attracted significant investment in the agroprocessing sector by providing roads, energy, water, and information and information and communications technologies (ICTs). These efforts have resulted in significant private sector investment in the country’s agricultural sector – USD 512 million between 2000 and 2013. Public-private partnerships have also played a role in improving nutrition in the country, including the development of national food fortification standards and the improvement of the national food supply chain.
Likewise, Vietnam’s food system transformation has focused on land tenure and market reforms, agriculture-led economic growth, and nutrition-sensitive programs. The country’s transformation from a centrally planned economy to economic liberalization in the 1980s, known as the Doi Moi economic policy reforms, helped set the stage for annual average economic growth 6.6 percent from 1986 to 2013.
According to the report, as a result of land reform laws, millions of rural households were granted land titles between 1998-2001. These more secure land rights have incentivized rural households to make long-term investments in the land and have increased the total area devoted to long-term crops, as well as stimulating rental and sales markets in rural areas. In addition to these important land reforms, the government has aided agricultural transformation by providing subsidized agricultural insurance and has emphasized improved nutrition through policies to improve dietary diversity and increase micronutrient supplementation.
The private sector in Vietnam has played a key role in encouraging climate-smart agricultural strategies and sustainable agricultural intensification. Increased foreign investment by private sector actors has led to the establishment of Vietnam’s coffee sector as a world leader in exports. Finally, public-private partnerships have been key in increasing the country’s resilience to climate change and encouraging nutrition policies like food fortification and micronutrient supplementation.
In addition to highlighting the success of the three study countries in transforming their food systems, however, the report also emphasizes that challenges remain to be addressed in each country. As food value chains modernize in Brazil and Vietnam, there is increased demand for better hygiene and food safety standards among traditional retailers. Brazil is also seeing a dramatic increase in the numbers of overweight and obese people as a result of growth in supermarkets and more processed foods. Rwanda, on the other hand, undernutrition remains a big challenge, despite large recent strides in overcoming hunger. The country’s land tenure reforms have also had mixed results that need to be further analyzed to determine which policies are most effective, and agricultural research and development and investments in infrastructure need to be scaled up. The report also calls for more transparency and better governance to further stimulate involvement of the private sector; land administration was highlighted as one sector that continues to face significant corruption and requires further reform and monitoring.
Overall, the experiences of Brazil, Rwanda, and Vietnam highlight the importance of reforming land tenure and rights laws and strengthening agricultural value chains. Such efforts can play a large role in making food systems more sustainable, inclusive, and equitable and can help drive economic development and food security in developing countries.
By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI