Impact on Country-Led Agricultural Transformation


Governments play a critical role in leading inclusive agricultural transformation. A key theme among countries that have succeeded in agricultural transformation is an effective public sector that kickstarts and sustains change, makes long-term investments in systemic enablers, and creates strong incentives that crowd in other resources. Without the right enabling environment, philanthropic actors and NGOs – however well-intentioned – will have limited impact. Likewise, the private sector is unlikely to grow or invest in the absence of a predictable, business-friendly environment, thus holding back improvements in agricultural systems. In short, an effective government is a fundamental pre-condition to agricultural transformation. It sets the vision and strategy and establishes the policy and regulations that foster – or undermine – an environment in which businesses and smallholder farmers can flourish. Further, the public sector is uniquely positioned to convene and coordinate among key stakeholders, setting direction that can boost private sector confidence and mobilize resources. However, we observe common challenges across many of the countries in which we operate:

  • Limited government capabilities and capacity to define a vision and set strategy, coordinate key actors, implement plans, and create accountability and learning systems
  • Weak or outdated policies that hinder the development of key agricultural systems and discourage private sector investment
  • Inadequate regional trade and market systems that deter agricultural trading and increase the likelihood of food insecurity 

In 2017, AGRA made a strategic shift towards working with governments – aiming to strengthen state capability, improve the policy environment, and boost regional market systems. We collaborated closely with the governments in our core countries, aligning our support with their national priorities. We know that strengthening state capabilities and policies will incent private businesses to invest, which will lead to better-functioning systems that serve smallholder farmers. Such efforts require a long time horizon. Indeed, this work is laying the groundwork for systemic change. Even more than our other interventions, our policy and state capability investments are forward-looking efforts that will pay dividends in the longer-term. Even so, we already see compelling early results – evident in changes to long-held institutional practices, in smarter and faster policy reform, and in the response of private sector actors.

Our Impact on State Capability

Institutional change is difficult. Setting the right strategy and building alignment among public sector entities and with the private sector is not a trivial matter. Even where countries develop strong national agricultural investment plans (NAIPs), these are often not implemented as a result of capacity gaps or competing priorities. Neither AGRA nor our partners alone have the capacity to intervene across every element of the government’s role in agricultural development. Our work has thus focused on four areas of challenge where change can have catalytic impact:

  1. Uneven political commitment marked by uncertain vision and strategy
  2. Limited coordination within government bodies and with private sector, deterring action
  3. Lack of capacity in setting investment and programmatic priorities and delivering on them
  4. Limited accountability in defining success, measuring results, and learning

Our approach systematically addresses each of these challenges. We work closely with governments and system stakeholders on the analysis, conceptualization, and development of NAIPs – building trust and helping present a vision for the sector. To develop or strengthen inter- and intra-ministerial coordination, we collaborate closely through agriculture sector working groups. We also welcome private sector actors into these mechanisms to enable better policy input and improved buy-in. These actions enable us to support governments in prioritizing key investment initiatives and developing “bankable” flagship projects that mobilize incremental capital from private and development financiers. Finally, AGRA strengthens country agricultural monitoring and evaluation systems – improving data collection frameworks, tools and processes, as well as supporting Joint Sector Reviews to create an accountability mechanism. 

AGRA defined key criteria in of these areas that characterize a capable state. We have articulated important factors of success that would be common across countries, building on the USAID Institutional Architecture Framework and our own Institutional Capacity Assessment Framework.

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