Science - December 15, 2005

Let a thousand flowers bloom

Twelve PhD researchers from different disciplines have looked at what kinds of policies help to reduce poverty in poor and neglected areas. They did this under the programme Response, and the motto would seem to be: let a thousand flowers bloom. There is no one solution: conditions vary so much that each household needs to choose its own strategy, and policymakers must make this possible.

They are referred to as ‘less favoured areas’, parts of Africa, Asia or Latin America with poor soils, too little rain and far too high population pressure. Local markets function badly because there are no good roads or the farmers have no information about the prices they can get for their products. Under the research programme Response (Regional Food Security Policies for Natural Resource Management and Sustainable Economies), twelve PhD researchers looked at the relations between more sustainable management of natural resources, market imperfections, property rights and household survival strategies. Their research resulted in new simulation models that include all these aspects instead of each requiring a separate model.

The programme comes to an end this year. No general policy solution for the poor areas has been found, says the head of the programme Dr Ruerd Ruben of the Development Economics Group. And the most important conclusion is that there is no one single solution. Conditions vary so much that each household needs to choose its own strategy. Depending on the soil, climate, market and resources, some will have to intensify current farming practices, others will have to choose crops with more added value and yet others will have to seek outside agriculture or migrate to more fertile areas. Policy makers should take this diversity more into account, concludes Ruben. They cannot just offer a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Bottom-up development from within the community should be given more space so that mixed farming systems, combined with labour from outside agriculture, have more prospects.

Response was financed by the Wageningen INREF fund and was a joint cooperation between Wageningen University and the International Food Policy Institute (IFPRI) in Washington. / JT