What We Do

Agricultural Development

Strategy Overview


Sarah Mehari, owner of Sarah Mehari Poultry Distribution Center, distributes chicken from EthioChicken, a foundation grantee which increases productivity by delivering improved chickens, vaccinations, affordable blended feed, training, distribution, and delivery to smallholder farmers.


to support country-led inclusive agricultural transformation across sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

We focus on four strategic goals that help drive agricultural transformation and that ensure this transformation is inclusive: increase agricultural productivity for smallholder farmers; increase smallholder farmer household income; increase equitable consumption of a safe, affordable, nutritious diet year-round; and increase women’s empowerment in agriculture.

Inclusive agricultural transformation is productivity-led growth in the smallholder sector that spurs rural sector economic growth and delivers broad and accelerated impacts favoring the poor, especially women. We invest in this sector because economic growth that focuses on agriculture and that increases the incomes of smallholder farmers is particularly effective in reducing poverty, more so than investments in other sectors.

What is agricultural transformation? The key trigger of transformation in poorer agrarian economies has been the commitment of governments to create a conducive policy environment and to invest public resources into modernization of the rural sector. Such commitment can accelerate country-wide intensification of agricultural production, and leads to transformation only if sustained long enough for a critical mass of smallholders to transition from subsistence to commercially-oriented farm enterprises, supported by the increasing presence of the private sector. The resulting growth in productivity generates marketable surpluses and increased farm income that has been shown to spur significant additional growth in the rural non-farm economy through: expanded business opportunities for transporting, trading, processing and retailing farm surpluses; increased demand for local goods and services from better-off farm households; and by the real-income boost to all consumers delivered through lower food prices. Growth of agro-based enterprises and emerging agro-industry provides opportunities to draw labor off the land and, through improved linkages to demand for fresh and processed food in expanding rural towns and urban centers, generates demand-pull back to farms. While this potentially virtuous cycle remains subject to volatility, especially in contexts of shifting policies and variable weather patterns, it remains the central process by which productivity growth has been shown to drive rural poverty reduction through increased off-farm value-addition, employment, and income generation, as well as through lower food costs.

The Challenge

Low productivity, made worse by climate change: Droughts, pests, and other threats to crops and livestock affect millions of farmers. These challenges reduce crop yields and productivity, creating an ongoing struggle for smallholder farmers and their families to grow enough quality food and earn a stable income. A worsening climate, including rising temperatures and unpredictable rainfall, will only exacerbate these problems.

Low profitability from agriculture: Smallholder farmers often face barriers to entering or engaging effectively in markets for their agricultural production, which limits the ability of smallholders to realize a profit from agriculture.

Systems and policies that fail to meet the needs of farmers: Many smallholder farmers are constrained by inadequate systems and policies that make it difficult for them to be profitable or to grow enough nutritious food. These systems and policies often fail to provide timely and affordable access to markets, advisory services, and inputs such as seeds, fertilizers and quality veterinary medicines.

Lack of opportunity and resources for women: Women are vital drivers for economic and social development for their families and communities. But they often lack decision-making power in the agricultural system and in their own households. Inequitable access to agricultural information, inputs, and land constrains women’s productivity and empowerment.

Food systems that do not provide adequate nutrition: Many families do not have access to safe, affordable, nutritious diets year-round. Food systems do not incentivize production of nutrient-rich foods, seasonal availability constrains nutritious and safe food consumption throughout the year, lack of knowledge prohibits people from understanding their nutritional needs, and inadequate food policies struggle to ensure quality and safety.

Our Strategy

How we drive impact

We invest in three main ways:

  1. Global public goods to develop new products, tools, technologies, systems, and approaches to advance inclusive agricultural transformation. These products may include new livestock vaccines, or new traits that increase a crop’s drought tolerance. We also fund innovations in delivery, like digitizing agricultural extension or creating low-cost digital soil health maps. We have provided support to advance global data efforts on agriculture, including the development of indicators to measure women’s empowerment in agriculture.
  2. Country systems to support country agricultural strategies and help drive systems innovation through country, private sector, and other in-country partnerships to enable more effective delivery of products, tools, technologies, and services. We have provided assistance to multiple countries like Ethiopia to develop and implement their agricultural strategies, and we are supporting multiple countries in Africa and states in India to develop livestock master plans. We believe that the private sector has a major role to plan in the transformation process, and we partner with companies that are committed to working with smallholders through sustainable business models. These companies range from poultry producers to financial service providers.
  3. Farmer impact to support scaling partners to achieve impact for smallholder farmers. These investments are often in either public or private sector platforms that provide multiple services to farmers, like self-help groups in India or producer collectives in West Africa. In other cases, we work with private sector partners to develop viable business models that serve smallholders.


Regional priorities

All of our investments aim to assist countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. We have a dual track approach that supports both regional and in-country efforts. Our approach in individual countries varies based on the country context, and is grounded in our overall goal to catalyze country-led inclusive agricultural transformation. In these countries, we partner with public and private sector, as well as donors and other development partners in support of government national agriculture strategies:

  • In Ethiopia, the Agricultural Development team has been investing in Ethiopia since 2006. In 2010, we partnered with the government to establish the Agricultural Transformation Agency, which provides government ministries with evidence-based solutions and implementation support to improve farm productivity and profitability nationwide. Ethiopia has shown that a country can accelerate inclusive agricultural transformation when a government provides a clear vision for the sector and aligns public and development partner funds around a set of priorities. Today, the Ethiopian government continues to be a key partner, and we invest in ways that enables the government of Ethiopia to continue its leadership in transforming the sector. In addition to the important role of government—as Ethiopia continues to transform—a well-functioning and vibrant private sector will be critical in helping the country enhance its production through investments in new products, services, and agro-processing to ensure farmers are incentivized to adapt new practices and capture value from their commodities. With this context, our forward-looking priorities includes: strengthening and ensuring the scale-up of prioritized, productivity-enhancing interventions; supporting the long-term capabilities of public and private actors needed to sustain delivery systems; supporting targeted research in agriculture; and strengthening market systems to better include women and effectively raise smallholder farmers’ incomes.

  • Since our inception, the Agricultural Development team has recognized Nigeria as an important priority geography given its size and agricultural potential. As early as 2007, the foundation invested in several key areas, including value-chain development, soil health, and crop improvement. In 2012, when agriculture re-emerged as a top priority for the government, we significantly expanded our work in Nigeria, and have partnered federal and state Ministries of Agriculture to strengthen and implement an inclusive agriculture strategy through embedded and supplementary capacity building and technical assistance. Going forward, we believe Nigeria’s agricultural sector transformation will come from satisfying domestic demand with domestic production. This will require significant increases in productivity, working capital, and infrastructure that connects rural famers to urban markets, as well as effective leadership on the part of government to enable this private-sector-led growth. As Nigerian agriculture transforms, we see our role as ensuring growth fully integrates smallholder farmers—especially women. With this in mind, we have built strong partnerships with local companies in order to develop profitable smallholder service delivery models and scale women-centered livestock marketing and entrepreneurship opportunities.

  • In Tanzania, since 2007 we have invested in various value-chain initiatives, including: strengthening the cassava value chain, improving policy environment, and data and market development for food staples. Today, our focus is on driving systems-level change by partnering with government institutions and non-governmental partners to support the strengthening and implementation of the Agriculture Sector Development Plan II. In this, we seek to offer evidence and capacity support that will enable the government to: take a nutrition- and gender-sensitive, market-led approach to sector development; increase resource allocation to the sector; and improve the policy environment to allow the private sector to thrive. Empowering and integrating women into the economy will also be critical to slow the high population growth and improve nutritional outcomes. A key thrust of our effort includes supporting the ministry of Agriculture to coordinate and drive the reform of the seed system and investments in livestock–a key untapped asset in Tanzania.

  • In India, our agricultural partnerships were historically focused on developing and disseminating productivity-enhancing technologies with international and, to a lesser extent, local partners. While we have continued to build on this, since 2015, our approach has moved towards adapting solutions that respond to national and state-level demand, integrating our investments with public and private sector in-country, and working where our strategic focus areas align with government priorities for agricultural development. We provide thought partnership to the federal government and the state governments of Bihar, Odisha and UP in their analysis, prioritization, implementation and monitoring of agricultural transformation plans and budgets- to support them in the continual policy process for realizing food security and economic development. We invest specifically in two priority areas- diversification (crop and livestock) and market reform- as these are the most critical drivers of improving nutrition, gender and income for smallholder farmers. Going forward, we will continue to integrate our own programs to improve coordination and efficient delivery of agricultural services- specifically where this integration can leverage national and other donor resources and around state and federal government platforms for reaching impact at scale. Our global partnerships (ILRI, IRRI, US-based universities) continue to provide strong partnerships for cross-country learning and adaptation, and increasingly we have ensured that our AgDev Asia investments work with Indian partners and as appropriate, with NITI Aayog- the federal government’s leading policy think tank.

Areas of Focus

Our Agricultural Development strategy is organized around the following 10 programmatic portfolios. These are distinct groupings of investments and priorities that collectively contribute to our goal of country-led inclusive agricultural transformation.

Enabling Country Systems: Africa

In collaboration with partners at the country, continent, and global level, we support African nations in their efforts to advance inclusive agricultural transformation. This includes setting resource allocation priorities, building government implementation capacity, shaping inclusive markets, and collecting evidence on what works and what other efforts across Africa have proven successful. We also engage with the private sector to help scale up innovative service delivery models that focus on smallholder farmers and help larger companies integrate those farmers into their business model. This area of work includes stewarding the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) partnership, which has supported several hundred projects that aim to boosting the productivity and income of smallholder farmers across the continent.

Enabling Country Systems: Asia

In collaboration with Asian governments and local and international partners, we support country-led efforts to realize inclusive agricultural transformation—specifically, to ensure diversified farming and food systems that improve access to affordable, nutritious food and strengthen markets. This involves brokering partnerships to generate evidence and adapt innovative models to the Asian context and the needs of smallholder farmers. In India in particular, we help strengthen government capacity in priority setting, implementation, resource allocation, policymaking, shaping of inclusive markets, and research and data collection. We work closely with India’s federal government and with three states: Bihar, Odisha, and Uttar Pradesh. We also help build and coordinate broad partnerships to increase investment and identify countries and localities that are well situated to transform their agricultural sector.

Seed Systems and Varietal Improvement (SSAVI)

We work to help upgrade public-sector crop breeding systems in Africa and Asia and enhance delivery of improved varieties to farmers. Improved breeding systems can generate higher rates of genetic gain in staple crops, in the form of varieties demanded by farmers, processors, and consumers. We also focus on building an ecosystem of public and private actors in order to increase the rate at which old varieties are replaced by new and improved ones. Current varietal replacement rates for smallholder farmers range from 20 to 30 years; our goal is to reduce this to 5 to 10 years. Rapid varietal replacement is needed to avoid yield losses due to the evolution of pests and diseases in a changing climate.

Crop Discovery and Translational Sciences

We work to help increase crop productivity for smallholder farmers by advancing the effectiveness and affordability of crop products and technologies and increasing the likelihood of widespread adoption. We focus on high-risk, high-reward product development efforts that aim to raise intrinsic yields and protect against drought, pests, diseases, and other stresses. This includes work on novel biological paradigms and inventive tools and technologies.


Livestock play a critical role in the livelihoods of more than 900 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. With regional demand for livestock products projected to grow by more than 150% by 2050, development of the livestock sector offers a unique pathway to improve income and nutrition for the poor, particularly women. Our work in this area focuses on animal health, animal production, and animal systems. Sustainable livestock productivity growth leads to higher household incomes, empowers women, and improves year-round availability and accessibility of safe and nutritious animal-sourced food. Our approach to livestock development focuses on more effective engagement by global and regional technical entities, more progressive and effective national policies, and a more vibrant private sector that can deliver services and products at a more appropriate scale.

Nutritious Food Systems

We work to shape food systems that can deliver safe, affordable, and healthy diets year-round to low-income people. Our investments in this area have evolved from a focus on aflatoxin control and biofortification to a more holistic view of food systems and multiple pathways for spurring change, including by empowering women. We work with smallholder farmers, processors, traders, food companies, and retailers to improve supply and demand for nutritious foods, with an emphasis on animal-sourced foods. Our work in food safety reflects the prominent role of biological pathogens in the contamination of food supplies and the spread of food-borne disease. We invest heavily in research on how agricultural policies and practices affect nutrition and how interventions at the farm and market levels can improve diets. This leads us to work closely with governments to translate data into evidence-based agricultural strategies and policies. Our work in this area is significantly co-financed by the UK government’s Department for International Development.

Global Policy and Advocacy

This portfolio complements the broad Agricultural Development strategy by ensuring that, in addition to strong and well-resourced national plans and a functional private sector, countries also can rely on both adequate and appropriately-targeted resources from donors and a well-aligned, outcome-oriented system of global institutions to support their national efforts. The portfolio’s medium-term priorities are twofold: Firstly, to ensure that bilateral donors and the global agricultural-financing architecture are aligned behind a roadmap that will deliver sufficient resources to achieve SDG goals and to enable the measurement and transparent monitoring of progress; Second, that donor resources are prioritized toward the generation of global public goods, such as R&D, and support agricultural transformation through financing of national agricultural development plans aimed at achievement of SDG2, ending hunger, and SDG2.3, doubling smallholder productivity and incomes.

Policy and Data

Lack of timely and reliable data, along with weak policy design and implementation are among the most critical impediments to inclusive agricultural development in our focus geographies. This cross-cutting portfolio strives to boost the effectiveness of agricultural policy, planning and investment decisions through use of quality data and analytics. Our work focuses on three areas: (i) improving national and state-level policies and resource allocation, (ii) increasing the availability and use of credible data and analytics, and (iii) improving data and regulations for efficient and inclusive markets – to support more systematic policy prioritization and address market failures, due to policy, regulations, and imperfect information, that are impeding smallholder access to relevant products and services. This portfolio strengthens the data and policy components of the foundation’s other Agricultural Development portfolios (e.g., livestock, plant protection, fertilizer, finance and seeds), and supports the development of replicable tools, assets and methods to address systemic policy and market challenges. Key areas of focus include: testing replicable approaches to national IAT policy prioritization and planning; strengthening data ecosystems and the use of new data collection, exchange and analytics technologies in service of improved market transparency and public policies and programs; and strengthening donor coordination around initiatives for more modernized and cost-effective national agricultural statistics.

Digital Farmer Services

As a contribution to the broader drive towards inclusive agricultural transformation, we focus on innovations that can help smallholder farmers leapfrog many of the systemic constraints they face in raising their productivity and incomes. We believe that digitally-enabled innovations in technologies, services, and platforms can rapidly increase our ability to scale and provide farmers with diagnostics on soil health and crop nutrition, access to financial services and inclusive markets, and learning opportunities to inform farm planning and practical field operations allowing farmers to move beyond subsistence farming. When integrated, these system innovations are poised to provide public and private sector partners with the necessary insights to create a more enabling environment and optimize product and service offerings in support of smallholder farming. Our goal is that at least half of the smallholder farm population in our focus geographies have access to and are benefitting from such digitally-enabled services within 10 years. We envisage playing a strong catalytic role in advancing cost-effective business models and supporting national/state-level platforms that incentivize and harness the interests of the public sector, the private sector, and smallholder farming communities.

Women’s Empowerment

The AgDev Women’s Empowerment portfolio includes two complementary bodies of work that together focus on closing systematic gender gaps in productivity as well as in access to a broad range of services, markets, and entrepreneurial opportunities (Why focus on women’s empowerment in agriculture). This work is undertaken in service of the overall growth and inclusion goals of AgDev and is strongly integrated into the broader womens’ and girls’ economic empowerment goals of the foundation-wide Gender Equality (GE) Strategy. The two bodies of work are: Integration and Gender Data and Evidence. The Integration body of work focuses on thoughtfully integrating gender into all AgDev investment portfolios, including seed systems, livestock health, digital extension, and policy advice, while doubling down on reducing the gender gaps in smallholder farm households through our partnerships with AGRA, CGIAR and others. It also encompasses the role that the Ag Dev team plays in leading the Women’s Market Inclusion and Women’s Land Tenure Security components of the GE Strategy. The Gender Data and Evidence body of work focuses on increasing the quality and utility of data and evidence to influence governments’ policies and priorities for women in agriculture, including supporting the development of Pro-WEAI metrics (Project-level Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index) to help our grantees rigorously track whether agricultural interventions are effective at empowering women.


Beyond governments in our focus geographies and other development funders with whom we coordinate, we partner with a wide range of research, NGO and implementation partners, both internationally and locally. We view partnership with the private sector as critical to long-term success in the scaling and sustainability of development, and we actively seek novel partnerships to spur innovation and build local institutional capacity.

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