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 small holder farmers.


to improve agricultural productivity, incomes, and diets in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, with a focus on bringing economic empowerment to women in poor farm families.

The Challenge

At A Glance

The livelihoods of three quarters of the world’s poor depend on agriculture that is typically characterized by low or very low levels of productivity.

Severe hunger and extreme poverty affect about 800 million people worldwide, more than half of whom live in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Helping small farms improve productivity enables families to better invest in their future both within and beyond the agricultural sector.

Agricultural growth has been shown to be up to four times as effective at reducing hunger and poverty in low-income countries as growth in any other sector.

Three-quarters of the world’s poorest people get their food and income from farming small plots of land—typically the size of a football field or smaller—and most of them labor under difficult conditions. They contend with diseases, pests, and drought, as well as unproductive soil. Their livestock are frequently weak or sick, resulting in reduced production of eggs and milk to eat or sell. Access to reliable markets for their products and good information about pricing is limited, and government policies are often biased against agriculture or do not adequately address the most pressing needs of poor farming households.

Women are a vital part of these farms, where, beyond caring for and feeding their families, they provide a large and often dominant share of farm labor but have more limited access to and control over production resources such as land, seeds, equipment, and credit.

The Opportunity

Improvements in agricultural productivity coupled with greater opportunities to engage in competitive markets can create social and economic ripple effects. With increased incomes, small farmers can better feed their families, send their children to school, provide for their health, and invest in their farms. These investments can, in turn, spur the local economy, and farm surpluses can help expand food processing, distribution, and retail businesses. This virtuous cycle is far from certain, however. It depends on political commitment and appropriate public policies and public investments—especially those that spur the private sector to make the complementary investments needed to sustain progress.

Source: FAOSTAT 2018. Total yield for Sub-Saharan Africa excludes South Africa.

Our Strategy

Our ultimate goal is to improve the well-being of millions of poor farm families in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, allowing them to live more productive and rewarding lives through raising incomes, improving nutrition and empowering women. We believe that the best way to do this is by helping smallholders transition into farming as a business. To that end, we invest in three strategic areas: research and development, agricultural policies, and access and market systems. We coordinate our efforts across these areas to build robust systems that address the needs of farm families.

Areas of Focus

We invest in the following strategic areas that we believe will help address the challenges and local realities faced by farming families in the developing world.

Research and Development

Harvested Swarna Sub I rice, a STRASA variety from IRRI, being dried at the home of farmer Kamlavati Devi.

We support agricultural research to develop more productive and nutritious versions of the staple crops grown and consumed by farm families. These include varieties that thrive in different soil types and are resistant to disease, pests, and environmental stresses such as drought. We fund research to find ways to better manage soil and water resources and reduce crop loss after harvest. We also support efforts to improve the health and productivity of farmers’ livestock.

Our grantmaking priorities in this area:

  • Crop improvement. We support development of crop varieties that are adapted to local conditions and have specific benefits that farmers seek, such as increased yields, better nutrition, and tolerance to drought, flooding, and pests.
  • Crop and natural resource management. We help farmers better manage and protect their staple crops and livestock through better soil management, water resource management, and minimizing of crop and livestock waste due to spoilage, weeds, pests, disease, and other threats.
  • Livestock health and improvement. We work to enhance the health and productivity of small farmers’ livestock—including cows, goats, and chickens—by improving animal genetics and veterinary care.

Agricultural Policies

Timely, relevant, and accurate information is crucial to farmers’ livelihoods. Policymakers in developing countries also need good data to inform their decision making. To this end, we support data collection, research, and policy analysis to understand the impact of various approaches, get accurate information to small farmers, and assess the effects of national and international agricultural policies. This work also includes evaluation of the progress of our grants to ensure that they are delivering the anticipated benefits to farm families.

Our grantmaking priorities in this area:

  • Data collection and analysis. We support collection and analysis of data from farmers, development partners, and governments to help national government policymakers and other partners—as well as our foundation—assess the success of different interventions.
  • Country policies. We work to identify and support policies and public investments that help farmers sustainably increase their yields, with a focus on R&D investments, seed systems, livestock enhancement, regulatory systems, input delivery, and markets.
  • Maximizing benefits and mitigating adverse impacts. We support research, evaluation, and tools to ensure that our grantmaking yields maximum improvements in agricultural productivity household welfare while mitigating any adverse environmental or health impacts.
  • Skills training. We support training for individuals and organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia in how to conduct research and analysis.

Access and Market Systems

Technology enables farmers, like Adasa John in Tanzania, to access crop-related information via cell-phone.

We work to give small farmers access to new and appropriate tools and farming practices as well as links to markets for their products.

Our grantmaking priorities in this area:

  • Access to solutions. We ensure that small farmers have access to the results of our grantmaking efforts, including improved seeds, better soil, and water and livestock solutions.
  • Access to information. We find new ways to use information and communications technology, such as mobile phones, to share information with small farmers that can help them improve their farming techniques.
  • Support of farmers’ organizations. We support efforts to help farmers’ organizations improve their business management skills, improve their purchasing power, and improve their crop and resource management skills.
  • Post-harvest management. We work to improve storage and post-harvest activities to help farmers get the most from their crops.
  • Access to markets. We work to help farmers meet quality and quantity commitments for buyers; link farmers to large-scale, reliable markets; and facilitate partnerships between buyers, processors, and farmers’ organizations.
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