International development efforts designed to drive economic growth through agriculture generate a wide range of benefits for populations in less developed areas of the world.
These projects have transformed local economies in some of the world’s poorest regions—reducing hunger, increasing food security, creating jobs and laying the groundwork for a better future for millions of people.
It’s no secret that economic stability is a prerequisite for stable nations, as people who see a positive future ahead are far less inclined to be attracted by extremist ideologies.
Development projects also provide the opportunity for trainers and implementers from wealthier countries to serve as “citizen diplomats” as they work alongside members of beneficiary populations. These collaborative efforts serve as a natural environment for each party to develop greater insight into the other’s culture—and to exchange knowledge and information that opens new doors of understanding that can lay the groundwork for innovative approaches and solutions.
These are some of the reasons that the United States and other economically advantaged nations continue to invest in international development—agricultural and otherwise.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the U.S. in 2016 was responsible for a total of $33.6 billion in official development assistance, more than any other nation by volume, and nearly two-tenths of one percent of the US’s gross national income.
For decades, this U.S. generosity has underwritten countless international development projects—both U.S.-directed and in collaboration with partner nations and organizations. This investment has established the U.S. as a leading force in improving the livelihoods of others around the world.
In fact, there is a very good business case for continuing these investments: International development is an extremely cost-effective way to introduce and showcase U.S. products, technology and know-how in the world’s newest markets.
U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations, companies, universities and other entities implementing development programs are doing more than simply stimulating economic growth. They also serve as a kind of cooperative “chamber of commerce” that promotes and introduces new solutions—typically U.S.-sourced—to improve the economies and quality of life of target populations.
For example, projects that introduce new technology and techniques to improve local agricultural sectors often provide farmers with their first exposure to a wide range of new agricultural tools, machinery, services and inputs—manufactured and distributed by U.S. companies.
Better yet, as projects mature, they begin to serve as operational models that can be duplicated on a wider scale, increasing and spreading demand for the products and services on which the improved agricultural approaches rely.
As a result, international development supports U.S.-based industries. For example, my own organization—CNFA while implementing a USAID project in Georgia (country), tapped Oklahoma-based pest-control product manufacturer TRECE to produce and deliver lures and traps to cover thousands of locations to fight a stink bug infestation threatening the nation’s agricultural sector. CNFA selected the Trécé system after competitively testing a variety of solutions, then worked directly with Georgia’s National Food Agency to deploy the traps and lures and train local farmers on their use. Georgian farmers benefited and a U.S. company saw its sales increase, generating profits that went right back into local communities in Oklahoma.
An integral part of the development work of groups like CNFA in Africa, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, and Latin America involves promoting better crop farming and livestock rearing practices. Such practices call for appropriate use of good quality seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and veterinary drugs and vaccines.
The market development focus of many projects works with farmers and processors to determine how and which technologies and services can help them expand, encourages the presence of local agro-dealer shops that sell or rent these technologies, and facilitates credit or other forms of financing for farmers or their associations to be able to acquire them. A large portion of these products and associated services are supplied by U.S. corporations.
For example, South Asia has accounted for around one-quarter of the global increase in fertilizer use between 2014 and 2018, while sub-Saharan Africa has accounted for another 5% of the global increase. The U.S. supplies a large volume of fertilizers to these and many other countries.
Some may question whether these countries are too poor to ever provide significant markets for U.S. goods. As Ricardo Michel, former head of USAID’s Center for Transformational Partnerships, has noted, 11 of the 15 biggest importing countries of US goods and services were beneficiaries of US foreign aid in the past.
Today about one-half of all US exports are destined for developing and emerging economies. Success stories such as South Korea, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, and Vietnam were major foreign aid recipients that have transformed into vibrant markets for US consumer goods and services, from food and drink brands to computers and financial services.
From my 30+ years working in this field, I have no doubt that international development is a win-win. It benefits the world’s neediest people—and it’s good for U.S. business.