Agriculture & Food Security

Agriculture & Food Security

Ensuring food security, agricultural development and sustainable natural resources management

Ensuring food security, agricultural development and sustainable natural resources management


Boosting agricultural yields in food-scarce areas has been at the centre of the Aga Khan Foundation’s activities since it began. Agriculture remains the single largest employer in the world, providing livelihoods for 40 percent of today’s global population. The world’s 500 million small farms worldwide provide up to 80 percent of the food consumed.

However, 800 million people worldwide still lack regular access to adequate amounts of food. Adding to the traditional challenges is a changing climate that is impacting many farmers: global emissions of carbon dioxide have increased by almost 50 percent since 1990; and Himalayan snow and ice are expected to decline 20 percent by 2030.

In organising AKF’s activities in the following categories, AKF aims to provide enduring solutions to chronic or emerging issues. For example, it is mindful of how the gender gap affects agriculture and food security. It is estimated that the elimination of the gender gap would lower the number of undernourished people in the world by 150 million.

CASE STUDY: Linking smallholder farmers to markets
Overcoming barriers to improved horticulture in Lindi and Mtwara, Tanzania

Challenge: limited economic opportunity resulting in widespread poverty

Lindi and Mtwara, Tanzania’s most southern provinces, are two of its poorest: 41% of the population live below the poverty line, and only 23% have any savings. Though the vast majority of the population practice farming, food security is a significant concern: half the children under five are stunted, in part due to inadequate production and consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Despite the current constraints, there is strong potential for improved horticulture. Both regions have fertile soils, good water availability, access to the Dar es Salaam market and the capacity to produce year-round.

Several constraints currently limit the capacity of smallholder horticultural producers to take advantage of these opportunities. Limited knowledge of good agricultural practices and an inability to access quality inputs (e.g. seeds and fertilizer) limit yields and production. With almost no storage, packing or cooling facilities, 40% of produce fails to reach consumers. Intermediary horticultural firms interested in procuring from Lindi and Mtwara report that the lack of organisation among farmers greatly raises their transaction costs and renders local collaboration uneconomical.

Response: A focus on inputs, techniques, storage, links to markets and access to finance

With funding from the UK’s Department of International Development and the European Commission, AKF has been operating in Lindi and Mtwara since 2009 to support farmers to grow and sell more produce and increase their incomes. Taking the ‘Making Markets Works for the Poor’ approach, AKF focuses on improving the market systems in which the poor engage to create more benefits for them. And, also to improve specific agricultural value chains across the system; from the farm to the market.

AKF is supporting the development of two crops – sesame and rice – critical to the livelihoods and food security. Access to inputs, particularly seeds and agro-chemicals, is being improved; technical skills in cultivation and storage are being built; and access to financial services and markets for smallholder farmers is being enabled. Rice yields are increasing through the promotion of good agricultural practices (e.g. planting on time, planting at the recommended density and in rows, weeding on time, optimal water management in rice paddies) through learning groups, and using improved seed.

Post-harvest facilities that allow efficient collection, storage and packing of smallholder produce, are being constructed to decrease post-harvest losses and increase the returns to investment. Farmers are encouraged to store crops collectively, so that when harsh weather conditions strike, crops are still available for sale and can be sold collectively when the market price is high.

AKF has facilitated the launch of contract farming arrangements between farmer groups and two major sesame exporters in Lindi and Mtwara. By organising farmers, with lead farmers who can engage directly with market actors, suppliers are much more attractive to medium and large horticultural buyers and processors.

AKF is simultaneously improving access to credit and savings through the formation of Community Based Savings Groups (CBSGs) in the same areas. Through CBSGs, farmers can access and pay for the necessary inputs through loans.

Salum, a rice farmer, explained: “I use half of my loan to buy assets, then invest the other half in an income-generating community ‘cinema’ screening, to ensure I can repay the loan.

CBSGs are also being used as a platform to identify and train village-based suppliers and establish a network to facilitate the sale of seed, agro-chemical, agro-equipment and fertiliser to producers.

Key achievements to date

  • 110,000 rice and sesame producers have increased their incomes above 2012 earnings, with some of the rice growers seeing 2- to 3-fold increases in production. One farmer, who previously produced 800kg of rice from 3 acres of land, produced 1,700kg last year, and expects to harvest a further 2,000kg in subsequent years.
  • 50,000 farmers have been trained in production techniques, post-harvest handling and the identification of market linkages. Farmers are now experimenting with new methods of horticulture to produce higher yields and these methods are being imitated by between 5 and 6 additional farmers for every farmer trained, multiplying its effect substantially.
  • Members of CBSGs have saved an estimated $35 million. With 165,000 members (65% women), and a 95% survival rate, CBSGs are paving the way to expand business opportunities and household resilience through these groups.
  • Strong and profitable network of 131 village-based suppliers have been created to start businesses providing quality seed, agrochemicals, technology and equipment, acting as a link between producers and input suppliers/wholesalers.

A training session covering new farming techniques is underway.

Access to inputs, such as improved seed, is an essential part of improving food security. 


The rehabilitation of canals conserves natural resources and improves productivity.

The creation of community based  savings groups allows farmers to take out loans for better quality seeds and fertilisers.