For over 30 years, the Aga Khan Development Network has worked in remote and fragile geographies to effectively reduce poverty, ensure tangible food security and improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and their families. This approach to development has been adapted and replicated widely, and improved the quality of life of more than 8 million people living in poor, rural areas.
Its main pillars have involved participatory governance, which allows people to direct their own development; agricultural assistance, which works with farmers to improve yields; enterprise development and employable skills, which supplements villagers’ farm-based incomes; natural resource management, which includes equitable water use and restoration of degraded land; financial inclusion, which helps smooth erratic incomes; and the creation of rural infrastructure that improves the quality of life, such as bridges, drinking water systems and irrigation canals.
As these programmes continue into their fourth decade, they are also addressing the emerging challenges of rapidly changing demography, climate change and unpredictable geo-political circumstances.
Boosting agricultural yields in food-scarce areas has been at the centre of the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF)’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.More
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.
Farm livelihoods and natural resources management
Farm livelihoods: AKF supports farmers and farming communities through technical assistance on:
- inputs, machinery, livestock;
- farming systems and equitable resource management, rotation, soil, water;
- farm economies and markets, including promoting high value crops and livestock products;
- food quality, including promoting organic pesticides, food safety and nutritious foods;
- food storage and processing to reduce post-harvest losses; and
- farmer groups.
Natural resources management: AKF seeks to build a more resilient natural resource base in the communities it serves. This includes building biomass (greening areas), in addition to helping communities better manage agroforestry, pastures, water and livestock. AKF works directly with a number of community groups, and supports communities to manage and access pastures and develop new lands.
Food security and nutrition: AKF supports the local production of high quality foods and works with local and national stakeholders on fortification. AKF supports agriculture extension workers to promote household use of the most nutritious foods. In certain areas, AKF, alongside other AKDN agencies and partners, works to improve food security through agricultural development. It also supports household-level nutrition and education on healthy diets, food preparation and food storage.
Transportation infrastructure: AKF supports communities establish farm-to-market roads and bridges, cross-border bridges and road linkages to existing transportation links. AKF brings together communities, mobilises funding, ensures quality control and manages construction. Communities provide labour and materials.
Irrigation infrastructure: AKF supports communities in developing water channels that improve agricultural productivity and contribute to the development of new lands. AKF also mobilises and supports the water management committees that manage the ongoing use of the infrastructure.
Storage infrastructure: AKF supports the development and improvement of storage infrastructure for commodities in order to prevent losses and to allow farmers to utilise or sell these commodities when it is more convenient or profitable.
Climate change adaptation
Tracking environmental change: In partnership with the University of Central Asia’s Mountain Societies Research Institute, AKF is analysing changes occurring in the environment and in agriculture across various Central Asian mountainous environments in order to identify suitable ways to adapt in a contextual manner. This includes the use of satellite imagery and unmanned aerial vehicles.
Climate-smart Innovations: In various contexts, AKF supports communities in adapting farming systems to climate change, with a particular focus on new techniques and inputs. This includes identifying appropriate seed varieties, as well as identifying, developing and scaling innovations for water management, eg, drip irrigation and solar pumps, soil moisture retention equipment, amongst others.>