Agricultural non-governmental organizations (NGOs) often specialize in certain types of activity as set out in their mission statements. Larger NGOs may have a division that specializes in certain agricultural objectives, while the remainder of the NGO is involved in other aspects of development. Agricultural NGOs increasingly have moved away from relief or emergency supplies and toward sustainable development, using technological research with the objective of slowing or stopping environmental and social degradation in rural areas. Agricultural NGOs also are moving toward the goals of fair trade, community empowerment and participation in decision making, helping to channel more political power to communities or to specific social groups, such as women. Other NGOs are concentrating on building up businesses in rural communities through the provision of microcredit.
NGOs concerned with research and development may aim to develop technology that is relevant to farmers in a particular region, making use of the skills and experience of the farmers combined with modern technology to improve productivity. This agro-ecological approach may involve specialist issues such as soil management, introducing modern methods of cultivation that combine well with the skills of the farmers. Research often is directed toward eliminating the pests that threaten crops in some regions or to health issues caused by harmful insects or bad sanitation in rural areas.
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Agricultural NGOs frequently combine their activities with the wider goal of social organization and empowerment, ensuring that rural communities may have a voice in their own future and be heard by governments. For example, helping communities to deal with their basic health needs and the education of their children may be combined with training adults in social organization and political participation. An emphasis on sustainable land use may be supplemented by education on land rights and land tenure, enabling rural communities to defend their rights against encroachment from large business or political interests. Other NGOs may be concerned with fair trade, enabling rural groups to form cooperatives and stand up for a fair price from participating organizations in industrialized countries.
Some agricultural NGOs concentrate on the supply of microfinance, including loans, savings and insurance. Within the area of microfinance, some NGOs concentrate on the supply of microcredit to farmers and other rural businesses on fair terms, to enable them to build their businesses and account for their use of funds in a responsible way. These NGOs open up possibilities of business expansion for rural entrepreneurs who otherwise would not be able to obtain a bank loan because of their inability to raise collateral for loans and their lack of a credit history.