I am really pleased to see the UK Government and G8 focus on food and agriculture and to be invited by DFID to consult on the initiative. This focus is needed to strengthen the resilience and productivity of all farmers to meet the food and nutrition needs of themselves and the growing population.
I am anxious about what the DFID event (Promoting African Agriculture – The New Alliance for Security and Nutrition) will bring.
- Will it motivate investment in sustainable agriculture at all levels – smallholder farmers to large-scale agri-business?
- Will it enable smallholders to invest and grow their agricultural livelihoods, or will it just benefit the multinationals and big business?
Smallholders are key to success
You may ask, why the preoccupation with smallholder farmers? Simple:
- They produce food where it is needed.
- They depend on the natural environment for their food and income.
- They have the potential to significantly increase their production and livelihoods using existing affordable and environmentally sound technologies – i.e. tried and tested ‘appropriate technologies’
- They can, and should be, a major pillar of sustainable agricultural growth and global food security.
In Africa smallholder farmers tend to comprise a very important part of the national food production system and economy in most countries. Transformation of smallholder farming should be an important part of the solution to providing food security and improved nutrition.
Governments are responsible for creating an enabling environment for all agri-business. Care should be taken to not increase the vulnerability of smallholders through ‘quick fix’ reforms designed to incentivise large-scale private sector investment – such as new policy, rules and systems that affect access to land, seed supply, biodiversity and the intellectual property rights. The enabling environment needs to protect and promote the ability of smallholders to develop and improve their farming through innovation and experimentation – a vital mechanism for step-wise adaptation to climate change.
The UK and G8 should meet their commitments
I think the UK and G8 should meet their commitment to spend 0.7% GNI on aid and this should include support for public expenditure within nationally owned agricultural investment plans. These plans should include:
- Support for smallholder farmers for whom ‘low external input’ farming systems can produce significant improvements in food and income security.
- Development of local markets and programmes to support smallholders and agri-business engagement with the markets.
- Support and finance to help communities to adapt to climate change.
So here’s hoping for some realistic commitments to support smallholder farming as part of the solution to food security, nutrition and sustainable economic growth in Africa.
Can the UK, G8, African Governments and private sector work together to promote diverse and dynamic rural economies which enable smallholders to adapt to climate change and generate viable livelihoods from their farming? What do you think?