Chris Henderson


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Posts by Chris

  • Reflections on a week at COP23 – the 23rd annual meeting of the UN Conference of Parties on Climate Change

    November 17th, 2017

    Within a short time of arriving in Bonn early last week, one thing became very clear, it was not just the negotiators or minority groups of environmentalists who thought COP23 was important. A full spectrum of nationalities, government, private sector, civil society, academics, the media and citizens were involved! Whilst the negotiations were taking place in the World Conference Centre and UN Campus (the Bula Zone), ‘Climate Action Events’ were taking place across the city. These events were not confined to the temporary conference centre that had been erected in Rheinaue Park (the Bonn Zone). They were also taking place in the university, colleges, organisations, hotels and a range of other venues.

    So what was driving all this activity? What did people want to see happen? For me, it can be summarised as global action that  will enable us to mitigate, adapt and cope with the impacts of climate change. That is, full and successful implementation of the ‘Paris Agreement’. Most of those participating in Bonn last week knew that COP23, like other annual meetings, was an important step in achieving that.

    Of course, such a far reaching and important issue as climate change is complex and political. And it is no surprise therefore that the negotiations are equally complex, political and slow! Many people ask what difference can individuals, or a small team from a medium sized NGO, can make in such a big event or process. On reflection I think there are several invaluable contributions.

    The first, is contributing to the buzz and hubbub of ‘Climate Action Events’ – to inspire and motivate the negotiators. As the COP organisers know from experience, contrasting multi-stakeholder activity – debate, discussion, evidence, campaigning and advocacy – is an essential part of the process. It highlights what can, and must, be done! It tells negotiators that failure, in these negotiations and process, is not an option!

    A second, is to be part of the body of civil society organisations that keenly follow, critique and support the negotiations. This can include meeting with the negotiating Parties, working in networks (such as the Climate Action Network) or responding when there are requests for information.

    A third, is to share specific examples of climate actions that work, or do not work. Practical Action has diverse experience in understanding how technology transforms the lives of women and men living in, or vulnerable to, poverty. Much of this is directly linked to coping with climate change.

    One such example, and pragmatic way to address the increasing incidence of drought and unreliable rainfall associated with climate change, is the use of solar powered irrigation in Zimbabwe. There are of course many ways to use and enable access to this technology. And many parallel economic and social issues to consider. Agriculture is a private sector. New technology and development initiatives must recognise and appreciate this, for example farmers and communities also need the capacity to engage with and respond to changing markets. Or, working with private sector actors to develop business models which enable them to go beyond the low hanging fruit – the easy to reach and work with. Agriculture is also intrinsically linked to culture and social structures, which means working with households and communities to plan their own development.

    I hope this short example shows that even where there is an obvious ‘win-win’ solution – such as solar powered irrigation to resurrect agriculture in drought prone areas – progress is not simple. As with the climate talks, it needs committed, multi-sector action. And, as with the climate talks, failure is not an option!

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  • Community based adaptation practitioners lead the way

    July 13th, 2017

    Blog co-authored with Colin McQuistan

    Practical Action’s team at CBA11

    The Community Based Adaptation (CBA) conferences provide a unique practitioners’ forum that is driving forward the ‘adaptation’ agenda of the UNFCCC. It is one of the few global gatherings on climate change not overwhelmed by political lobbyists or climate scientists. It is also unique in having strong connections with developing country governments and effective linkages with the global climate change policy processes.

    Adaptation is not being delivered in practice

    Whilst the urgent need for ‘adaptation’ is well recognised within the Paris Agreement, it is not being delivered in practice! There is a lack of confidence in committing finance, incorporating adaptation in national policy, and in implementing effective practices – especially in developing countries. When finance is committed, most does not reach the affected people and communities, so fails to deliver adaptation where it is needed most.

    Beat the flood game

    Colin McQuistan and Anita Van Breda (WWF) facilitating the session on flood resilience building using games

    Many governments, donors, private sector actors, NGOs, development agencies and communities themselves, realise the need for better evidence and ways of delivering adaptation. This issue is a high priority for Practical Action. For example, we recognise that achieving adaptation for resilient smallholder agriculture is key to eliminating poverty and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is vital that we make agriculture work for smallholder farmers and the poor. For Practical Action and for the development community the CBA conferences can help deliver better outcomes on adaptation.

    Rigan Ali at CBA11

    Rigan Ali Khan (Practical Action Bangladesh) proudly presenting his poster on the from Vulnerbaility 2 Resilience (V2R) project in Bangladesh

    The diverse participation by Practical Action, other national and international NGOs, African governments, donors and other practitioners in the CBA11, hosted by the Ugandan government from 26 to 29 June, illustrated the sharing and learning value of the CBA conferences. We ran a session on the opening day, with WWF US, on ecosystem-based approaches to reducing community disaster risk, which included an interactive game called Beat the Flood! Our Nepali colleagues shared our experiences in National Adaptation Planning (NAP) and how that process can be linked to Local Adaptations Plans of Action (LAPA’s).  A colleague from Bangladesh presented a poster on the role of ‘nature based approaches to building flood resilience’ and our work on scaling-up coffee agroforestry in Peru was given as an example of how practitioners can influence win-win development and environment policies.

    As a founding member, we are currently working with the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) – the lead organiser of the CBA conferences – to ramp-up the ambition and impact of this unique and important practitioners forum. Our ambition, along with most who participate, is that through the CBA community, we can help the international community deliver global change on adaptation for the poorest and most vulnerable, those least responsible for creating climate change.


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  • Agriculture – a global win-win but, sadly, a ‘no-win’ at COP22

    November 17th, 2016

    Agriculture: everywhere, yet nowhere

    As an agriculturalist following the climate change negotiations (the ‘Conference of Parties’ or annual COPs) I used to think that agriculture was the most ‘not talked about’ topic. It was implicit everywhere, but nowhere in the text. Until, with great relief, food security was highlighted in the Paris Agreement.

    Recognizing the fundamental priority of safeguarding food security and ending hunger, and the particular vulnerabilities of food production systems to the adverse impacts of climate change

    However, after a rather frustrating week at COP22, it now looks like agriculture is the most ‘not acted on’ topic!

    No action on agriculture

    Last week the developing countries (the G77 group) introduced a promising draft ‘COP decision’ on agriculture. The proposed text had a focus on ‘adaptation’ as this is the area where action and investment is desperately needed for food security and sustainable development for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – where goal 2 is “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”. It also recognised that ‘mitigation’ (reducing greenhouse gas emissions) is a ‘co-benefit’ and therefore the importance of agriculture in reducing emissions.

    COP22However, the EU (supported by the USA) proposed an alternative text that called for direct action on mitigation and adaptation, including the use of biofuels to replace fossil fuels. Unfortunately the differences in emphasis (and a lack of trust about underlying intent), led to the withdrawal of the decision. So, yet again, the vital topic of how the COP should treat agriculture was relegated to the body convening for ‘technical discussions’ – for further discussion and to provide ‘advice’ to the COP.

    A lack of strategy from COP22

    Having a decision at COP 22 would have ensured progress and guided planning, implementation and finance at all levels. The decentralised planning process, through Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), would have ensured that the resulting actions are appropriate to individual nation’s needs and priorities. If agriculture doesn’t have a COP decision to guide planning, it risks being forgotten as countries, donors and bilateral actions follow their own priorities.

    Watching from the side lines it is hard to not draw the conclusion that somehow the winners in this are those who make money from the status quo – the industries and markets linked to intensive agriculture. Or perhaps developed nations, content with their preferential place in this troubled world, fearful of the cost of adaptation. Can’t they see that addressing the issue from an ‘adaptation with mitigation co-benefits’ perspective, is better than no action! And, failure to act soon will lead to much greater cost in the long run.

    A constructive way forward

    The Paris Agreement and its rapid and widespread ratification this year is unprecedented and historic. Even the UK has now signed.COP22

    Since agriculture is central to climate change the discussions will continue. However, discussion is not enough! Through its various bodies, the COP has been discussing agriculture for years (at least 6). Now is the time to use the Paris Agreement to unlock the door on planning and financing climate actions in agriculture.

    Tackling adaptation using co-benefits approach

    Practical Action’s ongoing work in South Asia to facilitate organic matter value chains as a strategy for addressing the problem of very low soil organic matter is just one example of ‘adaptation with mitigation co-benefits’ transforming agriculture – a clear win-win! Such ecological approaches address both adaption and mitigation as they improve long-term productivity and protect or build soil fertility, thereby combating degradation and the need for farmers to develop new land.

    For me the greatest missing argument for action on agriculture now, is that, if investment and action is based on ecological principles, it can be genuinely inclusive and sustainable. It can be a win-win-win – for food security, rural livelihoods and the environment.

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  • From adaptation to mitigation at COP21

    December 4th, 2015

    Week 1 – agriculture and adaptation

    COP21 got off to a rousing start, with some inspirational speeches by heads of state and world leaders. The objective was to inspire and guide the negotiators, however, the promises made appear to have been quickly dampened by national interests resulting in slower than expected progress, and even weakened options.

    Terrace training Shagra A Nairobi Work Programme

    The first week was dominated by matters concerning agriculture, forests, pastoralism and risk and adaptation. The Nairobi Work Programme on Adaptation (NWP), which feeds adaptation learning into SBSTA, the Subsiduary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice, discussed and presented a range of case studies for successful approaches to adaptation.

    But simply putting case studies on websites is totally insufficient. NWP, SBSTA and their members need to facilitate genuine knowledge transfer systems, which can ensure that all stakeholders, including smallholder famers, can access and utilise this knowledge for effective and inclusive climate change adaptation.

    The need for Technology Justice

    Parties remain cautious over agriculture and its potential to disrupt the negotiations. Factors underpinning this anxiety include concerns about developed nations expecting agriculture to be used for mitigation, and the need – and right – of developing nations to have unrestricted development of their food systems and land use. We continue to advocate for Technology Justice to inform all these decisions. In agriculture, this means greater use of agroecological practices and systems approaches (knowledge and markets) to ensure a just transition for developing countries.

    Human Rights Sidelined

    Ultimately, the revised draft text released earlier this week is a negative development. The removal of human rights language from the main text to the non-binding preamble undermines the notion of the expected agreement being rooted in justice for all global populations, both now and in the future. This is likely to be a major debate over the coming days as civil society pushes back against this development.

    Week 2 – mitigation and energy

    Solar energy in NepalAccelerating energy access

    The focus in week 2 moves from adaptation and agriculture, to mitigation and energy. While much of the focus is likely to be on the big-emitting nations and technologies, Practical Action will be calling for negotiators to recognise and prioritise the importance of the agreement in shaping future energy access approaches for the 2 billion under-served poor populations globally. This is the biggest opportunity of the century to help developing countries leapfrog towards clean, renewable energy technologies, with a focus on decentralised energy systems to reach the poorest and most marginalised communities.

    Gender and social justice

    The second week is also the key moment for gender with Tuesday 8th December, gender and climate change day.  This is late to influence the negotiations, although if negotiations are progressing slowly the events held on this day may still be able to mobilise political will.  The negotiations are stalled currently due to a failure to reach agreement on gender.

    What is clear is that the agreement must tackle inequality and put climate justice, human rights and gender equality at the heart of the new climate deal. Climate change is a gross social injustice exacerbating inequality and burdening poor people with impacts that they did little to create. We are not going to eradicate poverty and injustice without tackling equity in all its forms.

    Other relevant blogs

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  • World Food Day and the SDGs: The challenge – no! the opportunity – for agriculture to leave no one behind

    Rugby, Rugby, Warwickshire, UK, Rugby
    October 16th, 2015

    Today, 16th October, is World Food Day. A day when we are reminded of the vital importance of agriculture in providing our basic need – food. More importantly, the vital role agriculture plays in providing food security and livelihoods for the majority in developing countries. For me it is a reminder of how, to date, agriculturalists and the international community are still failing to enable the many millions of small-scale farmers to use their efforts, and their resources – the natural environment for which they are in fact our custodians – to develop their agriculture so it is productive, resilient and sustainable. Our understanding of ecology and agricultural systems tells us that sustainable agriculture is possible, but this is not reflected in our research and development efforts to pursue that approach. This injustice is evident from the fact that the 2014, Global Hunger Index concluded that levels of hunger remain “alarming” or “extremely alarming” in 16 countries, and this year’s FAO report on the State Of Food and Agriculture (SOFA, 2015) show that most of the extreme poor and hungry live in rural areas.

    Great Goals

    ward no.7 07.03.2010Whilst alarming this is not news, and it was therefore with good reason that last month, through the Sustainable Development Goals (the SDGs), the international community properly recognised the vital role of agriculture in combating poverty. Unlike their predecessor, the Millenium Development Goals (the MDGs) in which agriculture was omitted, the SDGs have a specific goal to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030 (Goal 2). And, to achieve that, specific targets to double agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, whilst maintaining the genetic diversity of our food crops and livestock, and delivering a sustainable food system.

    With the SDGs the global community has done well to agree meaningful goals and targets for agriculture. However, this is not enough because agriculture is complex, it provides different things to different people, there are many strategies for growth and intensification and there are many interests at stake. For example, at the household level agriculture is important for food security, incomes, identity and jobs. For many it is a safety net – a base from which to rise. As a sector it is important financially and economically – for trade, adding value (processing), technology (inputs and machinery), raw materials for industry (fibres, fuels, oils), investment and growth. Agriculture is also one of the most significant of human activities that impact on the environment. Expanding and polluting agriculture is causing the loss of forests, wetland and marine ecosystems, which is having a negative knock on effect on our climate. There is a tension between food and incomes now, and maintaining our natural resources for future generations.

    The Role of Technology

    Many people and governments look to science and new technologies for the solution. The green revolution multiplied the yields of major staple crops, but yields are plateauing, soil fertility is declining and land degradation threatens the sustainability of the gains achieved. Despite the dramatic, even transformational, effect of that science, poverty and hunger remain.

    Certainly science and technology has a vital role to play but it needs to create accessible, innovative and sustainable solutions. To do this requires research, capacity building and policies that enable farmers to make the most of the assets and knowledge they already have, and to use science to complement and improve their efforts. Agroecology provides an agricultural development pathway to do that. To be relevant, and bring forward, the many millions of smallholder farmers, in particular women, indigenous people, family farmers, pastoralists and fishers, so that indeed many fewer are left behind.

    Implementation & Measuring Success

    Coming back to the SDGs, and the challenge of implementation, the important issue now is to have realistic indicators for monitoring and measuring success, and most importantly, guiding the strategies that governments choose to promoting transformation in agriculture.

    There will be a tendency, the sake of easy implementation, measurement and reporting, to simplify the issues. For example, to measure yields and the closing of the so called ‘yield gap’, use of fertiliser or new seeds. As we have seen from the green revolution and the environmental pressures on agriculture in developed countries, such measures do not ensure access, innovation or sustainability. The SGD indicators should rather measure the ability of farmers to adapt and cope with change, and our ability to refocus research and development to improve their capacity, knowledge and skill so they can so they can improve and manage the natural resources they have.

    In conclusion, the food insecurity of millions of extreme poor people could be alleviated with agroecological technologies to improve the productivity and resilience of smallholder farmers, rather than investments in technologies for industrial farming.

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  • Agro-ecology: a powerful tool for Adaptation to Climate Change and the prosperity of Smallholder Farmers

    Lima, Peru, Lima
    December 8th, 2014

    A couple of weeks ago in Eastern Peru, on the tropical side of the Andes, I saw agro-ecology working for remote and poor communities – for their livelihoods – their jobs and income. With the help of Practical Action, communities have developed skills and practices to manage multi-layer coffee farms. In many cases they are using those skills to rehabilitate farms devastated by coffee wilt.

    We often hear from academics and NGOs about the relevance of agro-ecology. The science and principles are well established and, in theory, agro-ecology is a win-win-win solution for climate change, food security and sustainable rural development.

    This Peru example illustrates exactly how smallholder farmers, who it is recognised are not easy to reach or assist, are using agro-ecology to prosper and adapt to the changing climate.

    Peruvian agro-ecological farmerBecause of the wilt, declining productivity and pressure to generate income from the land, many coffee farms have been abandoned, used for food crops or converted into rangeland for livestock. The lower hills are being deforested and the coffee is steadily ascending to higher forested areas. Coffee is sensitive to temperature and some blame the shift in its cultivation to higher altitudes on climate change, yet as more coffee farms and forest are lost, the lower areas become hotter and the climate in the hills changes. It is a chicken and egg situation.

    Most of the people in these communities have migrated to the area, from marginal lands in higher altitudes, in search of a better life. With minimal external assistance, mainly training and the introduction of scientific ideas to add to their local knowledge, they have gained agro-forestry and coffee crop husbandry skills that have enabled them to produce organic coffee under the protection the shade of forest trees. To improve yields and the sustainability of the farm they apply home-made compost and home-made foliar fertiliser.

    Last Monday I shared this case study in COP20 in one the first Civil Society Side events and I made a case for system change – for agro-ecological principles to be promoted across the agricultural sector. Especially for policy and agro-ecological programmes that support and involve smallholders. I argued for policies that enable private enterprise to invest in agro-ecological services, inputs and markets. And lastly that climate and development policy makers recognise that smallholder farmers should be major contributors to national food security, poverty reduction and sustainable rural economic growth.

    To find out more take a look at my presentation and a Practical Action agriculture brief prepared for COP20.

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  • The ‘COP’ is half full in Lima

    Jorge Chavez, Lima District, Peru, Miraflores
    December 6th, 2014

    cop entrance photo

    I have been attending the COP20 talks in Lima all week. In the audio blog below I talk about what I have been doing specifically to try and make sure the work Practical Action does on the ground can impact on a much larger scale.

    I also talk about how positive I am about the energy surrounding the talks and the momentum here for a real binding agreement involving all parties.

    Finally, I describe what I want to achieve in the second half of the talks next week. Happy listening!

    Chris Henderson (left) presenting on a panel at COP 2014

    Chris Henderson (left) presenting on a panel at COP 2014


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  • After the dust has settled – it’s time for hard work

    December 19th, 2013

    One month ago Warsaw was abuzz with thousands of people. Senior politicians, government representatives, development agencies, academics, civil society and the media were all engrossed in addressing what is one of the most pressing issues of our time – climate change.

    Now everyone is back home and most are probably thinking more about Christmas than how the world is going to cope with an inevitable increase in temperature that will permanently change the lives of us all.

    A floating garden to grow crops when land is flooded

    A floating garden to grow crops when land is flooded

    Looking back, I went to COP 19  with an agriculture perspective, keen to identify hooks and partnerships that would strengthen the recent decision by our global group of agriculturalists to focus on adaptation by smallholder farmers. Practical Action’s specific aim is to improve agricultural policy and planning so that it builds the capacity of smallholder farmers to use their unique knowledge and resources to adapt to climate change through ‘Climate Resilient Agriculture’.

    It was disappointing that there was little discussion on agriculture during the days I was in Warsaw. A few things did become clear, however, from the people I met and the events I attended. Notably, that much still needs to be done on ‘adaptation’ in agriculture to understand what is really needed, and meant, by ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’. Practical Action can contribute to this issue and provide grounded examples relevant to policy makers based on lessons learnt by smallholder farmers and the rural poor in developing countries. In our Country and Regional offices this will mean engaging with Government and stakeholders in the National Adaptation Planning (NAPs). In the UK we should work with partner organisations to make sure our learning influences the global debates and donor policies.

    Regular drills enable communities to respond effectively when disaster strikes

    Regular drills enable communities to respond effectively when disaster strikes

    Unexpected by me, and probably many others, was that Warsaw would be able to achieve something good on ‘Loss and Damage’. This is an important issue for us because the people we are working with are being increasingly impacted by climate change. Impacts which are becoming irreversible – ‘beyond the reach of adaptation’ – and affecting people who are least to blame for the situation: e.g. extreme droughts, ever worsening floods, sea level rise and loss of fresh water. At the beginning of week 2, I signed an NGO Global Call for Action for the establishment of an ‘International Mechanism on Loss and Damage in Warsaw’.  To cut a long story short the agreement to have a mechanism for ‘Loss and Damage’ was probably the most significant achievement of COP19.

    Life may have returned to normal for those who were in Warsaw but, I for one, am committed to keeping the buzz going and starting the New Year with a renewed commitment to our work on Climate Resilient Agriculture.

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  • ‘Leave No One Behind’ – Appropriate Investment In Agriculture

    June 18th, 2013

    The past week has seen heated debate over the future of investment in agriculture. At the heart of the mudslinging lies the question ‘what can the New Alliance for Security and Nutrition really offer Africa?’ As detailed in my last blog the New Alliance certainly has big aims – lifting 50 million people out of poverty no less. To do this the New Alliance is advocating partnership with the private sector, new technologies and investment. However, critics of this new development power house are drawing less than flattering comparisons between the actions of the alliance and the land grabbing/colonial ambitions of 19th century western powers. For those with little faith in alliances between government and the private sector the New Alliance brings unjustified risk to smallholder farmers and the environment generally. They fear it will lead to a decline in water resources, soil fertility, biodiversity and access by the rural poor to the natural resources on which they depend. Each camp insists that they are right and are asking or demanding that the other withdraw. Listening to the debate, there appears to be no compromise or middle ground.

    Without a more constructive discussion we will simply get more of the same, with neither side listening to the other. Opportunities for investment and expansion of large-scale external input based agriculture will inevitably continue to be explored, particularly in high-potential areas. Policy makers and governments will continue to plan for agricultural growth as a strategy for food security and development. Donor supported, and encouraged, private sector based agriculture programmes will continue – the private sector window of the Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme (GAFSP), the New Alliance, etc. Multinational private sector seed suppliers will have an ever increasing market share with protected rights. There will be a continued decline in the use of local seeds and of biodiversity.

    So where does that leave us?

    The tension currently lies in the contrasting responses to a genuine problem that is recognised by both sides: How to achieve food security at all levels – of rural households, of the growing urban poor population, nationally and globally. The argument is between commercial and external input oriented approaches, versus farmer owned agro-ecological approaches that see agriculture as more than business. Both approaches exist in practice. Both can quote success stories and have advocates. Both have momentum.

    Both narratives claim to include smallholders and provide the needed food security and nutrition benefits. All the buzz words are there – women farmers, adaptation to climate change, livelihoods, income, jobs, achieving scale. With our experience to date I find the claims to be quite wondrous – like the miracle cure medicines of the past.

    And whilst it would be possible to continue with the status quo for now, the current situation is not without dangers. There is, for example, evidence that government backed external input intensive, large-scale agriculture will have a damaging impact on smallholder opportunities, the sustainability of the food system and the physical environment

    The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are likely to ask that “none are left behind” and call for the elimination of extreme poverty by 2030. Experience has shown that this is a tall order – a very challenging task. We should not treat it glibly and make over ambitious assumptions – like trickle down poverty reduction coming from agricultural growth and increased production by agri-business.

    Appropriate Technology

    As a technology based organisation Practical Action recognises that there can be diverse approaches to solving this problem, each with its own risks and merits and situations where it would be most appropriate, or not.

    Practical Action believes that an understanding of  ‘Appropriate Technology’ and  ‘Technology Justice’ can provide a constructive way forward that will also include and address the needs of small-scale farmers, the rural poor and people living in fragile environments.

    The objective is to achieve appropriate technology for choice, market systems that provide opportunities for small-scale farmers and the poor and a means of achieving scale, and the capacity for all farmers to adapt to climate change and develop resilient livelihoods.

    Farmers trialing adaptation in Zimbabwe.

    Farmers trialing adaptation in Zimbabwe

    A range of methods for achieving these objectives exists – i.e. to facilitate appropriate technology and development processes and achieve technology justice. Applications include:

    –          Facilitating innovation systems that build the capacity of farmers to adapt to change, such as fluctuating food prices and other markets, climate change and increasing variability, and to increase resilience to disasters

    –          Participatory Market Systems Development (PMSD) to facilitate pro-poor markets – to help small-scale farmers and other value chain stakeholders make markers work for the poor.

    With understanding and empowerment, appropriate technology can provide sustainable benefits for smallholders, the rural poor and people dependent on the natural resources in low potential areas. With appropriate technology, small-scale farmers can make a substantial contribution to national food security and nutrition. They can be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, and rural urban migration need not be exacerbated by rural poverty.

    Our objective should be the appropriate development of rural areas, including marginal areas, so that all people living in rural areas are able to look after themselves, have the opportunity to improve their livelihoods – in or out of agriculture. It not only makes sense, but it is our moral obligation, to assist small-scale producers maximise their contribution to national food systems – for their benefit, as well as for others.

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  • NOW is the time for Smallholder farmers

    June 7th, 2013

    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.

    Vegetable garden in Zimbabwe

    Vegetable garden in Zimbabwe

    • 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.

    Responsible Governments
    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?


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