Can the World Bank help smallholder farmers in Africa with yet more data?

October 7th, 2013

I’ll be at the Annual Meetings of the World Bank in Washington this week to talk to the team who are developing a new initiative called Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture (BBA).

The World Bank is… well, a bank… and consequently it is ‘heavy’ on economists and statisticians who for the most part prefer to deal in quantifiable measurements. With this new initiative they are hoping to set up a process that gathers information and data that can leverage positive policy change in developing countries.

The point of this is to better enable the emergence of a stronger commercial agricultural sector.  They want to encourage the emergence of a stronger family farming sector through improvements in key areas such as access to finance, markets, inputs (seeds and fertilisers) land, water, rural energy and infrastructure. So far so good but is this enough to enable smallholders to develop their farming ‘enterprises’ in a sustainable way? What is missing?

Framework for an enabling environment

Vegetables grown using improved cultivation and water harvesting techniques

Vegetables grown using improved cultivation and water harvesting techniques

Practical Action has been developing a framework with others* in the Africa Smallholder Farmers Group (ASFG). It is based on a thorough review of what experts and researchers are saying is critical to enable smallholders that want to  respond to the new opportunities in growing domestic markets. An important voice in the framework is our African partners’ perspectives, those who actually see and experience the effects of a ‘disabling environment’ for smallholders.

We’re hoping that this week, as we go to meet the teams and donors (DFID, Gates, USAid and the Danish government), we can share some of these perspectives. In a panel discussion I’ll be raising our concerns that the initiative has some gaps that threaten its logic.

The BBA hope that by fixing the regulatory and policy environment around smallholders it will create better conditions for smallholders to develop their farming enterprises. They will have better access to inputs, they will have stronger market links and they will enjoy better roads and bridges, which mean the costs of doing business will be lower. The growing urban populations get reliable supplies of food at reasonable prices and more money flows into the rural economy, to farmers and traders, rather than out of the country to foreign producers. Everyone wins.

It sounds plausible, attractive even, but our concern is that the vast majority of small-scale farmers, who form the backbone of agricultural systems (they contribute over 90% of Africa’s agricultural production; More than ⅔ of Africans depend on small or micro-scale farming as their primary source of livelihood and in sub-Saharan Africa, women grow 80-90% of the food), will not be in a position to benefit from this new, improved enabling environment.

We know that they need other critically important inputs which are currently not included. For example the BBA currently doesn’t include any indicators around the extension, knowledge and research that are so badly needed in farming systems. If policy makers in the agricultural ministries are getting data on almost everything but the actual position of smallholders the danger is that they will not focus their attention there. And if they leave that out then we believe it risks undermining the aims of the BBA to “improve food security, create livelihoods and raise incomes”.

The next blog will report on the meetings we have this week and expand more on our second area of concern: that the BBA doesn’t do enough on sustainability.

*Christian Aid, CAFOD, Self Help and Garden Africa

2 responses to “Can the World Bank help smallholder farmers in Africa with yet more data?”

  1. FUILA Says:

    contactez moi pour un projet en RDCONGO

  2. Alex Says:

    Great post- you have a lot of great information about how improved techniques and better overall knowledge can help the poorer countries.

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