‘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.

2 responses to “‘Leave No One Behind’ – Appropriate Investment In Agriculture”

  1. Bruce Rubin Says:

    My posting concerns what my partner and I is a practical solution to food security and post harvest loss in the areas under discussion in this piece.
    Our problem is findig the right partner and funding source to erect the first demonstration unit of our solar powered off-the-grid refrigeration system that is scalable both smaller and larger to adapt to the needs of the locality where it will be deployed.
    This solution is not for the small stakeholder farmer to buy but for governments, NGOs, corporations, and foundations who have a stake in increasing the food supply for the worlds growing population to buy and distribute this units.
    The units we have developed are usuable for a range of applications from immediate post harvest cooling to ling term storage of all types of foodstuffs.
    It can be adapted to keep everything from dairy to meat to fish fresh and available for sale locally as well as globally.
    Though these unts may be considered expensive when you realize the annual amount of GDP that is lost globally because of the lack of a viable cold chain our units are “cheap”.
    We have a workable solution using off the shelf components that are available in most cases globally.
    As I mentioned ealrlier we need funding and a partner to launch the first demonstration unit to show the world that said “build it and we will come” to actually do that and begin the process of adressing the 1.3 billion ton issue of post harvest loss and beyond.
    Bruce Rubin

  2. Ashley Says:

    This is a great example of what sets the farming community apart from other job fields. There exists too big of a difference between farmers and corporate farmers. Everyone should be on equal playing fields.

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