Experts Brainstorm Key Challenges in Achieving ‘Farming First’ Plan

At a recent side event at the UN Commission for Sustainable Development’s Intergovernmental Preparatory Session (IPM), over 85 people gathered together to brainstorm key challenges to achieving the Farming First plan.

Here are some of the top issues, organised according to each of the Farming First principles:

1. Safeguard natural resources

Key challenges:

– Lack of education/awareness – The public needs to be educated on what sustainable agriculture is. The education of farmers on the sound use of resources also needs to see improvements.
– Framing the issue – Common definitions for “sustainability”, “natural resources” and other terms need to be reassessed.
– Lack of economic incentives – There is a need to incentivize farmers to use sustainable farming techniques, without adding additional costs which cut into their livelihoods.

2. Share knowledge

Key challenges:

– Application of knowledge – knowledge is not applicable to different regions or contexts.
– Dissemination of knowledge – the way in which knowledge is shared or passed on is not appropriate to some context or acts as a restriction
– Access to knowledge – availability of and access to resources, particularly the internet as a major resource for information, is limited.
– Agribusiness and local farmer competition – competition between agri-businesses and local farmers for resources and knowledge can be an impediment. Participants stressed the need for greater coordination among related, overlapping sectors and fields of study within agriculture, business, and science and technology to provide a more holistic approach to agriculture.
– The role of governments – Bureaucracy is a major challenge to the dissemination of knowledge, constituting a strong disincentive for farmers and other stakeholders.  Additionally, food production and agriculture are often not priorities for governments, which limits the number of opportunities for knowledge sharing. Farmer-to-farmer learning should be strengthened in order to cope with this.
– Public image of agriculture – Agriculture does not generally have a positive image as an occupation, yet, as urbanization remains a growing trend, dependence on the remaining farmers is increasing.  The public perception of agriculture needs to be improved and its importance shared with policy-makers and urban populations so that food production and food security are fully understood and made a priority for policy makers and investors.  Agriculture as an industry also needs to coordinate with the technology sector in order to reach and educate younger generations with regards to this challenge

3. Build local access

Key challenges:

– Access to Microcredit/finance – is insufficient and limits farmers capacity to invest, grow and create real opportunities for themselves
– Access to knowledge – lack of access to education and/or research/knowledge is an impediment for farmers and impedes the adoption of best practices.
– Governance – poor governance, excessive bureaucracy and corruption are all major problems for farmers and limit their access to resources and to markets.

4. Protect harvests

Key challenges:

– A lack of education/knowledge among farmers – including inadequate knowledge post-production on food safety and on food storage
– A lack of local farmer coordination on crop growth –  As markets are flooded with particular goods in each season or if sales do not occur rapidly enough, large parts of the crop can be damaged and farmers face adverse conditions because of the glut.

5. Enable access to markets

Key challenges:

– Improving infrastructure – Insufficient transportation and poor infrastructure were common themes as to why farmers were unable to sell their crops once harvested.
– Trade barriers and access to foreign markets – Contributors agreed that constraints on access to markets were one of the most important challenges faced by farmer. It was agreed that farmers would gain far greater access to markets if tariff and trade barriers were eliminated, and they were able to compete on common ground in the global marketplace.  Farmers have goods to sell – they just need the policy and practical supports to buttress their efforts.

6. Prioritise research imperatives

Key challenges:

– Participatory setting – greater participation is required in research activities.  Despite the presence of integrated teams of researchers, it is believed that practitioners are being left out.  Research should include more groups and start from a bottom up approach where more information is collected from farmers.
– Dissemination of research – information should be more widely spread so that the international community can benefit from it.  More joint projects might encourage the sharing of research from advanced countries.
– Needs and resources of scientists and farmers – these two groups should play a bigger role in identifying research needs.  A global source of funding should be established for use by scientists and farmers.