At the World Bank Open Forum on Food, an expert panel addressed the issue of how to solve the global food crisis in front of an audience of about 120 guests… and streamed live to hundreds more viewers.
FANRPAN CEO and Farming First spokesperson Dr. Lindiwe Majele Sibanda took part in one of the panel sessions, which included with Calestous Juma, of Harvard University, David Beckman from Bread for the World, World Bank Vice-President Inger Andersen.
Focusing on the solutions to the problem of rising and volatile food prices, the panel discussed the possible paths to relieving poverty and food insecurity.
Dr Sibanda spoke of the role of the private sector in helping to develop local agribusiness. She cited a case where treadle pumps were distributed to farmers, but that there were no local artisans to repair the equipment and make them affordable. The private sector, she said, have the opportunity to get involved to help communities be able to produce tools locally, and offer the services to repair and renew the tools.
On empowering farmers, Calestous Juma said that farmers need two things. Firstly, they need to be encouraged to organise themselves into enterprises, and be supported in this endeavour, and secondly, an expansion in technical training is needed to ensure farmers are up to speed with modern farming techniques.
David Beckmann emphasised that while these types of panel sessions can talk about the technological solutions, we need to make a commitment to get this done. In the US, he said, there are proposals for cuts that would harm the poor all around the world. This is not just technical problem, he said, it is a matter of mobilising commitment.
Much of the online debate accompanying the panel discussion revealed that people’s greatest concerns were with support for smallholder farmers. Dr Sibanda addressed the issues of access and affordability of inputs for smallholders. Malawi, she said, is one example where we saw uptake of hybrid seeds when subsidies were introduced. The subsidies were for 2kg of seed per farmer. Farmers who were producing yields of 500kg per hectare were later seeing yields of 3 tonnes per hectare. Through the introduction of the new seeds, an improved network of suppliers was built up, and on top of their subsidy, farmers then sought to buy additional supplies of seed of their own.
Dr Sibanda’s final plea was to put farmers first in efforts to deal with food crisis. She said that today in Africa, farmers do not have the food to feed themselves let alone their communities. The first port of call is to enable farmers to come out of poverty. Assisting farmers to feed themselves is the first step to the farmers being able to feed others.