Sustainable Smallholder Agriculture: Feeding the World, Protecting the Planet

On 22-23 February 2012, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) held the Thirty-fifth Session of the Governing Council, entitled “Sustainable smallholder agriculture: Feeding the world, protecting the planet.”

It provided a forum for IFAD Member States, partners and the public to discuss and debate what needs to be done to enable smallholder farmers to increase agricultural productivity by 70 per cent by 2050, which is what will be required to feed an estimated global population of 9 billion people.

Bill Gates addressed the Governing Council, urging governments to put smallholder farmers first:

If you care about the poorest, you care about agriculture. Investments in agriculture are the best weapons against hunger and poverty, and they have made life better for billions of people. The international agriculture community needs to be more innovative, co-ordinated, and focused to help poor farmers grow more. If we can do that, we can dramatically reduce suffering and build self-sufficiency.

He called for the implementation for concrete, measurable targets for increasing agricultural productivity, much like the Millennium Development Goals, in order to track the progress of initiatives. He also announced $200m in grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to reinvest in projects aimed at helping smallholder farmers.

With the United Nations Conference for Sustainable Development (Rio+20) only months away, Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, the CEO of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), participated in a discussion entitled “What promise will Rio herald for agriculture?” Dr. Sibanda told the forum she optimistic that the seven areas the Rio+20 conference will focus on (food, jobs, energy, cities, water, oceans and disasters) are the right combination for rural people and smallholder farmers. She did however lament the lack of leadership amidst the African countries who are yet to put farming first, despite the 2004 CAADAP pledge to dedicate 10% of national budgets in Africa towards agriculture. She also highlighted the ‘disjoint’ between technology and policy: despite the technologies being available to farmers for soil/animal management and water harvesting, but policies are restricting farmers’ ability to use them. These sustainable technologies require investment so they can be adapted and adopted by farmers.

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