Sheryl Cowan, Vice President of Programs at Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA), discusses how opening up access to new urban markets alongside tools and technologies, can empower small-scale farmers to move from low-productivity, subsistence farming to profitable farming that contributes to higher incomes and better livelihoods.
African migration from rural to urban areas has been occurring steadily for decades. According to statistics from the United Nations, Africa’s urban population has grown from about 27 per cent of the continent’s population in 1950 to 40 per cent in 2015, and is forecast to grow to 60 per cent by 2050. Similar patterns are playing out in other areas across the developing world.
At the same time, urbanisation in these regions is spurring demand for agricultural products that traditionally have been cultivated and raised in these developing countries on a small scale for local consumption by rural households practising low-tech, low-productivity agriculture. Under this system, products generated by smallholders are cultivated primarily for subsistence, and rarely find their way beyond the families or rural communities that produce them. Any modest surplus is quickly expended on necessities.
But the rapid growth of urban areas signals changes ahead for the world’s smallholder farmers and presents new opportunities for growing and strengthening the broader rural economies of developing nations.
Growing demand in urban areas means that smallholders now have an opportunity to adopt new technologies and agricultural practices—if they are made available—that will allow them to increase the productivity of their land in a sustainable manner, satisfy market demand, and generate profits that will benefit the farm families, their communities and the broader rural economy.
But to accomplish this, smallholders must shift away from subsistence, and gain access to the tools they need to pursue farming as a business. When those tools are made available, the results can be transformative.
In Niger and Burkina Faso, for example, most rural families raise poultry and other small ruminants. But after the efforts of CNFA helped farmers gain access to improved breeds, veterinary care and vaccinations; receive business management training, join together in producer organisations, and link to local and regional markets during times of high demand, their sales increased by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Farmers in Georgia also have upped their game after our programs opened up access to training, quality inputs and mechanisation. Since farmers there gained the ability to establish linkages to local and international markets, and meet international quality safety certifications, they have increased their sales of fruit, vegetables and herbs by more than 45 per cent over the past five years.
And in Pakistan, when mango and citrus sellers gained the ability to establish links to national and international markets—and found that larger, unblemished fruit fetched a higher price—farmers there responded by working to improve productivity and quality through pruning, pest management, better harvest and post-harvest practices. Over the course of four years, farmers generated higher incomes and increased sales for these two crops by more than $50 million—creating tens of thousands of new rural jobs in the process.
The introduction of new tools and techniques also generates benefits that extend far beyond such gains in productivity and income. When agriculture sales increase in rural communities, for example, farming households invest more in education and healthcare. But they also reinvest in their agricultural businesses—building and reinforcing their operations, creating new jobs, establishing new business relationships, and increasing the resiliency, food security and economic prosperity of their communities.
These and many more examples clearly illustrate an emerging trend. As populations grow in the developing world and worldwide, rural smallholders are assuming a greater role in ensuring global food security. And it is in the best interest of all to ensure that they have the necessary information and tools to do so.