Stories tagged: ifad

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.

How to build the resilience of African smallholder farmers in a changing climate

African smallholder farmers are in the eye of the climate change storm. Increased flooding and droughts have seen crop yields diminish as many farmers struggle to support their own livelihoods. With over 70 percent of the continent’s populations dependent on agriculture, this is a problem which cannot be ignored. While Africa contributes less than 3 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, it stands on the frontline of the economic and social consequences of climate change.

At his keynote presentation on Saturday 3rd December at the third Agriculture and Rural Development Day (ARDD), President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Kanayo F. Nwanze urged that “negotiators must recognize the critical importance of enabling smallholder farmers to become more resilient to climate change and to grow more food in environmentally sustainable, climate-smart ways.”

Later in the day, Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda opened up a side event on behalf of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) which focused on how we can build the resilience of African smallholder farmers in a changing climate. The event highlighted the work of smallholder farmers in Swaziland and how they are coping with the impacts of climate change.

Back in 2002, Swaziland was hit hard by drought. Many smallholder farmers in the region saw their crops destroyed and their livelihoods threatened due to changing weather conditions. Happy Shongwe, a mother of two from Maphumulo in the Lubombo district of Swaziland, was on-site at the event to discuss her experiences as a smallholder farmer who watched her food reserves run dry due to the drought and was left impoverished. Shongwe and others in her community were helped with food vouchers and knowledge on how they could best respond to the drought.

Shongwe realised that planting maize and raising broiler chickens were not viable ways of coping with a changing climate and instead she began planting legumes which proved to be drought resistant. Starting with just one hectare of land, she quickly increased yields and was able to plant three hectares the following season.

Since then, her fate has changed. Shongwe has since registered Hlelile Investments (Pty) Ltd, a company that produces and markets seeds and is now a certified seed producer through the Seed Quality Division of the Ministry of Agriculture. “I now have my own business and have been able to afford to buy a tractor – I have come along way over the past ten years”, said Shongwe at the event.

Sibanda highlighted the importance of labelling and certification from the government:

For a region to be food secure, it needs to be seed secure. We believe in our own farmers; if given the necessary knowledge, they can grow more food. However, there is still a great need for research, technology and to mobilise funding for smallholder farmers in Swaziland, and other regions across Africa.

Measuring the vulnerability of rural households to external shocks

Today, few tools exist that can effectively measure the impact of shocks and stressess on the lives of the poor. By intermittently measuring the livelihood assets owned by a household over a period of time, researchers can determine household vulnerability and provide evidence to inform investment decisions around the design of policy responses and programme interventions aimed at strengthening household resilience.

Along with World Vision, FANRPAN has developed the Household Vulnerability Index (HVI) to measure the vulnerability of rural households to external shocks such as disease outbreaks, extreme weather and other stresses such as food insecurity. Through this approach, households are categorized into three levels of vulnerability, namely low, moderate and high vulnerability. Based on this more targeted classification system, development response packages are formulated to assist the most vulnerable households at the root causes of their vulnerability.

Following the successful piloting of the HVI tool in three countries in Southern Africa (Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe), FANRPAN and World Vision have shared their perspectives on the importance on developing and updating livelihood databases to benchmark livelihoods and provide data for modelling projected changes in livelihoods as a result of climate change.

Speaking at the learning event, Dalton Nxumalo, a Knowledge Management Officer with World Vision Swaziland (who provide funding for the project) noted,

This tool is meant to be a community based tool. The HVI assesses a household’s access to five livelihood assets; natural; physical; financial; human; and social assets and a total of 15 variables are then assessed together and a statistical core is calculated for each household.

Read more about the other learning events at Agriculture and Rural Development Day on its blog.

Food Security on the Table at Chatham House

This year’s Chatham House Food Security conference saw some of the most influential speakers in agricultural development coming together to discuss the current pressures and challenges faced by farmers around the world.

The two-day conference held last week, of which Farming First was a media partner, heard from IFAD’s president, Kanayo Nwanze, UN Assistant Secretary General David Nabarro, IFPRI Senior Research Fellow Gerald Nelson, and UK Secretary of State RT Hon Caroline Spelman, amongst many other high-profile speakers.

Focusing on the challenge of feeding 9 billion people by 2050, this year the focus was very much on the need for “sustainable intensification”.

Speakers focused on the need to support smallholder farmers, which they said required a concerted effort tackling not just productivity, but also governance issues, infrastructure, access to inputs and know-how, technology, trade barriers, micro-finance and gender inequalities.

Yet whilst these issues may help address supply side issues, they also spoke about matters on the demand side of food chains that cause insecurities – namely urbanisation, population and economic growth.

Commenting on the various food security funds set up over the years, Kanayo Nwanze, who was speaking on the record, called for an accountability framework that would ensure that promises were kept to. He stated, “Declarations don’t feed people, actions do.”


Food prices

Regarding recent food price spikes, the conference heard that underneath immediate, temporary price increases was a chronic crisis.  On the second day of the conference, representatives from the financial and banking sector provided their perspectives on food commodities markets. One speaker talked about a “supply side response” to higher prices, meaning that farmers gain from higher prices and are spurred on to grow more. As a result, it was suggested that no food price movement would be sustained, because of this supply side response. It was also agreed upon that trade is key to reducing price volatility.


There was a great emphasis placed on the vital role of public-private partnerships which, in helping initiatives go to scale, were said to be where the quick wins are.


In addressing the uptake gap with agricultural technologies, many speakers reiterated that getting technologies to farmers was only one half of the challenge. Education and technical skills development were crucial to ensuring farmers know how to use new technologies efficiently and safely. The issue of who pays for the knowledge transfer that is involved in sustainable intensification was questioned.  It was also suggested that demonstration farms in every community could be a successful way of imparting new knowledge to farmers.


Agribusiness at all levels was supported to help countries take part in global markets. Indeed, it was said that no country had ever achieved economic growth without participation in global trade.

Gender Relationships

The majority of farmers in the developing world are women, yet women receive far less inputs and less income than men. Gender equality in agriculture was highlighted as a key concern.

Most speakers spoke under the Chatham House rule and therefore cannot be quoted.

IFAD Session Discusses Climate Change, Food Security and Smallholder Agriculture

Recent commitments of financial resources to boost agriculture and food security made by the international community in various forums indicate that there is scope for optimism in feeding the future population. Yet how to implement these programmes successfully is still up for debate.

Such were the discussions at a high-level panel discussion, ‘From summit resolutions to farmers’ fields: Climate change, food security and smallholder agriculture’, held in conjunction with the Governing Council of the International Fund of Agricultural Development (IFAD).

A group of expert panellists, including Farming First spokesperson Ajay Vashee from IFAP,  discussed how to form recent summit declarations into reality, by addressing various challenges, as follows. The proceedings of the panel session are summarised in the report.

How can better market conditions be created to promote private investment in smallholder agriculture?

Lack of access to reliable and stable markets, inputs, credits and agricultural tools and services, along with price volatilities, market uncertainties and unpredictable weather patterns were identified are the main challenges faced by smallholder farmers. Yet in several countries smallholders have benefitted from increased prices but only when policy and connectivity to markets have allowed farmers to sell at higher prices.

What specific role can governments play in creating better conditions for investment in smallholder agriculture and rural development, in particular through the provision of public goods and the implementation of supportive policies?

Investments in agricultural research and extension, rural roads, education, health care, irrigation, power supply facilities and other public goods are fundamental for agricultural development and must be supported by effective support to develop value chains that benefit farmers.

Public policies can make a difference by creating the necessary conditions for the development of smallholder farming, for example in Malawi, where the “smart” subsidy investment of about US$258 million in around 2 million farm households during 2005 to 2008 contributed to a incremental maize production and subsequently reduced the proportion of people living in poverty from 50% to 40%, in just two years.

Policies must be put into place to support smallholder farmers’ ability to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change, whilst using the knowledge and practices of indigenous and local communities.

What can be done to ensure that smallholder farmers are fairly positioned in a process where competition for scarce agricultural resources – particularly land and water – is on the increase? What role could farmers’ organizations play and how can they be effectively supported?

The establishment of independent farmer- and producer-managed cooperatives and associations is enabling millions of smallholder farmers not only to acquire better skills and technology and access to credit, but also to improve water management, quality control, storage, trading and marketing. These associations also facilitate the exchange of market information and increase the participation of smallholder farmers at different levels of the food and agricultural value chain.

Supporting Farmers’ Organisations in Kenya to Empower Smallholder Farmers

As part of GCARD 2010, Farming First hosted a session entitled ‘Better Benefiting the Poor through Public-Private Partnerships for Innovation and Action.’ Within the discussions, our panel of experts addressed several case studies that present different ways that partnerships have helped to empower smallholder farmers around the world.

Edward Kateyia – IFAP/Kenya National Federation of Agricultural Producers

Empowering smallholder farmers in markets (ESFIM) is a programme covering 11 developing countries set up by IFAP, ECART, IFAD, Agricord, CTA and various local researchers in Kenya. The project’s overall objective is to generate demand-driven action research support to the policy activities undertaken by farmers’ organisations. By creating an enabling policy and regulatory environment as well as economic organisations and institutions, the initiative works to empower farmers to generate remunerative cash income from markets.

Promoting collaborative research, the study gave research support to nine national farmers’ organisations to help them produce a set of propositions that would help them voice their research requirements more effectively and help to initiate partnerships amongst research groups for executing their various activities.

A second phase of activities involved supporting farmers’ organisations with information to strengthen their research capabilities and access to knowledge. Through this, farmers’ organisations have an improved and increased capacity to collect, organise and exchange experiences, knowledge and information within an international network of researchers.

“Silent Hunger Crisis”: FAO Estimates Over 1 Billion Hungry in the World

2626227998_f58850b534A recently published report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has announced that the total population of those going hungry has surpassed the 1 billion person mark for the first time in history.

“A dangerous mix of the global economic slowdown combined with stubbornly high food prices in many countries has pushed some 100 million more people than last year into chronic hunger and poverty,” said Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the FAO. “The silent hunger crisis — affecting one sixth of all of humanity — poses a serious risk for world peace and security.”

The report argues that the rise in hunger levels is largely the result of the global economic recession.  Fewer remittances are being received and international trade and investment have slowed down, affecting local economies in the developing world.

Sub-Saharan Africa has the most dense pockets of hunger in the world.  Many of the countries in this region have hunger levels of over 35% of their populations.  Areas of south Asia — notably India — also have high levels of food poverty.

To address these issues, the FAO and other UN agencies have called for a reinvigorated investment in agriculture, particularly in the poorest and most vulnerable regions.  Of these affected areas, Jacques Diouf of the FAO said that they “must be given the development, economic and policy tools required to boost their agricultural production and productivity.”

Kanayo F. Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), also added:

Many of the world’s poor and hungry are smallholder farmers in developing countries. Yet they have the potential not only to meet their own needs but to boost food security and catalyse broader economic growth. To unleash this potential and reduce the number of hungry people in the world, governments, supported by the international community, need to protect core investments in agriculture so that smallholder farmers have access not only to seeds and fertilisers but to tailored technologies, infrastructure, rural finance, and markets.