Stories tagged: smallholder farmers

Averting Food Crisis: Improving Smallholder Agriculture

Global food prices have returned to the spotlight in recent weeks, owing to the devastating drought in the United States that has caused crop prices to climb. The global food price index produced by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) rose by 6 percent to 213 points in July, causing concern that we could be heading towards another crisis similar to that of 2007/8 that pushed 44 million people into poverty.

But what can be done to prevent this from happening? An immediate reaction from producer countries may well be to impose export bans, to protect food availability in their own countries. Director-General of the International Food Policy Research Institute, Shengenn Fan, warns against this. In a recent statement he said:

Countries must stay away from imposing export restrictions when food prices increase because they lead to tighter market conditions and panic purchases by food-importing countries, thereby exacerbating food price hikes.

The production of biofuels has also fallen under scrutiny, with FAO Director-General Jose Graziano Da Silva speaking out in the Financial Times last week. Currently, about 40 percent of total maize production in the United States is used to produce ethanol. The US Department of Agriculture’s forecast for maize production is at its lowest level since 2006/07, sparking debate as to whether the mandates in the US and EU should be relaxed in times of food shortage. Da Silva commented:

While the current situation is precarious and could deteriorate further if unfavourable weather conditions persist, it is not a crisis yet. Countries and the UN are better equipped than in 2007-08 to face high food prices, with the introduction of its Agricultural Market Information System, which promotes co-ordination of policy responses. Risks are high and the wrong responses to the current situation could create it. It is vitally important that any unilateral policy reactions from countries, whether importers or exporters, do not further destabilise the situation.

When food prices rise sharply, it is those in the developing world, who spend a large percentage of their income on food that suffer most. The following infographic, produced by the World Food Programme demonstrates varying income expenditure on food, and what happens when the poor are forced to spend more on food: they are left with barely any income for health, education and shelter.

It is therefore critical we avert another food crisis, and research shows we have it within our power to do this. Vulnerable families in the developing world need not rely on industrial powerhouses such as the United States for their crops, they could be self-reliant, and produce enough food not only to feed themselves, but their continent.  As Marianne Bänziger, Deputy Director-General at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) recently commented:

There are many developing countries where productivity could be increased to reduce overreliance on imports and benefit rural poor and development in those countries at large. The potential for improvement is enormous. Providing farmers with knowhow and improved agronomy, seed, and storage methods can produce dramatic effects both for individual families, entire countries, and the globe as a whole.

To enable smallholder farmers to rise to this challenge, it is imperative that we invest in the infrastructure necessary in rural areas, and improve access to stress-tolerant seeds and fertilizer. Weather-based index crop insurance mechanisms that protect farmers from adverse climatic events, and extension services that train farmers in agroforestry, crop diversity and smart irrigation, can all play critically important roles in creating a resilient new crop of farmers that will stave off hunger for future generations.


State of the World 2011 Report : Agricultural Innovation for Food Security and Poverty Reduction in the 21st Century


Dozens of farmers, activists, academics and journalists are clubbing together to produce the Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World 2011 report on “Innovations that Nourish the Planet”. The contributors to the report are collectively challenging the global food community to identify the technical and institutional innovations that are most effective to helping feed sub-Saharan Africa.

The SOW11 report, to be released next January, seeks to highlight innovations that can address the challenges faced around the world: reducing hunger and malnutrition, enhancing environmental and agricultural sustainability, improving the lives of women and girls and be both economically feasible and scalable for farmers and the investment community.  The project will also consider the institutional infrastructures and partnerships necessary to achieve success from these innovations.

The Issues Paper, released prior to the report, provides an overview of the issues and approaches facing the world, to provide a larger international discourse to the authors’ contributions. The report recognises two perspectives on food security :

  • ‘Global Food Security’ which seeks to strengthen food supply chains to secure movement of products at low prices to vast populations of consumers.
  • ‘Food Security for the Poor’ which focuses on strengthening the capacities of smallholder farmers to supply adequate and quality food supplies at a local level.

The paper focuses on three challenges to highlight when exploring possible innovations:

  1. Innovations may be driven by or dependent on the policy discourse on food security within that area.        
  2. The food security agenda needs to be integrated with the agendas for climate action and ecosystem restoration.
  3. Innovations must empower farmers and communities to achieve bottom-up change.

The Worldwatch Institute intends to use the report to uncover the innovations that entrepreneurial farmers use, to promote their value to the global community and help advise foundations and international donors interested in supporting agricultural development. Additionally, by considering innovations and examples from many different perspectives, the SOW11 might help to improve understanding and communication among the different communities of discourse to help achieve food security together.

Final Adopted Text from CSD-17 Published on the UN Website

An advanced, unedited text of the final recommendations of the UN Commission for Sustainable Development is now available on its website.

Gerda Verburg, Chairperson of the Commission and the Netherlands’ Minister of Agriculture, Nature, and Food Quality, said of the outcome:

Nothing less is needed than a revolution in ideas and a revolution in technologies, supported by a revolution in trade policies and market access and the financial means to implement.

The final plan stressed the central importance of farmers – particularly women farmers and rural communities – to deliver such a paradigmatic shift in the agricultural sector.

According to the final press release issued on the CSD-17  final text, This could be done by

employing science-based approaches and local indigenous knowledge; expanding investment incentives, in particular for small farmers; and encouraging and supporting safge integrated pest management.

BBC World Today Programme Speaks with Farming First’s Dr. Lindiwe Sibanda

bbc_worldserviceThe BBC World Service’s flagship ‘World Today’ news programme interviewed Dr. Lindiwe Sibanda to hear her thoughts on global food security and the emerging outcomes of the G8 agriculture ministers’ meeting, which occurred in Italy from April 18-20.

Dr. Sibanda noted that food shortages in certain parts of the world were unavoidable. Noentheless, policy experts could still prevent these shortages from making affected regions more unstable politically and economically. She says:

Definitely, food insecurity is global in that it will unsettle the whole world’s peace agenda. The developed countries have to contribute to the plan but more importantly the African countries now have to make sure that the smallholder farmer is at the centre of the debate.

Dr. Sibanda is highlighting how interconnected the policies of the G8 countries are in shaping outcomes for smallholder farmers across the world.

Listen to an mp3 audio file of this BBC interview here: