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Policymakers Turn to Smallholder Farmers as Partners in Development

Partners in the Global Forum for Agricultural Research (GFAR) share a deep commitment to meeting the development needs of resource-poor farmers. Development workers are seeking ways to better align and cross-link humanitarian aid and development agendas to enable growth out of crises and build agricultural systems that are more resilient to shocks. More than 800 experts and participants from across a wide range of sectors and 75 countries recently convened at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) 2020 Conference to strategize how to promote food and nutrition security by increasing smallholder resilience.

The conference is part of a two-year global consultative process that will help development agencies ensure that smallholders have the resources they need to endure and rebound from local and global economic, political, and environmental crises. The need for knowledge and innovation to achieve greater resilience among smallholder farmers was also discussed extensively at the International Encounters on Family Farming and Research, which was held in Montpellier, France and organized by Agropolis International, GFAR, World Rural Forum (WRF), CGIAR, and the French government.

Currently, 500 million smallholder farmers provide 80 percent of the world's produce crops, yet most of them lack access to the basic resources that they need to maintain their livelihoods. However, while investing in agriculture has proven to be one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty, the World Bank estimates that one in three U.S. dollars spent on development has been lost due to economic and environmental crises throughout the last 30 years, a problem that is likely to be made worse by the growing impacts of climate change.

Participants agreed that reconfiguring the relationship between smallholders and the actors working with them, from benefactor-beneficiary to true partners, is essential to achieving sustainable smallholder resilience. Kanayo Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), emphasized that “development is what people do for themselves […] and the job of development practitioners is to facilitate those processes.”  

Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) highlighted that “resilience requires that farmers be included directly in the conversation as clients, not ‘beneficiaries.’ Success requires multiple actions and actors to work together in real partnerships.” This philosophy is championed in the multi-stakeholder approach of GFAR, which recognizes that new approaches to strengthening smallholder resilience must include participatory problemsolving, the incorporation of local smallholder knowledge, global sharing of knowledge, and farmer-driven research processes.

Recognizing that agricultural development is tied up with a number of other development issues, participants also emphasized that efforts to increase smallholder resilience require the engagement of  multiple sectors at the same time. Stakeholders need to simultaneously consider the role of the private sector in agricultural development, youth in agriculture, sustainable resource management, producer supply chains, and many more dimensions. Marie-Helena Semedo, Deputy Director-General of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organizaion (FAO), highlighted the particular value of taking a value-chain approach to the sustainable management of natural resources. She also highlighted actions by the FAO Committee on World Food Security to develop an Agenda for Action on Protracted Crises, a process to which GFAR stakeholders have directly contributed.

The conference also noted that a number of countries, including Japan, Korea, Norway, and Vietnam, have directly improved their well-being by basing their economies on smallholder agriculture. At the conference, Prime Minister of Ethiopia H.E. Hailemariam Desalegn attributed Ethiopia's progress toward achieving middle-income status by 2025—after enduring a period of extreme drought and famine—to the country's decision to devote 15 percent of the annual national budget to agriculture. Ethiopia’s  agricultural sector now comprises half of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and provides 80 percent of its employment.

Putting complex resilience agendas into action is clearly challenging due in part to a lack of good baselines and measures to show the benefits of investing in system resilience. To do so, diverse forms of data, policies and practitioners must be brought together from different fields with a clear vision of desired outcomes. Recognizing  that poverty and inequality prevent everyone from benefiting equally from agricultural development, participants argued that finding ways to clearly conceptualize resilience and to measure development more effectively is pivotal to understanding why such conditions are endemic to societies and how best to address those conditions.

To create truly resilient systems, more effective support institutions must be created at all levels, particularly local and national leves, and knowledge must be shared globally. Resilience is a long-term need, requiring the transformation of agricultural systems, not just adaptive responses to shocks. There is no shortage of resilience theories and policies, but a key question from the meeting is whether current institutions can deliver on these policies in practice.

IFPRI members are looking beyond immediate economics towards fair prices for farmers and measures that protect the rights and resilience of farming communities. Even in conflict situations, this requires that investments are maintained not just in immediate emergencies but alson in securing the transition to more resilient systems. Resilience should include investment in long-term solutions with farmers as true partners and the development of policy goals targeting change at grassroots level. Gerda Verburg, Chair of the Committee on World Food Security, explained, “We need a paradigm shift—if we do what we did, then we get what we have got.”

Shenggen Fan, Director General of IFPRI, recognized that although new metrics are required and the concept needs to be considered from household to national and regional levels, resilience should be considered in all aspects of agriculture and that fundamentally, “Resilience is about people."

Photo credit: shutterstock

Source: Food Tank