/ 18 February 2010

Make small scale farming a priority, Ifad meeting hears

One in six people across the world are hungry, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (Ifad) heard on Wednesday as it kicked off its 33rd Governing Council in Rome, Italy. The main aim of the conference is to discuss how best governments can feed their people and develop small scale farmers to assist with food production.

Speakers at the conference urged governments and investors to put small scale farming high on the agenda, as part of ensuring food security. Among the key speakers was Prime Minister of Tanzania, Mizengo Pinda, who blamed governments for failing to implement resolutions taken on agriculture at many summits that have been held on agriculture and food security. “It is everybody’s responsibility, but mostly political leaders, to take resolutions down the ladder to poor people”.

Pinda added that there was an alienation of the rural poor on matters that concern them, such as agricultural policies that are often not articulated properly to small scale farmers. “Bureaucrats should stop thinking they can think on behalf of the people. Governments should decentralise their power to the masses”.

Ifad is a specialised agency of the United Nations (UN), which was established as an international financial institution to assist rural farmers. The agency operates 27 country offices covering 31 countries.

Ifad president Kanayo Nwanze, urged investors to start taking agriculture as a business worth investing in. Our new strategic framework should be underpinned by a view of farming — whatever its size and scale — as a business with clear business linkages along the value chain from production to processing, marketing and ultimately to consumption”.

Nwanze said for the Millennium Development Goals to be achieved by 2015, investment in rural development and attention on the role of poor rural women and men in agricultural growth, and particularly the role that smallholders play across the world, must be central to government policies and their development agendas.

“Today, more than one billion hungry people, or nearly one in six people on earth, wake up each morning not knowing whether they will have enough to eat,” said the World Food Programme’s (WFP) deputy executive director Amir Mahmoud Abdullah, who delivered a speech on behalf of WFP’s Executive Director, Josette Sheeran.

Most of the hungry people are farmers working small plots of land in rural Asia, Africa and Central America. They are too poor to secure financial assistance for their trade and a good percentage of them are women, according to Mahmoud Abdullah.

About 500-million smallholder farms in the developing world support two billion people — one third of the world’s population. Mahmoud Abdullah said 800-million of the people who earn less than $1 a day farm about one acre — often in several scattered plots.

“But these farmers — a majority of them women — too often need food assistance themselves, dependant upon tired soil, unpredictable weather and unaffordable inputs for yields that rarely even feed their own families,” said Mahmoud Abdullah.

Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Jacques Diouf, also painted a picture of governments which are unable to feed their own people. He said hunger increased sharply in all parts of the world because of soaring food prices — a situation that was exacerbated by the global economic crisis. Diouf said despite developing countries being home to 500-million smallholder farmers, hunger was still a problem.

“There are currently 31 countries in a serious state of hunger and requiring food aid. Twenty of those countries are in Africa,” said Diouf. He added that the agricultural sector in developing countries needed $44-billion a year to survive.

As part of encouraging and supporting investment in agriculture, the WFP used its purchasing power to help developing nations by purchasing over $1-billion or 80% of its food commodities from developing countries in 2009.

The number one supplier was Pakistan, with South Africa, Uganda and Ethiopia featuring in the top 10 countries that the UN agency bought food commodities from.

The Ifad conference ends on Thursday.