One of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to “End hunger, achieve food security and adequate nutrition for all, and promote sustainable agriculture.”
Smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa number around 33 million, representing 80% of all farms in the region, thereby contributing up to 90% of food production in some sub-Saharan African countries.
These facts state the importance of this group of farmers in ensuring food security in Africa, especially if the regional governments could provide incentives, education, farm inputs as well as favourable policies that would strengthen their efforts towards mass food production.
As major producers of food, African governments must pay more attention to the smallholder farmers. They must be made to, in the first place, be food sufficient so that they could become non or less dependent on governments for subsistence. All farmers’ needs towards food production should also be made affordable in order to incite the zeal in them to support food security programmes of governments.
More so, African governments should partner with organisations like the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) to enhance food security as well as boost nations’ agricultural productivities.
It is commendable to note that, through its Committee for World Food Security (WFS), the FAO is strengthening the African smallholder farmer in order to enable him contribute his quota in addressing global food insecurity.
The Chairperson of the Committee for World Food Security (WFS), Amira Gornass, disclosed in an exclusive interview during the organisation’s recent Regional Conference for Africa, which held in Abidjan, the Ivory Coast, that smallholder farmers make up the world’s largest producers of food. She added that they supply 70 percent of overall food production.
“Smallholders are at the heart of the agricultural sector by supplying 70% of the overall food production. They are at the centre of agro-food systems, mainly as producers, but also as consumers and labourers and increasingly as processors and traders. At the same time, 70% of the 1.4 billion poor people in the world live in rural areas with smallholders representing three quarters of these rural poor,” she said.
Gornass underlined the need to strengthen smallholder farmers’ role and their livelihoods because, according to her, policy interventions that address food insecurity and malnutrition should consider that they are engaged in a variety of interrelated markets (such as local and international, output and input, labour and financial) and perform multiple roles in rural areas.
“The CFS,” Gornass emphasised, had “developed a number of recommendations to address the specific challenges faced by smallholders. In 2011 and 2013, respectively, it endorsed policy recommendations on “How to increase food security and smallholder-sensitive investments in agriculture” and on “Investing in smallholder agriculture for food security and nutrition,” adding that, “currently, the committee is discussing a set of recommendations to strengthen smallholders’ access to markets, which are expected to be approved at the Plenary in October.”
The recommendations, she further stressed, resulted from extensive discussions and negotiations among representatives of member states, UN bodies, civil society and private sector organisations, financial and agricultural research institutions and were informed by the independent reports of the High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE), the scientific arm of CFS.
She pointed out that “drawing on its analysis of the potential contribution of smallholders to the four dimensions of food security and nutrition (availability, access, utilisation and stability), the committee recognises that, with the support of adequate policies and public investments, smallholders can greatly contribute to economic growth, employment, poverty reduction, emancipation of marginalised groups and the reduction of social and economic inequalities.”
Gornass however posits that for smallholders to be able to contribute to food security and nutrition, “we not only need to better understand and recognise the importance of local and domestic food markets for smallholders and the need to strengthen markets’ data collection systems to better inform public policies; the potential role that smallholders can play in international markets, as well as the financial and capacity building opportunities they have, but also the challenges in terms of standards to be met and conditions to be faced; the importance of smallholders in creating stronger linkages between consumers and producers; and the reliance on smallholders’ production to support the development of public procurement programmes for vulnerable consumers.”
On the migration of the African smallholder farmer from traditional to modern methods of farming, Gornass noted that “smallholder farmers’ education, especially in the area of the application of farm inputs, is a worrisome impediment to the achievement of food security.”
She explained that the CFS had identified a set of major areas where increased support was “needed to improve smallholders’ productivity: water and land management, sustainable management of genetic resources, soil conservation practices, better transport systems and infrastructure, including feeder roads and rural electrification, in addition to appropriate pre and post-harvest handling and storage facilities.”
For the smallholder farmer in Africa, as elsewhere, these are necessary if he is considered a critical stakeholder in tackling the challenge of food insecurity and, considering the limited resources available to them, Gornass suggests that “smallholders should also make better and more efficient use of those resources to increase their productivity in a sustainable way.”
According to her, CFS had recommended the strengthening of “participatory research, extension and farming services to increase smallholders’ productivity and diversify their production, ideally by combining their traditional knowledge with the findings of the newest scientific research.”
Measured in terms of value, she views that “productivity strictly depends on prices of inputs, equipment and machines but in several developing countries, their reduced availability and higher costs make this increase in productivity more difficult to achieve. In addition, smallholders, when not acting collectively, are pure price takers. For this reason, we need to enhance smallholders’ access to inputs as well as strengthen their capacity to act and invest collectively in order to reduce individual costs and increase smallholder’s economic influence on prices.”
The CFS boss warned that higher levels of productivity that were associated with higher use of inputs and the development of labour-saving technologies might lead to a reduction in agricultural employment, which needed to be somehow addressed with corrective policies and investments. “In this context, the committee has recommended that rural non-farm economies should be supported in order to provide smallholders with alternative off-farm employment opportunities, to diversify their sources of income and to manage the associated risks. Last, investments should also be made to build local capacities, develop entrepreneurial skills and promote innovation in value chains,” she recommended.
By Abdallah el-Kurebe