Family farmers need recognition... but what type of agriculture do they want?
Sustainable agriculture and the contribution of small-scale farmers’ organisations to global food security were thoroughly discussed last month in Rome. From 20 to 23th February two important events took place in the capital of Italy: the Fourth Global Meeting of the Farmers' Forum and the 35th Session of the IFAD’s Governing Council.
Both events purposefully overlapped: the final plenary session of the Farmers’ Forum was open to IFAD governors and the participants of the Farmer’s Forum were invited to the session of the Governing Council with observer’s status.
Moreover the Synthesis of Deliberations of the Farmers’ Forum was delivered to the Governing Council on the first day of its meeting. Prior to these meetings there was a specific event with young farmers, culminating in a powerful statement on the future of agriculture.
The Farmer’s Forum was attended by about 95 delegates from farmers’ and fishermen’s networks and an equal number of observers attended the forum. They represented a range of perspectives, from mainstream to radical and various colours of green in between.
Family farmers deserve a greater acknowledgement for the contribution they make to feeding and maintaining the planet.
The focus of the meeting was on institutional strengthening of the farmer’s organisations and on building strategies to ensure greater participation of those organisations in policy processes. Involvement of youth and women in agriculture also received much attention.
The IFAD Governing Council meeting was a high profile event. Among the participants were: President of the Republic of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, Prime Minister of the Italian Republic, Mario Moti, the Italian Minister for International Cooperation, Andrea Riccardi and Bill Gates.
These events were an opportunity to reflect on the involvement of the farmers’ organisations in IFAD activities and in national policy-making processes. IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze speaking at the opening session highlighted the importance of collaboration. "Partnerships are central to IFAD’s work. And farmers from developing countries are our most important partner of all. They are the experts and the agents of change in ensuring enough food for an ever-growing population. We need them and their knowledge to do our job – to help grow more food and increase the resilience of smallholder farmers worldwide who currently feed one-third of the global population."
President Nwanze explained that 90 per cent of IFAD’s projects have benefitted from the input of producers’ organizations since the last meeting of the Farmers’ Forum two years ago. “But we are well aware that there is still more to do in terms of inclusiveness and consistency in these partnerships” he added. Speaking about recent climate shocks and the run up to the Rio+20 conference in June he emphasised that IFAD and its grassroots partners including youth organisations must strengthen their collaboration.
Several speakers stressed the need for more direct involvement of small-scale producers in the design and implementation of rural development plans at all levels.
Estrella Penunia Banzuela of the Asian Farmers’ Association asserted that the UN Year of Family Farming scheduled for 2014 will be meaningful only if it involves smallholders in policy advocacy.
The West African producers’ network ROPPA listed a series of specific policy questions that must be answered as a prerequisite for rural transformation. For example, how will smallholders gain access to credit and markets? And how can we empower rural women and youth, and build the capacities of producers’ organizations?
Jean-Philippe Audinet, who leads IFAD’s work with the Farmers’ Forum, stated that climate change solutions require technological, policy and behavioural responses and stressed that farmers' organisations play an important role in representing smallholders in policy development. “Solutions to climate-related challenges and the enhancement of environmental sustainability is not only a question of technology, but also one of the right policies. Farmers’ organisations play a central role in representing smallholders in policy dialogues to ensure that policies respond to their needs and realities.”
In his presentation, Bill Gates made a plea for sustainable intensification based on technological approaches. He expressed his strong believe, that ‘there is a chance for another revolution in agricultural productivity’ and that ‘sustainable yield increase can lead to better life for farmer’s families’. He also explained that ‘to meet ambitious productivity targets we have to think hard about how to start taking advantage of the digital revolution that is driving innovation in many places’. In particular, he mentioned genomic science and information technology emphasizing that ‘a huge part of the job we share is bringing today’s breakthrough agriculture science and technology to help the farmers’.
Sustainable agriculture and small-scale farmers were the main focus of the session of IFAD’s Governing Council, entitled ‘Sustainable smallholder agriculture: feeding the world, protecting the planet’. The session focused on ‘sustainable intensification’ of the food production with the view of the growing demand for food in the future. Taking the idea of ‘using natural processes and mix of new and traditional technologies’ as a starting point, different approaches to sustainable agriculture were discussed.
Those included: conservation agriculture, Integrated Pest Management, organic agriculture, sustainable forest management, improved crop varieties, balanced fertilization and bio fertilization. Ways to scale-up sustainable approaches were another important and related topic of the session. Here, several options were considered: creating s level playing field for sustainable agriculture, providing financing, ensuring clear land rights, investing in building resilience of the small-scale farmers, engaging private investments, enhancing cooperation and providing small-scale framers possibilities to acquire new skills and knowledge.
The Farmers’ Forum has several sessions with a specific focus on sustainable and organic agriculture. Discussions were lively and showed that many farmers’ organisations give a growing importance to agroecological approaches.
Another side event focused on the Rio+20 Conference. It was an opportunity for the participants to share their views on the Zero Draft document. The discussions revealed a strong and shared discontent with the fact that the document pays no attention to family farming and the importance of agroecological approaches in the context of a green economy.
This side event was an opportunity to discuss different strategies to approach the Rio+20 conference. It became clear that there are many roads leading to Rio, but there was a clear consensus about the key message to be taken to Rio: Family farmers deserve a greater acknowledgement for the contribution they make to feeding and maintaining the planet.
These two events in Rome showed once more that there are two ways of thinking about the future of the agriculture and the gap between them is difficult to bridge.
As Roger Leakney from James Cook University in Cairns, Australia phrased it: “Agriculture suffers from widely polarized views of how to go forward from ‘agribusiness and GMOs are the magic bullet’ to the most extreme civil society and organic viewpoints”.
Formal and informal discussions that took place in Rome demonstrated that the latter is also true for the UN system where views concerning what actually is sustainable agriculture can be radically different.
As one UN worker said: “People in my organisation call me partial. Yes I am, because I am pro-people and pro-environment”. It would be a positive step forward if farmers’ organisations took the lead and showed the rest of the world how the gap between different ways of thinking about agriculture can be bridged, without compromising the future of millions of family farmers.
Text: Ellen Naughton and Marta Dabrowska
The Farmers’ Forum was initiated in 2005, with the first meeting taking place in 2006, to institutionalize the continuous dialogue between smallholders and rural producers, IFAD and governments of its Member States. The Forum is an on-going, bottom-up process of consultation and dialogue between small farmers’ and rural producers’ organisations (FOs), IFAD and governments, focused on agricultural and rural development and poverty reduction.