"Today´s Food System Is Failing Small Farmers"
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- With heads of state from more than 120 nations and tens of thousands of civil society and international development experts gathering for the U.N. Summit on Sustainable Development next week, it is accepted wisdom that rethinking agriculture is one of most critical issues facing this and future generations.
TerraViva interviews KANAYO F. NWANZE, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)*
Photo: Kanayo F. Nwanze. Credit: Courtesy of IFAD
TerraViva spoke with Kanayo F. Nwanze, president of the International
Fund for Agricultural Development, a U.N. agency that focuses on
eradicating rural poverty in developing countries through hands-on
interventions like financial services, markets, technology, land and
other natural resources.
Excerpts from the interview follow.
Q: IFAD, and in general experts on agrarian matters, see the
against poverty as inextricable from the preservation of the
environment. In this context, what do you expect from Rio+20?
A: As it stands, today's food and agriculture systems are failing
smallholders in developing countries. This is because two key points
are not understood well enough by policymakers and the general public.
First, of the 1.4 billion people living on under 1.25 dollars per day,
one billion of them are in rural areas in developing countries, and
the vast majority of those depend on agriculture for their
livelihoods. So poverty remains a rural phenomenon and small farms
play a central role in providing food and employment.
Second, while it is known that agriculture has huge impacts on the
environment, it is not fully recognised that small farms in developing
countries are managing vast areas of natural resources. For example,
80 percent of farmland in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa is made up of
The problem is that these farmers, both women and men, are often not
empowered to manage their natural resources. They do not have secure
access to their land. They are reliant on the weather and do not have
access to institutions and markets.
On top of this, smallholder farmers are facing growing threats and
risks of volatile food prices and increasing scarcity of natural
resources, such as land and water. Changes in climate patterns and
expected increases in extreme weather conditions are making life even
more difficult for rural communities.
While the Rio+20 negotiations are on-going, IFAD is continuing to work
with farmers' organisations, the Rome-based agencies and other
partners, to raise awareness about the challenges facing the world's
smallholders and to promote an action-oriented agenda with agriculture
at the centre. We expect the negotiators will take into account the
case of smallholder farmers and give them a level playing field.
Q: Can you define the position you are advancing at the
A: We are advocating for three big changes to today's food and
agriculture system. Of course policies need to be in place for poor
rural women and men to access new technologies. After nearly three
decades of declining support for agriculture, it would seem that our
goal of universal food and nutrition security is more elusive than
But amid the dark clouds, there are rays of hope. Because of co-
ordinated efforts, the devastation caused by the famine in the Horn of
Africa today was less than we have seen under similar circumstances in
And because of commitments to agricultural development made in recent
years – from the African Union Maputo Declaration to the G8 L'Aquila
summit – we are developing the framework to ensure that food security
crises, such as those witnessed today, will someday become history.
We are pushing for massive scaling up of investments in "sustainable
smallholder agriculture" that can increase farmers' productivity and
incomes, improve their resilience to erratic weather conditions, and
prevent the natural resource base from further degradation.
Sustainable agriculture with smallholders means we do not need to make
the false choice between reducing poverty or tackling climate change.
In the long run we can do both through approaches that bring
agriculture planning, such as increasing crop or livestock production,
together with planning in other sectors like environment, energy, and
transportation. This is the only way we will get the balance of
social, environmental and economic benefits that is the basis of
Second, smallholders are entrepreneurs who don't have a level playing
field for running their businesses. It's incredible how much they
achieve off the sweat of their brows, their traditional knowledge and
their unflagging ingenuity.
Smallholders have, for generations, been adapting to changing
conditions and now that climate is changing so much more rapidly,
there is a lot we can learn from them. We can support them with
accessible technologies that can help them adapt to the new and
uncertain conditions. But their lives will not change much if they
cannot connect to markets.
There are plenty of examples of smallholder farmers driving
agricultural production and supplying national and even global
markets. They have the potential to increase their production and
contribute to feeding nine billion people by 2050.They need a little
support and not handouts. Part of this will be changing the perception
of the private sector to see smallholders as entrepreneurs in their
own right and potential partners for business deals.
Last but not the least is that no one government or organisation can
do this alone. We need better partnerships to link smallholder women
and men to government institutions, civil society, the private sector
and researchers. We need a new paradigm of collaboration that allows
us to plan across sectors from agriculture and health, to
transportation and education, as well as cross cutting ecological
landscapes that do not share the borders of our human communities and
Q: How would you strengthen the role of poor peasant farmers
organisations in order to reach these objectives?
A: IFAD is one of the largest sources of financing for agriculture and
rural development in many developing countries, and we support
government programmes that empower smallholder farmers and their
organisations to interact more effectively with their governments,
with their natural environment and with markets.
We want to enable poor women and men to have a voice in decision
making and governance processes and form equitable partnerships and
contractual relationships. In 2011, the projects we financed supported
13,000 marketing groups, trained more than 700,000 people in business
and entrepreneurship, and 2.1 million people learned about community
and natural resource management. We also work with many national and
regional farmers' organisations.
My organisation is also focussed on linking smallholders to markets.
Over the past 12 years, the proportion of IFAD-supported projects that
include work on value chains has increased dramatically from three
percent in 1999 to 46 percent 2009, and this trend continues to rise.
Q: What you are proposing seems applicable especially to rural
A: Absolutely. I've always said that the average small farmer is a
woman with a baby on her back. On average, women constitute 43 percent
of the agricultural labour force in developing countries – in sub-
Saharan Africa as much as 50 percent - but they are poorly paid, have
less secure jobs, less access to education, and have less access than
men to agricultural resources such as land, livestock, credit,
fertiliser and machinery.
Experience shows how rural organisations, including cooperatives, can
help women to overcome the social, economic, and environmental
limitations they face through lending services, such as access to
markets and information. I must also emphasise that the rural youth of
today are the farmers of tomorrow. Investing in young people, both
girls and boys, living in rural areas is key to enhancing agricultural
productivity and food security.
In effect, organisations of producers and ties to non-governmental
organisations (NGOs), the scientific community, and public and private
agents also help small producers, both women and men, to express their
concerns and interests in order to influence policy formulation.
Last year about half of all participants in projects that we supported
were women, and 60 percent of the people trained in business,
entrepreneurship and community management were women. Also, a full 83
percent of active borrowers served by IFAD-supported microfinance
institutions were also women – a total of about 24 million of them.
Q: In your experience, what are the conditions necessary to
the long-term benefits to farmers and their communities of development
projects intended to combat poverty while advancing environmental
A: I think the 10 principles of our environment and natural resource
policy demonstrate how deeply we believe in integrated approaches to
achieve the balance of social, environmental and economic benefits we
must achieve. Here they are.
1. Scaled-up investment in sustainable agriculture
2. Recognise economic, social and cultural values of natural
3. Promote "climate-smart" rural development;
4. Build smallholder resilience to risk and natural-resource-
5. Engage in value chains that drive green growth;
6. Improve governance of natural assets;
7. Promote livelihood diversification;
8. Promote role of women and indigenous peoples;
9. Increase smallholder access to green finance; and
10. Reduce IFAD's environmental footprint.
Published by: Magne Ove Varsi