This weekend, as G8 and G20 leaders gather in Canada to discuss the most pressing global issues, discussions surrounding food security must focus on the need for collaboration, coordination and coherence around food security initiatives. Most importantly, as the primary producer of our food, farmers should play a central role in developing the solutions needed to feed our rapidly expanding global population.
The G8’s L’Aquila commitment in 2009 and the subsequent launch earlier this year of the Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme (GAFSP), which the World Bank is responsible for managing, are important illustrations of the commitment to action of countries around the world. However, while the renewed attention and investment in agriculture are welcomed and needed, the proliferation of food security initiatives runs the risk of efforts by the global agricultural institutions becoming disjointed or overlapping. For instance, the UN’s secretary-general appointed a high-level taskforce on the global food security crisis (HLTF) to coordinate global efforts, yet this initiative is not connected with the G8 or with its food security investments.
So far, US$880m has been pledged for the GAFSP. Billions more have been pledged by many countries to support food security initiatives, but only limited information is available about how this money is being delivered and how the programmes are being developed. Additionally, many only involve farmers indirectly in their planning and implementation.
Transparency around implementing these proposals is an absolute necessity if we are to overcome the hunger and extreme poverty that already affects more than one-sixth of the global population: a figure that threatens to rise.
While we farmers have excellent relationships with many of these decision makers, farmers’ organisations continue to struggle to be recognised as an integral part of shaping future food security agendas. As it stands, farmers are still waiting for the invitation to help shape how these programmes, such as the GAFSP, will be turned into actions.
There can be no food security without farmer security, and farming policies must not neglect the critical role that farmers play in making food security and sustainable development a reality. Excluding farmers perpetuates food insecurity and risks the mistakes of the past being repeated, such as the structural adjustment programmes of the 1980s, which reoriented the economies of developing countries toward agricultural exports that serviced World Bank debts, while facing the reality of a devalued currency and reduced farm incomes globally. Concomitantly, national budget allocations for agriculture were hugely reduced, and developing countries were forced to open up their economies to world market forces for which they were not well prepared.
In addition, farmers’ livelihoods are threatened by climate change. Investments and research are needed to create resilience to such shocks or they will send millions more into poverty. In southern Africa, farmers are already feeling the effects of climate change, as long-term outlooks show that precipitation may be reduced by as much as 40%. In 2006, maize, the main staple of the region, actually fell by 2.18 million metric tonnes due to droughts in Namibia, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Added to this is the fact that speculation on futures markets in basic food commodities has caused food riots in many developing countries and has created severe instability in the farming sector. Between May 2007 and March 2008, hard red winter wheat rose 137% and maize prices rose 98% from July 2007 to June 2008. Farmers in industrialised countries responded quickly to the market signals, profiting from the increase and increasing production, which led to a flood of the markets and a similarly dramatic decrease in commodity prices. Farmers in developing countries were in no position to ramp up production to take advantage of these signals because of lack of essential infrastructure.
Smallholder farmers, like those in Katine, north-east Uganda, need to be supported to become entrepreneurs so that they can make more permanent and positive difference in shaping an economically and socially viable future for developing countries. In its 2008 World Development Report, the World Bank found that ‘cross-country estimates show that GDP growth originating in agriculture is at least twice as effective in reducing poverty as GDP growth originating outside agriculture’. Farmers’ organisations time and time again have proven to be the backbone of economic and social development, not only for rural economies, but for the health of entire nations.
More financial resources are needed to help farmers to become better organised in the marketplace. This entails using funds to raise agricultural productivity, link farmers to local and export markets and provide technical assistance and training, including strengthening producers’ organisations. Past experiences and efforts also show that farmer-to-farmer exchanges help to share knowledge and to develop more coordinated outlooks on the often disparate and random development programmes that impact them.
There are certain concrete actions that G8 and G20 leaders – as well as other institutions such as the World Bank – can take to reverse this oversight and give farmers a stronger voice.
Farmers could be given a dedicated seat on the steering committees of these food security initiatives, and national farmers’ organisations could be given some decision-making authority for how country-level agricultural development plans are carried out. Lastly, farmers’ groups could be supported to coordinate regional and international strategies to make sure that they are coherent and reinforce each other.
As G8 and G20 leaders meet over the weekend to discuss the global economic recovery and a framework for financial regulation, they should also keep in mind the importance of directing part of the $22bn of L’Aquila funds to the world’s 2 billion farming families whose work feeds us, supplies our marketplaces and provides life and livelihoods for rural communities the world over.
• David King is the secretary general of the International Federation of Agricultural Producers (IFAP) and spokesman for the Farming First coalition.