Investing in smallholders and food security in Africa: What do small-scale producers themselves have to say?

FAO’s Investment Center held a session on “Working with producers’ organizations in Africa” on 12 December 2013 in the context of its annual staff training programme. The background paper prepared by Nora McKeon, EuropAfrica coordinator, with the collaboration of Mamadou Cissokho, Honorary President of ROPPA, is available here .

It provides a summary of African small-scale producer organizations’ (PO) main messages, sets them in the context of evolutions regarding investment in agriculture since  the 2007 food crisis, and cites the PO declarations and reports from which the messages are drawn. FAO’s Investment Center is to be felicitated for this initiative aimed at encouraging its staff to facilitate African PO participation in the formulation and implementation of agricultural investment policies and programmes in which FAO plays a role.

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Main messages of African small-scale producers’ organizations

 (These messages are detailed in Section III below drawing on excerpts from PO documents.)

  1. What are the key questions and challenges? African agriculture faces the challenges of feeding a growing population, eradicating poverty and food insecurity, responding to the climate crisis and ensuring environmental sustainability. To address these challenges investment is needed to reinforce local food systems and to enhance smallholders’ food production, strengthen their resilience, increase their revenues and support their own investments – which constitute the bulk of all those made. Key questions are: what production systems and products to support? Which markets to target? Who should benefit? (more on pg. 8)
  2. What model of production to invest in? Family farming is the basis for modern food provision and rural futures in Africa. Its multi-functionality and sustainable productive potential is confirmed by extensive research evidence. Family farms generate food and well-being for the majority of the population and the wealth of the region, conserve its natural resourcesand ensure employment for young people. Innovative family farming, backed by appropriate research, supportive investments and adequate protection, can out-perform industrial commodity production. It can increase its productivity without making the environment, biodiversity and food quality pay the price. (moreon pp 9-10 )
  3. What kinds of markets and food systems? Promoting food sovereignty. In Africa most food reaches those who consume it through informal and often “invisible” trade channels that operate outside commercial commodity markets. The challenge for family farmers is to fill the growing demand for food in Africa through market arrangements that allow them to add value without engaging in production models and value chains that undermine the autonomous, diversified, sustainable basis of their resilience. When issues of who wields power and who benefits are not addressed, approaches like contract farming and out-grower schemes can marginalize small-scale producers or incorporate them as subordinate units of a system that escapes their control. Investing in local food systems, on the contrary, dynamizes rural economies, creates employment, promotes rural intermediary urbanization. Many African POs use the term“food sovereignty” to describe the food systems they advocate, Thanks to ROPPA advocacy the first specificobjective of ECOWAS’s regional agricultural policy is to “guarantee the food sovereignty of the region”.(ECOWAP 2005) (more on pp 10-12 )
  4. What kinds of investments are needed to promote these models/markets? Supporting sustainable family farm food production and resilient food systems requires:

– guaranteeing local peoples’ rights of access to and control over productive resources including farmers’ seeds;

-providing sustainable sources of credit, social protection measures and grain reserves, and livestock resources;

-putting in place the necessary infrastructure and support measures to build and protect local, national and regional markets that benefit family farmers and provide quality food for consumers at accessible prices;

-promoting participatory research in support of, and determined by, family farmers and small-scale food producers;

-ensuring the effective engagement of small-scale producers in policy processes and implementation;

-prioritizing data collection and research on the informal and mostly ‘invisible’ production, processing and trade within the food system.

Women and young people require particular attention. Specific measures need to be determined in function of the specific situations of different territories and categories of family farms. (more on pp 12-14 )

  1. The public sector’s role is fundamental, but the CAADP vision has blurred and governments aretolerating the outrage of land grabbing. The public sector has the responsibility of establishing appropriate policies, frameworks and regulatory mechanisms and making the necessary investments to provide public goods and ensure national/regional food sovereignty. Over the past three decades, the small-scale family farming which constitutes the foundation of Africa’s food security, economy and social security has not benefited from supportive public policies. CAADP inspired great expectations at the outset, but the process of its implementation is not inclusive and its funding has become oriented towards external aid that is often not adapted to the national context. Governments too often fail to protect the interests and rights of small-scale producers and communities to the land, water, seeds on which they depend. (more on pp 14-16)
  2. Family farmers are the major investors in African agriculture. “PPPs” should be “Public-Peasant-Partnerships”. The tendency for decision-makers to develop “public-private partnerships” (PPPs) with the corporate private sector impairs the potential alliance between governments and small-scale producers which ought to be the foundation of food security and sustainable agriculture in Africa. Given the present opposition between agribusiness and family farming it is essential that the public sector effectively play its role of orienting policies, differentiating between the incentives required by different categories of producers. (more on pp. 16-17 )
  3. National policies and accountability. National investment plans should be based on agricultural policies that have been formulated with the participation of national stakeholders, especially small-scale family farmers and their organizations. States should be accountable for ensuring that agricultural investments – domestic and foreign – are useful and relevant and that they are coherent with the visions expressed in the agricultural policies. (more on pg 17).

See attached for more details


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