Message to Paris: Smallholder Farmers Are Ready to Help

As more than 140 world leaders gather today for the opening of the climate change talks in Paris, the vital role of the world’s 2.5 billion smallholder farmers in combatting climate change is increasingly finding itself front and center. Click on the brochure above for the full story:

Until recently, smallholder farmers have been thought of as a problem needing solving. Typically with less than five acres (roughly two hectares), they are among the world’s poorest citizens. But together they constitute one third of the global population and currently produce 70% of our food on 60% of the earth’s arable land. And over the last decade they are increasingly being seen as essential for any long-term sustainable solution. 

Nowhere is this clearer than in an innovative business model being implemented in rural Haiti by the Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA). Now through a new partnership with U.S. based non-profit Impact Farming, the model is expanding internationally. The animating principle behind both initiatives is that small-scale family farmers can use a self-financing business model to help feed and reforest the world while simultaneously addressing community development, women’s empowerment… and climate change.

A key to the SFA’s success in Haiti is using tree planting as a ‘natural bitcoin’ that finances agricultural improvements. Farmers grow and maintain trees in order to earn better crop seeds, tools and training. These agricultural inputs lead to significantly higher crop yields and household income. But it all starts with trees.

With a bit of help, smallholder farmers everywhere can use an entrepreneurial model to transform families, communities and local economies. They could end up changing the world. 

Small Farms. Big Impact

REPRINT > from Skoll "Inside the Issue" Fall 2015

Global food production will need to increase by 60 percent by 2050 to feed the world’s expected population. In the developing world, food production will need to double. 

Yet, the smallholder farmers who produce most of the food consumed in these countries are some of the poorest people on earth. What would it take to solve the challenges they face? To ensure that they have access to capital, tools and inputs that can increase their productivity and transform their lives from barely surviving to making a sustainable living? And that they can steward land that is securely theirs for future generations?

Social entrepreneurs are developing and testing new approaches, changing markets and supply chains, and engaging with development agencies to create a new and markedly improved equilibrium.

Agroecology Works - Citizens Are Proving It

REPRINT > from Goldman Environmental Prize blog

How will we feed over 9 billion people by 2050, and who exactly will feed whom?

One thing we do know: business as usual is not the answer.

As the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General, José Graziano da Silva said in a speech earlier this year, “The model of agricultural production that predominates today is not suitable for the new food security challenges of the 21st century.”

When the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) convened hundreds of scientists from around the world they concluded that small-scale, agroecological farming is one of the most promising paths toward a resilient, productive and sustainable agricultural future.

So what exactly is agroecological farming? Occasionally referred to as ‘ecological farming,’ it is — according to our partner organization Pesticide Action Network (PAN) International — “the science and practice of applying ecological concepts, principles and knowledge to the design and management of sustainable farms”.

PAN has just released a new book; “Replacing Chemicals with Biology: Phasing out highly hazardous pesticides with agroecology”. The first publication of its kind, it makes a compelling case for eliminating dependence on toxic pesticides by showcasing success stories of agroecological farming from around the world.

Senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and contributor of the book, Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, explains why the world needs agroecology now:

Why Agroecology?

Agroecology offers freedom from pesticide dependence, and a path towards healthy, vibrant and resilient food and farming systems. Agroecological practices can increase farm productivity, food security and food sovereignty; improve rural livelihoods and adaptation to climate change; and reduce the health and environmental harms of chemical-intensive agriculture. 

With the world using nearly 50 times more pesticides today than six decades ago, the harmful impact of these chemicals on the environment and human health has increased alarmingly. “Replacing Chemicals with Biology” makes a compelling case for policymakers — and anyone concerned with the future of our food — for getting off the pesticide treadmill by adopting agroecological farming. The extensive documentation provides ample proof that this is not only vitally necessary, but eminently possible.

Agroecology makes sense

The book presents dozens of case studies of successful agroecological farming in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe and the United States. Here are highlights from just a few:

  • Over 10 million farmers practicing Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture in Andhra Pradesh, India, have replaced highly hazardous pesticides with biological, botanical and physical controls, while diversifying their crops to include peas, beans, lentils, millets, spices and vegetables, and improving both soil fertility and community food security.
  • Small-scale organic cotton farmers in Benin have eliminated use of pesticides responsible for numerous poisoning fatalities in Africa every year, using locally available natural resources for ecological pest management, crop rotations and collaboration with cattle herders for manure. Women have assumed greater control of their fields and production income in the process, and are becoming active leaders in organic co-operatives.
  • Farmers in Idaho are producing certified organic produce (potatoes, beans, squash and numerous fresh market vegetables, alfalfa, wheat and barley) in a 7-year crop rotation with pasture-fed cattle that builds soil and provides excellent weed control and steady income year-round.

The authors discuss key principles behind agroecology, drawing on both peer-reviewed literature and the experiences of farmers’ networks, development agencies and NGOs working in the field. Themultifunctional benefits of agroecology highlighted include healthy soil, farms and communities; dramatic reductions in pesticide use; increased yield and profit; and greater resilience in recovering from drought, floods and climatic stress. Agroecology also includes multidimensional social and political goals of equity, often resulting in farmers’ improved access to and control over land, seeds and water, women’s empowerment, defense of cultural rights and food sovereignty.

Agroecology for the win

By integrating state-of-the-art science with local and traditional knowledge, agroecology offers a powerful solution to today’s mounting social, economic and environmental stresses of climate change, water scarcity, land degradation and rural poverty.

For these reasons, agroecology has been affirmed by countless reports and high-level meetings as one of the best ways forward for farming in the 21st century. PAN’s new book adds to a growing global body of evidence, including:

Clearly, agroecology works. The final chapters of PAN’s book include specific policy recommendations for national leaders; it’s time for these decision makers to take the lead from successful practitioners around the world.

Activists Putting Agroecology into Practice

Jadwiga Lopata (2002, Poland)

While the EU encouraged large-scale farming through subsidiesLopata was one of the few who resisted. She created an eco-tourism program that promoted the environmental, economic and health advantages of small family farms over large-scale factory agriculture. By joining the European Center for Ecological Agriculture and Tourism-Poland (ECEAT), local farmers can receive a 20 percent increase in their income. Lopata has also established a certification system, so consumers can identify products that are ‘Direct from the Polish Farmer’ and help sustain the local economy.  Learn more about the organization she co-founded, the International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside (ICPPC) and support its efforts to ensure a future for fresh, quality food and those who supply them.

Beto Ricardo (1992, Brazil)

Through his organization, the Instituto SocioambientalRicardo educates local youth of the Ribeira Valley in Brazil where Western conservation models are squeezing out traditional agricultural practices that have sustained the land for generations of families. His work training young people helps them become stewards of their environment, ensuring a continuation of Brazil’s biological diversity. Learn more about his work helping a new generation adopt sustainable agricultural practices.

Olga Speranskaya (2009, Russia)

Co-chair of the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) Speranskaya’s work has been focused on ensuring a toxics-free future. Her organization joined thousands of others to form the Global Alliance to Phase-out Highly Hazardous pesticides, calling for a safer approach to pest and weed management. Speranskaya welcomed the publication of PAN International’s publication:

“With this publication, it will become easier for these countries to defend community rights for agroecological farming and request donors to support community-led ecosystem based agriculture instead of providing support for increased reliance on pesticides.”

Smallholder farmers are the new global food frontier

A farmer walks with her son during a potato harvest in Huancavelica, southern Peru. Smallholder farmers produce nearly 70% of all food consumed worldwide. Photograph: Martin Mejia/AP

A farmer walks with her son during a potato harvest in Huancavelica, southern Peru. Smallholder farmers produce nearly 70% of all food consumed worldwide. Photograph: Martin Mejia/AP

REPRINT > by Hugh Locke for The Guardian

A third of the world’s 7.3 billion people are smallholder farmers and their families who produce nearly 70% of all food consumed worldwide on 60% of the planet’s arable land. For what sounds like a major part of the global economy, you would expect these farmers to be relatively well off and financially secure. But they aren’t. In fact, they represent the majority of the poorest and hungriest people on earth. How did this happen?

It began with a global food scare in the early 1960s. Experts predicted the world population would exceed the food supply by the 1990s, based on production levels at the time. The answer was a massive increase in industrial farming to produce huge quantities of cheap grain using hybrid seeds and chemicals. It worked, and there is no question that a major crisis was averted.

About the same time as the initial food scare, rich countries began giving foreign aid to developing countries to improve their economies and reduce poverty. Part of the deal was that recipient nations had to agree to reduce support for domestic smallholder agriculture and encourage their citizens to buy cheap imported grain from industrialized farms in the countries giving the foreign aid.

The combination of a vast increase in industrial farming and greatly reduced support for agriculture in developing countries led to smallholder farmers becoming invisible. Today, there are 2.5 billion people who live and work on 500m smallholder farms, each less than two hectares (five acres). They represent one-third of humanity, yet they have been systematically ignored and marginalized for 60 years, while industrial farming has received the benefits of agricultural research, subsidies, trade agreements, tax credits and regulatory systems.

Experts are now telling us there will be 2 billion more people by 2050, but not enough food to feed this increased population if we stay at current production levels. Almost all of these new people will be born in low-income countries where food is produced on small farms. In an ironic twist, this new global food scare is putting smallholder farmers on the radar for the first time. Having reached the limit of arable land worldwide, our only option is to figure out how to increase yields on land already being cultivated. Given that more than half of all farmland is cultivated by smallholder farmers, they have become the new global food frontier.

And they have found an unexpected ally. Major companies within the food and beverage industry, typically for business reasons, have begun procuring from millions of smallholder farmers throughout the developing world. In less than a decade, this market-based partnership between smallholder farmers and corporations has in some ways done more to benefit the farmers than 60 years of foreign aid.

The food and beverage industry is now in a leadership role it did not ask for. More significantly, they are in a unique position to be the catalyst for a global course correction that goes beyond just helping smallholder farmers.

The farmers themselves need training, better seed, good tools, and access to markets and financing. Responding to these needs will have a measurable output in the form of increased yields, but the actual impact will be beyond measure: finding solutions for smallholder farmers means finding solutions that engage one-third of humanity in addressing food security, climate stability, biodiversity conservation and rural employment.

It is estimated that there are more than 3.5bn hectares (8.6bn acres) of degraded, eroded and desertified lands worldwide, together creating an area larger than Africa. Incentivizing small farmers to restore this land could have global impacts in terms of climate and conservation. Farming methods that increase soil organic carbon and restore vegetative cover, for example, could substantially mitigate climate change, according to leading experts.

To the executives, staff, distributors, agents, shareholders and customers who together constitute the world’s largest food and beverage enterprises: you are challenged to move beyond a de-facto role and assume conscious leadership of a worldwide campaign in support of smallholder farmers. To get started, here is a campaign platform for consideration.

1. Implement exit strategy aid
A simple rule: do not start anything with smallholder farmers unless you are certain the benefits will continue after you leave. If you start purchasing from them, what happens when you stop? If you begin to provide training, seed and tools, what happens when you leave? If you expand local production based on exports, what happens when you find a cheaper source somewhere else? The developing world is littered with the carcasses of dead agricultural projects that ended the minute the funding or purchasing stopped, almost always because they created dependency rather than built capacity.

2. Focus on improved organic methods
Most smallholder farms are organic, even if that is by default rather than by design. As the true environmental cost of industrial farming takes its toll, why not invest in a global environmental insurance policy by helping smallholder farmers to double or triple output using improved organic methods? A little funding for research would help here, given what has been spent to date in support of industrial farming. The farm-level cost of agricultural training, better open-pollinated seeds and high quality tools will be offset by increased yields and profits. Higher yields will help to meet increasing consumer demand for organic food, while higher profits will make agriculture attractive and reduce urban migration.

3. Invest in women farmers
Women share the workload on smallholder farms, but tend to have less say in their operation and receive little of the income. But when women are included as equals, productivity almost always goes up. Women are more likely than men to invest their increased income in the long term interests of their families and communities. There is no shortage of data to support these claims, but not nearly enough examples of action. There are three initial areas that will make a real difference. First, ensure that women get equal access to agricultural training. Second, make microcredit widely available to female farmers. Third, help women set up cooperatives and small businesses to process food into sellable products.

4. Promote agroforestry and tree planting
Agriculture and trees are closely linked. Having reached the limit of land suitable for agriculture, forests are being cut down at the rate of 66m hectares a year to create more cropland, mostly for industrial farming. With a bit of training, smallholder farmers are very adept at agroforestry – the combination of fruit and other productive trees and field crops – particularly because it tends to be labor intensive. When combined with improved agricultural techniques, the result is more food and more trees, not to mention less pressure to cut down forests. This is particularly important because if we keep going as we are now, feeding 2 billion more people is projected to require cutting down 2bn acres of forest.

5. Balance export and local production
Purchasing from smallholder farmers for export is great, but only if it is balanced with local production. If agriculture is geared only to export, it puts the farmers at risk if they are suddenly cut off from oversees markets and the monoculture they have been exporting is higher in volume and price than can be absorbed by local markets. And any export commodity that leads to the total exclusion of local food production should be a criminal offense.

6. Redirect foreign aid
A market-based approach is showing results in improving the lot of smallholder farmers, but to really take this to scale will require additional resources. The food and beverage industry should challenge donor governments to redirect a significant portion of the foreign aid they now spend unsuccessfully on agriculture in developing countries – and use the money to fund incubation grants aimed at helping groups of smallholders transform themselves into self-financing, self-managed small businesses.

7. Reduce certification costs
The process of certifying farmers for organic and fair trade labeling is critical for getting access to foreign markets at premium prices, but the cost is exceptionally high throughout the developing world. Lowering these costs without lowering standards would be a great challenge to put before the international community.

These ideas are the result of working for the past five years with 3,200 Haitian smallholder farmers, with support from the Clinton Foundation and Timberland, who are pioneering a new market-based approach, using trees as bio-currency to pay for doubling food production while significantly improving farm livelihoods and communities. If it can be successful in Haiti, it can work anywhere.

This article is a follow-up to Global Food Industry Reluctant Leaders of Smallholder Farming Revolution recently published in the Huffington Post.


Small farmers can be major actors in reducing agriculture's carbon footprint - UN agency

Farmers growing lettuce and other vegetables in the highlands of Bevatu Settlement, Nadrau, Viti Levu, Fiji. Photo: IFAD/Susan Beccio   

Farmers growing lettuce and other vegetables in the highlands of Bevatu Settlement, Nadrau, Viti Levu, Fiji. Photo: IFAD/Susan Beccio


REPRINT > from UN News Centre

Helping farmers adapt to the impacts of climate change can also significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, finds a new study released today by one of the agricultural agencies of the United Nations system.

“What this report shows is that smallholder farmers are a key part of the solution to the climate change challenge,” said Michel Mordasini, Vice President of International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). “With the right investments, smallholders can feed a growing planet while at the same time restoring degraded ecosystems and reducing agriculture's carbon footprint.”

IFAD chose UNESCO's Our Common Future under Climate Change Science Conference in Paris to release details of its latest research with the Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

The study finds reducing emissions may not be as big a burden as some may believe and could be another benefit of adaptation activities. The study, released today, examines IFAD's portfolio of projects focused on making smallholder agriculture more resilient to climate change.

The Mitigation Advantage Report shows that thirteen IFAD-supported adaptation projects could reduce CO2e emissions by 30 million tons. This represents about 38 per cent of IFAD's target to reduce 80 million tons of CO2e by 2020 under its Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme. Launched in 2012, this program has become the largest global financing source dedicated to supporting the adaptation of poor smallholder farmers to climate change.

Whilst IFAD's investments are focusing on the key priorities of rural poverty reduction, climate change adaptation and food security, the mitigation target set by the organisation shows how resilient, climate-smart agriculture can make a substantive contribution to the global fight to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

IFAD's climate change adaptation initiatives include improved agronomic practices, afforestation and rehabilitation of degraded lands. These practices help address farmers' immediate needs, like dealing with unpredictable rains, and gradual shifts in crop suitability.
If smallholder adaptation can help reduce global emissions, there could be new opportunities, according to Sonja Vermeulen, Head of research at the CGIAR program.

“Currently over 90 per cent of public and private climate funds go to mitigation, not adaptation. For future food security it would be very helpful if the majority of the world's farmers, who are smallholders, could access those funds,” she said.


Global Food Industry Reluctant Leaders of Smallholder Farming Revolution

REPRINT > by Hugh Locke for Huffington Post

The challenge we are now facing is that the smallholder revolution that was started inadvertently by the food and beverage industry is in eminent danger of falling short of its potential, and in some cases is doing more harm than good by creating dependencies rather than building capacity.

These companies can't interface efficiently with vast numbers of smallholder farmers and the result is the emergence of a new category of intermediary operators connecting food and beverage companies with smallholders -- possibly best described as "smallholder service agents." And this is the crux of the problem.

These agents are sometimes referred to as aggregators, middlemen brokers, supply chain catalysts or service bundlers. Regardless of their designation -- or whether they are for-profits, NGOs or social businesses -- all variations of smallholder service agents have a dual function to help farmers increase and improve their crops and at the same time purchase the resulting harvest, either directly or through a partner company. Through their respective agents, food and beverage companies provide smallholders access to improved seed, fertilizer and tools; they train farmers to improve agricultural techniques affecting quality, quantity, storage and transportation; they provide access to new markets for farm output; and, they provide financing in the form of credit, loans or purchase guarantees.

This is all generally good stuff, but the problem is that the supply chain generally stops with the smallholder service agents and the farmers themselves tend to be viewed as anonymous and interchangeable production units that are easily attached and detached from the end of that chain. And when the supply chain moves on, the farmers are left with no lasting capacity and a devastating loss of income because they have become completely dependent on the service agents.

Although there is no grand design behind this flawed system, it has grown so large -- and involves so many million smallholder farmers around the world -- that it has placed food and beverage companies in a global leadership role at the intersection of food security, climate change and rural development. Despite not having asked for this role, the companies have collectively realized over the past few years the extraordinary position they find themselves in.

The great dilemma these companies now face is that they need partners as they struggle to balance their responsibility to shareholders with the larger moral imperatives implicit with their new role. The difficulty is that many of the potential partners in this space -- development agencies, donor governments and NGOs -- are locked into a handout dependency model that is at odds with a market-based solution.

The result is that virtually every major food and beverage company in the world has seized on meetings such as the Clinton Global Initiative and the World Economic Forum in order to talk through this dilemma with their peers. Smallholder farming has been front and center at both venues in the past year, and much of the discussion can be distilled into one question: "How can agricultural export markets be used to permanently transform smallholder farmers and their communities so they can be self-financing and self-managed net contributors to improving global food security, reversing climate change and transforming rural communities?"