Small Farmers Can Feed a Country, But They Need Help

Friday, May 27, 2016

May 27, 2016

The following article by Robert Granke, Canadian Lutheran World Relief Executive Director and Canadian Foodgrains Bank Board Chair, originally appeared in The Hill Times on May 11.

Small Farmers Can Feed a Country, But They Need Help

Many farmers struggle to grow enough for their families for a full year or earn enough to buy needed food

There is good news to report from the field concerning the level of hunger in the world. It’s down. It has decreased by more than 100 million people in the last decade. But one in nine people in the world still experience chronic hunger.

The Food and Agriculture Organization calculates that around half of the world’s hungry people are small-scale farmers, with holdings of two hectares or less. Another 20 per cent belong to landless families who work on other farms, and about 10 per cent make their living from herding, fishing, or forest resources. That means that 70 per cent of the world’s hungry are farmers, and 80 per cent are involved in food production.

But why would farmers be hungry? Despite their hard work, many farmers struggle to grow enough for their families for a full year or earn enough to purchase the necessary food. There are several factors that contribute to this struggle, such as: degraded soils, lack of land tenure, poor infrastructure, lack of public investment, and environmental risks.Agriculture_web

Make no mistake: Canada has been a global leader in supporting food security through its aid programs. In 2009, the Canadian government rolled out a food security strategy that prioritized nutrition, food assistance, and agriculture. This raised the previously low levels of support up to the levels needed to achieve aid goals. But, though support for nutrition and food assistance is still strong, support for agriculture has fallen significantly. Funding in 2013 was 25 per cent less than the average funding for the years 2009 to 2011. The trend continues.

Canadian Lutheran World Relief is joining its partner Canadian Foodgrains Bank in the Good Soil campaign, which is calling on the Canadian government to increase its funding for small-scale farmers.

Aid and development groups such as Canadian Lutheran World Relief work to help alleviate hunger. But to eradicate hunger sustainably, we need governments to increase their investment in agriculture. Typical development organization projects on agriculture reach a few thousand people. With appropriate resources, governments can reach millions.

Furthermore, government investment in agricultural research and development, education, and rural infrastructure yields much higher returns of both agricultural productivity and poverty reduction than other expenditures. It’s an effective use of dollars.

“Experience repeatedly shows that when smallholders are given the means and the incentives to increase production, they can feed themselves and their communities,” writes Kanayo F. Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

When smallholder farmers have money in their pockets and food on their tables the entire country benefits.

We also believe there should be a special emphasis on women. Women make up nearly half the people engaged in agriculture, many of them heading farm households. Yet women receive no more than five per cent of agricultural aid such as farm inputs, training, access to credit, and marketing assistance.

If women were to receive their fair share of assistance it is estimated that this would result in a 20 per cent rise in food production and remove 100 to 150 million people from hunger.

We believe the Good Soil campaign aligns very well with the government’s development priorities. We urge the government to act accordingly and we will be doing that when we come to Ottawa to talk to MPs about the world’s small farmers.