Advocating strategies for agricultural transformation: FAO and AfDB

ID-100207881On the 29th September 2014 two events laid out global and African strategies for agriculture and food security. At its 24th session, the Committee on Agriculture (COAG), one of FAO’s Governing Bodies providing overall guidance on policies relating to agriculture, livestock, food safety, nutrition, rural development and natural resource management, met to discuss a wide range of issues, including family farming and sustainable agriculture.

Opening the event, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, emphasised the broad range of options needed to transform global food systems and that a paradigm shift is needed to make agriculture sustainable. In particular a departure from “an input intensive model”. We need to reduce the use of agricultural inputs such as water and fertilizer and look to new solutions. Such approaches as agroecology, climate-smart agriculture and biotechnology were used as examples of alternatives to the current system but that their use should be based on evidence, science and local context. The FAO’s director-general made the urgency of making agriculture more sustainable for the long term clear, noting that food production needs to grow by 60% by 2050 to meet the demands of a population of 9 billion people.

From some camps the conference was a step in the right direction towards embracing agroecology as too was the recent FAO International Symposium on Agroecology for Food and Nutrition Security. Indeed about 70 scientists and scholars of sustainable agriculture and food systems sent an open letter praising the FAO for convening the event. Seen as both a science and a social movement, agroecology is gaining momentum, now helped by support from the FAO, in particular by their moving away from the one-size-fits-all approach to agriculture and agricultural research and support for the scientific evidence behind agroecology. The letter called for the FAO, its member states and the international community to launch a UN system-wide initiative on agroecology as the main strategy for addressing climate change and building resilience. The letter closes with a hope that the FAO will consider this proposal at the forthcoming Committee on World Food Security meeting on the 13th to 18th October 2014.

Danilo Medina, president of the Dominican Republic, also spoke at COAG 2014 of food as a universal right and of the dire need to transform the rural economy. The Dominican Republic has been particularly successful in reducing hunger from over 34% in 1990 to under 15% today. Since the current government came into power rural poverty has also been reduced 9%, linked to the doubling of the volume of agricultural loans and re-design of loan instruments to benefit smallholders, and the use of surprise visits to farming communities by officials in order to increase understanding and engage with smallholders, in particular around forming cooperatives. As noted by Graziano da Silva, this type of political commitment at the highest levels of government is critical to achieving national food security.

At a regional level the African Development Bank (AfDB) commemorated the Africa Year of Agriculture and Food Security on the 29th September 2014 in Abidjan, Côte D’Ivoire. An interview with Chiji Ojukwu, Director of the AfDB’s Agriculture and Agro Industry Department, discussed the AfDB’s new Agriculture Policy and Strategy [2015-2019] and the bank’s priorities for agricultural development on the continent. Here there was very little mention of agroecology. The bank, in its strategy is prioritising agricultural research and development of maize, rice, cassava and wheat; supporting the development of agricultural value chains in these crops including value addition along the supply chain; financing agricultural and rural infrastructure such as roads and irrigation; improving regional and global agricultural trade; and supporting radical land reforms. The bank’s new strategy focuses on three key areas: (i) expanding agricultural infrastructure; (ii) promoting agribusiness and innovation; and, (iii) building resilience and promoting the sustainable management of natural resources. Additionally the development of agriculture as a business, the prioritisation of smallholder farmers; and reducing youth employment and gender inequality remain top priorities.

Where agroecology would fit in such an approach is unclear. With many international organisations advocating for different pathways towards agricultural transformation and sustainable development it is can be confusing to know where the right path lies, many such as climate-smart agriculture being criticised for being poorly defined. Whether advocated from bottom-up or top-down, and there will likely be many “right” approaches proposed, evidence will play a large role in determining the path taken. We hope all approaches are considered based on local context as well as social, ecological and economic terms, this in itself will be a paradigm shift in thinking about the future of agriculture.

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