Constraints to smallholder commercialisation

ID-100136355In the wake of the 2008 food price crisis, which exacerbated food insecurity and increased smallholder farmers’ vulnerability to shocks and stresses, recognition of the barriers smallholders face in becoming more productive and developing their farms as commercial businesses has been growing. In 2010, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation implemented the Multidisciplinary Fund (MDF) project to help develop policies supportive of smallholder commercialisation in Africa, in particular identifying the heterogeneity amongst smallholders in terms of their attitudes to commercialisation.

A new report, Understanding smallholder farmer attitudes to commercialisation – the case of maize in Kenya, by the FAO, focuses on maize producers and rural youth in Kenya by investigating “attitudes, strategies and opportunities related to maize commercialisation” in Meru and Bungoma regions in the country. The report is based on key informant interview, focus group, farmer survey and stakeholder workshop data.

At present farm management is not undertaken with commercial prospects in mind for a variety of reasons – continued reliance on maize production for household consumption and a level of mistrust in markets; production and marketing activities remaining distinct from one another; reactive rather than planned production decision-making processes; poor storage facilities; and low maize quality. That is not to say that there aren’t farmers who do think more commercially but in particular farmers are more likely to require direct payments immediately to meet their household needs rather than selling at times or to traders that might allow them to obtain higher payments for their maize. Net buyers of maize, numbering some 45% of the smallholder farmers surveyed, are found to make more objective business decisions, again likely related to the level of urgent cash needs of poorer households and net buyers of maize. One of the main concerns in finding an outlet to sell maize are the transaction costs and the risks associated with the transaction, most farmers aiming to minimise costs and risks. Those smallholders engaged in more commercial practices, in particular selling maize to more distant traders or modern market channels, were more likely to experience a lack of nearby market opportunities, to specialise in maize, to have access to better price information and to have benefited from government input support programmes.

Given the relatively small amounts of maize sold by most farmers, collective marketing whereby maize is pooled and sold in bulk (and inputs can be bought in bulk) could be beneficial but it was found to be unlikely that net buyers would become net sellers of maize purely through collective marketing. Greater institutional support to partner these collective marketing approaches and a business oriented approach may aid their effectiveness. [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

The Science of Designing Food for the World’s Poor, The Atlantic

Food’s big picture guy, The New York Times

The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. A Coup for Corporate Capital, Transnational Justice

EU diplomats agree to 7% biofuels cap, EurActive

Is There Such a Thing As Sustainable Corn?, Modern Farmer

Warrior queens battle for Africa’s food future, This is Africa

Can we develop a ‘stress test’ for national food systems?, Simon Maxwell

A farm is greater than the sum of its parts, CCAFS

Super foods: from the lab to the table, The Guardian

GM crops: No gain for small farmers, SciDev.Net [Read more…]

Hungry for land: big farms getting bigger and small farms getting smaller

ID-100131830Smallholder farmers produce the bulk of the world’s food with only minimal resources such as land and water. In fact small-scale food producers farm less than one quarter of the world’s farmland, a proportion that is declining. A new GRAIN report, Hungry for Land, investigates whether the shrinking size of land under small-scale farming poses a potential threat to the global production of food. The conclusion was clear, “we need to urgently put land back in the hands of small farmers and make the struggle for agrarian reform central to the fight for better food systems”.

As a multitude of media articles tells us land is a hot commodity, one that is fought over and one that increasingly small-scale farmers are being evicted from. Be it for large-scale oil palm plantations, the creation of protected areas or the discovery of oil, insecure systems of land tenure and opaque policy decisions are taking land away from the marginal to give to a variety of domestic or foreign stakeholders. Land, as the report states, is being concentrated into fewer and fewer hands.

Previous estimates of the amount of land farmed by smallholders range between 60-70%, according to various UN agency reports. Using data from the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation and national authorities, GRAIN investigated how much land was really in the hands of smallholder farmers. And the answer…24.7%. This was at its lowest in Africa (14.7%), although this is expected to be an underestimate, and highest in China (70.9%). Average farm size was recorded at 2.2ha. The smallest average farm sizes occurring in India (0.6ha), the largest in North America (67.6ha). The full dataset is available here.

The report, while acknowledging the limitations of the data available, draws several conclusions:

  • The vast majority of farms in the world today are small and getting smaller. In India farm size roughly halved between 1971 and 2006.
  • Small farms currently cover less than a quarter of the world’s farmland. In countries such as DR Congo, Mozambique, Namibia, Peru, Paraguay, Russia, Bulgaria, Malaysia and Iran, the picture is more extreme where 70% of farms are small yet occupy less than 10% of the land.
  • We’re fast losing farms and farmers in many places while, big farms are getting bigger. In the EU farms over 100ha in size make up just 3% of the total number of farms but occupy 50% of the farmed land. In Colombia small farmers have lost approximately half of their land since 1980.
  • Small farms continue to be the major food producers in the world. Smallholder farmers are estimated to produce around 80% of food consumed in non-industrial countries.
  • Small farms are overall more productive than big farms. If all farms in Kenya had the current productivity levels of the country’s small farms, overall crop production would double.
  • Most small farmers are women. Because FAOSTAT define farmers as those people who earn an income from farming, women, who may work on family farms but not directly receive money for their work, are not effectively captured and statistics can be misleading. Other studies report that in developing countries, 60-80% of food is produced by women.

[Read more…]

Agribusiness for Africa

ID-10038867The role of big business in African agriculture often divides opinion. Some seeing it as an opportunity for sustainable economic growth in the sector, some as a new form of colonialism with richer countries exploiting Africa’s food growing conditions and spare land to supply their own countries. Whether a positive development step or a risk to food security, agribusiness on the continent looks set to grow.

Agriculture, particularly the development of agribusiness and agro-industry sectors, has been the driver of economic growth in countries across the globe. In Africa, agribusiness and agro-industries account for more than 30% of national incomes as well as the bulk of export revenues and employment. Given its links to smallholder farming, development of agribusiness could be used to help tackle poverty and hunger in rural communities.

Colonial systems of governance were designed to extract resources from Africa for use elsewhere rather than processing and adding value within the continent. Agribusiness could develop the value addition arm of the agricultural industry and help reduce Africa’s dependence on unprocessed commodities where the bulk of the average retail price is retained by the countries in which the commodity is consumed. The introduction of new players in the agricultural sector could also help diversify sources of growth and exports to reduce reliance on a limited number of export commodities.

Kenya since the 1990s have invested in products, internal systems, and supply chains to supply fresh vegetables to British supermarkets. Considered a success, Kenya’s experience shows that a well-organized industry in a low income country through collaboration between the public and private sectors and the strengthening of links between businesses and educational institutes, can use standards for competitive gain.

The United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) book, Agribusiness for Africa’s Prosperity, outlines the current status of agribusiness and agro-industrial activities in Africa, and situates them in historical and global context. It analyses the opportunities for diversified growth, and assesses the existing and potential sources of demand growth for agribusiness development in Africa.

With the advent of agribusiness, the whole agricultural sector could benefit through improved infrastructure, access to technology and better functioning markets. Indeed for companies to invest in African agriculture, an enabling business climate must be developed through government and international partnership, action that may enable farmers to capitalise on market opportunities coming from better trade links and growing urban populations. An emerging, productive and modern agricultural sector may also act to engage youth in the agricultural sector (youth unemployment is a growing concern on the continent).

The 2013 World Bank report, Growing Africa. Unlocking the potential of agribusiness, documents the potential of the agribusiness sector in Africa through examples and highlights the important of good policies, a conducive business environment, and strategic support from governments. Agribusiness in general being seen as needed to build global competitiveness and as an opportunity for growth employment and food security. [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Agriculture: Engage farmers in research, Nature

The World’s Resources Aren’t Running Out, The Wall Street Journal

Saving Crops and People with Bug Sensors, University of California, Riverside

NASA Goddard to Bring Satellite Data to African Agriculture, NASA

The Technology of Backyard Micro-Farming, Super Scholar

Enhancing resistance to coffee wilt disease in Uganda – the conventional way, B4FA

Food, the agricultural challenge of our time, Daily Monitor

Healthier, more efficient food systems could slash farm emissions, Thomson Reuters Foundation [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

A meta-analysis of crop yield under climate change and adaptation, Nature

A Green Revolution, This Time for Africa, The New York Times

Philippine experts divided over climate change action, The Guardian

New Innovations to Reduce Harvest Loss in Africa, The Rockefeller Foundation

Is more hunger and malnutrition inevitable? Not necessarily, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Unity is strength in the marketing of smallholder farm produce, EurekAlert

Don’t sacrifice EU environmental standards to get trade deal with US, warns Greenpeace policy director, Vieuws

Farming for Improved Ecosystem Services Seen as Economically Feasible, American Institute of Biological Sciences

US pork prices rise 10% after virus kills millions of piglets, The Guardian

Northern Europe hit by most bee deaths – EU study, BBC

Looking to Wheat’s Wild Ancestors to Combat an Evolving Threat, USDA

Who’s leading on climate action pledges? A calculator reveals all, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Field study shows why food quality will suffer with rising CO2, UC Davis

 

Harnessing Innovation for African Agriculture and Food Systems

ID-100207879In November 2013, the African Union Commission (AUC) and Kofi Annan Foundation, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, convened a group of senior African leaders and experts in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to discuss actions that could be taken to “sustain the momentum of the many positive transformations taking place in African agriculture and food systems”. A Chairs’ Summary of the high-level dialogue, “Harnessing Innovation for African Agriculture and Food Systems:  Meeting the Challenges and Designing for the 21st Century,” was recently released. The report details the discussions of the meeting, looking at some of the past successes, future challenges and opportunities for action.

The meeting, held in support of the 2014 Year of Agriculture and Food Security in Africa and the 10th anniversary of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), noted the recent change in language used to describe African agriculture, turning to one of potential and transformation. Agriculture and farming businesses can not only play a significant role in the food security of Africans and others in the world but can be a drivers of development, poverty reduction, growth in infrastructure and address social issues such as gender inequality and youth unemployment.

Significant forces of change were identified as smallholder farmers and the private sector, while greater coordination within and beyond the continent, and between sectors, and “scaling, amplifying and transferring” of successes in a way that reflects regional differences were seen to be key to the transformation of the sector.

Some of the challenges Africa faces were, in this meeting, seen also as opportunities. For example, rapid urbanisation and shifting diets mean increased demand for food, and some 60% of the continent’s food needs arise from people in urban centres, but this is also an opportunity to build better urban to rural links and food supply chains, benefiting those in towns and cities but bringing much needed investment capital to rural areas.

Several countries are already seeing significant growth in the agricultural sector, driving reductions in hunger. While engagement of the private sector is seen as a key part of this growth, visionary and determined leadership is driving this process, and good governance and a strong enabling environment developed through the public sector were identified as being needed to “resolve bottlenecks, maintain momentum and optimise for the greatest benefit to all layers in the economy and society”. Governments’ actions to aid the development and transformation of the agricultural sector include incentivising investment, providing regulation, coordinating across sectors and providing safety nets for the most vulnerable. [Read more…]