Key Agricultural Development Debates

ID-100214047In conjunction with World Food Day last week, the International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED), Overseas Development Institute (ODI), and Institute of Development Studies (IDS) launched a series of seven papers investigating the key agricultural development debates surrounding sub-Saharan Africa.

For many years the importance of agricultural development for poverty and hunger eradication was a key issue to be argued, debated and championed but more recently this message has been largely accepted with agriculture becoming a central theme on African and international development agendas. As World Food Day showed there is general agreement that smallholder and family farms play a critical role in providing food security, livelihoods, environmental protection and rural development.

Although investing in agricultural development, and smallholders specifically, is widely believed to help tackle poverty and hunger, the way of going about this is much contested, and debates over the right policies, technologies and investments are ongoing. It is these debates that these seven papers, the first of twelve, have explored, in particular looking at how such debates have changed since 2001 and the release of an issue of Development Policy Review entitled “Rethinking rural development“. This issue suggested that the role of agriculture in driving development and economic growth was diminishing with more people leaving the sector to pursue other jobs.

Today agriculture is largely seen as both critical to a country’s economic transition and, because the sector employs millions of people and families, as a route to improving the livelihoods of people around the world. Perhaps this is because the way agriculture is viewed has changed – within agricultural development spheres discourse is as often as not full of ideas such as market development, value chains, public-private partnership and enterprise. Agriculture in developing countries is being viewed as a business with risks but also with many opportunities. Recent rises in food prices, liberalisation of markets, the rise of regional trade and economic partnerships in Africa, and new African institutions such as the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) have opened the door for agriculture-led development and private investment.

Whether these developments will ultimately be good or bad for African development divides opinion. Do market-led approaches marginalise subsistence farmers, increasing their vulnerability to poverty? Will small-scale farmers ultimately have to leave farming as commercial farms capitalise on market opportunities? How much control over the development of farms and agriculture should individual farmers have? The seven papers presented aim to ignite debate on how African agriculture is changing and shed light on the way forward. The topics of these papers ranges from the changing African economic, political and social landscapes and its impact on food systems; the types of investment most appropriate for smallholder farmers, given their heterogeneity; economic diversification and the link between urban and rural economies; the potential of input subsidy programmes; and the role of ICTs.

Here we suggest some key agricultural debates currently taking place but we’d love to hear from you as to what you think the most important debates are in African agricultural development, and how you think resolution can be found. [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.

Two billion people suffering from hidden hunger according to 2014 Global Hunger Index, even as levels of hunger in many developing countries decrease, IFPRI

The Pig Pledge, Farms not Factories

Countries agree on key policy commitments to fight malnutrition globally, FAO

Conservation agriculture and ecosystem services: An overview, Palm et al

GeneWatch UK PR: Second-generation GM crops: an environmental disaster, GeneWatch

Building a bridge from basic botany to applied agriculture, Eurek Alert

EU makes public its wish list for under-fire U.S. trade deal, Reuters

Grand Challenge: Putting Women and Girls at the Center of Development, Impatient Optimists

Participatory Land Use Planning to Support Tanzanian Farmer and Pastoralist Investment: Experiences from Mbarali District, Mbeya Region, Tanzania, EcoAgriculture Partners

Food security successes earn World Food Prize, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Sowing the seeds of stable agriculture, SciDev.Net

Thomson Reuters Foundation and FAO launch global food security news platform, FAO

Food labels can reduce livestock environmental impacts, Eurek Alert

GMO The Truth with Vandana Shiva and Deepak Chopra, YouTube [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.

Tropical forests illegally destroyed for commercial agriculture, The Guardian

FAO food price index drops to four-year low, FAO

Rise in greenhouse-gas concentrations continues at alarming rate, Nature

How will the new EU team line up on GMOs, TTIP and energy?, Ecologist

Agricultural revolution in Africa could increase global carbon emissions, Purdue University

Demand for agricultural products drives ‘shock’ tree loss in tropical forests, BBC

Women are much more powerful in agriculture than you might think, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Plant diversity in China vital for global food security, University of Birmingham

Amazon deforestation jumps 29%, The Guardian

Report: A new approach to governing GM crops? Lessons from Brazil, Mexico and India, University of Durham

Harmonizing crop trait data: Crop Ontology, Bioversity International

Corporate influence through the G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in Africa, Wolfgang Obenland

Field trial of Xanthomonas wilt disease-resistant bananas in East Africa, Nature [Read more…]

Regional free trade agreements: secrecy, safety and sovereignty

ID-100223935New global trade deals are currently being negotiated, in part arising from the failings of the World Trade Organisation’s Doha Round. Proposals include the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). There are, however, many questions on what these agreements will include and what they will mean for those excluded, particularly poorer, developing countries.

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a proposed free trade agreement between the European Union and the United States that could be finalised by the end of 2014. On the one hand such an agreement could boost multilateral economic growth while on the other it could increase corporate power perhaps at the expense of public benefit.

Although the EU released a document in July entitled, State of Play of TTIP negotiations ahead of the 6th round of the negotiations, the content of negotiations has been criticised as being opaque and shrouded in secrecy. Governments involved have stated they will not publish draft text. A recent factsheet released by the Office of the US Trade Representative, laid out the US’s objectives with regard to the TTIP, largely revolving around increasing market access, mainstreaming regulations and standards and removing non-tariff trade barriers, for example:

“We seek to eliminate all tariffs and other duties and charges on trade in agricultural, industrial and consumer products between the United States and the EU, with substantial duty elimination on entry into force of the agreement, transition periods where necessary for sensitive products, and appropriate safeguard mechanisms to be applied if and where necessary.”

“We seek to ensure that U.S. investors receive treatment as favorable as that accorded to EU investors or other foreign investors in the EU, and seek to reduce or eliminate artificial or trade-distorting barriers to the establishment and operation of U.S. investment in the EU.”

The TTIP will have impacts across a range of sectors such as energy, agriculture and environment, as well as different rights relating to, for example intellectual property and labour. John Hilary, Executive Director of War on Want, explains what the TTIP is and why it is potentially damaging in this booklet. On the issue of food safety, in aiming to create a framework that allows freer trade, both the US and EU may have to reduce current restrictions. In the EU’s case this may be in relaxing standards on genetically modified organisms, on banned veterinary growth hormones or on other meat and poultry products. For the US, this may mean removing limits on European imported beef in response to Mad Cow Disease. Reluctances to lower food standards, in particular on hormone beef and GM, could in fact threaten the TTIP but if not, many fear countries and its citizens will lose control over what can be grown, how food is produced and how safe it is. Other areas of contention could include the EU’s desire to protect Geographical Indications, foods such as Parma ham or Roquefort cheese, to prevent usage by other producers and differing approaches to agri-environment schemes.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy also released a report documenting the “Promises and Perils of the TTIP”. Controversial criticisms of the TTIP include the threat it poses to the UK’s National Health Service and the so-called investor-state dispute settlement, which could allow corporations to sue governments outside of domestic courts. Such a mechanism in other trade agreements has allowed, for example, mining companies to sue governments trying to keep them out of protected areas and banks to fight against national financial regulations, as George Monbiot explains in The Guardian.

As more details of the TTIP are coming to light, many of the benefits of such a partnership are being questioned while the risks are seemingly very real. In particular the secrecy of negotiations and large role played by corporations in these negotiations is of concern. The potential risks most talked about are in the EU and US themselves with little said about the broader impacts. The German aid organisation Brot für die Welt, however, warns against an EU-US free trade agreement saying it “will undermine local support for smallholders in developing countries and exacerbate the global food crisis” while others believe the TTIP will do little for environmental sustainability and other global challenges.

Trans-Pacific Partnership

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is also a free trade agreement currently being negotiated and will cover twelve countries in the Asia-Pacific region: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. Negotiations for what could be the largest regional free trade agreement in history have been ongoing since 2005, and although expected to be concluded in 2012, disagreement around issues such as agriculture, intellectual property, and services and investments have delayed the process. [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.

G8 and FAO’s open-agriculture projects set to join forces, SciDev.Net

Agriculture: Engage farmers in research, Nature

Can you be resilient on one acre or less?, IFPRI 2020 Policy Consultation and Conference

Center for Food Safety Report Warns TTIP Could Undermine Critical Food Safety and Environmental Regulations, Center for Food Safety

A bigger rice bowl, The Economist

Miracle grow: Indian rice farmer uses controversial method for record crop, The Guardian

AGRA-backed companies become largest seed producers in sub-Saharan Africa, Thomson Reuters Foundation

The Birth of the Great GMO Debate, Scientific American

Sacrificing Africa for Climate Change, The Wall Street Journal [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.

Steady increase in incidents of low levels of GM crops in traded food and feed, FAO

Victoria Seeds: Changing lives through wealth creation, Josephine Okot

The End of the ‘Developing World’, The New York Times

Book review: ‘The Meat Racket’ by Christopher Leonard, The Washington Post

GM Crops Lead to Increase in Trade Disruptions – UN Report, Sustainable Pulse

How the global banana industry is killing the world’s favourite fruit, Quartz

Agroforestry can ensure food security and mitigate the effects of climate change in Africa, EurekAlert

What can would-be African lions learn from the Asian tigers? It’s all about how urban elites see farmers, according to ODI, Duncan Green, Oxfam

Fertilizer in small doses yields higher returns for less money, Phys.org

Storm brewing over WHO sugar proposal, Nature

Food system that fails poor countries needs urgent reform, says UN expert, The Guardian

UN expert calls for bridging gap between urban consumers and local food producers, UN

Food Tank By The Numbers: Family Farming, Food Tank

The Power of Household Consumption and Expenditure Surveys (HCES) to Inform Evidence-Based Nutrition Interventions and Policies, USAID

Delivering food security through international trade

ID-10035220When discussing global food security, the issues of access and availability commonly come up.  As One Billion Hungry examines, we currently produce enough food to feed the world, although demand is rapidly outpacing supply as populations and incomes rise and as the impacts of climate change escalate, and yet almost 900 million people do not get enough food to eat. Increasing food production, while critical, is unlikely to solve hunger and malnutrition alone. A new report by the Global Harvest Initiative highlights the importance of trade to food security, examining how our global trade systems can and must change to serve the whole of the population.

Coming at a particularly relevant time, following the success of the Bali trade talks and with negotiations for several bilateral trade agreements underway, the report, International Trade and Agriculture: Supporting Value Chains to Deliver Development and Food Security, was developed by GHI in collaboration with trade experts from the New Markets Lab, TransFarm Africa, and the International Food & Agricultural Trade Policy Council.

Given increasing globalisation, global trade and markets are becoming more important in the decisions of individual farmers. For farmers to invest in their farming enterprises, an end market must be available to them. This means that international trade decisions made in far off countries are having more of an impact on farmers on the ground. The report urges an holistic and integrated approach to trade with the aim of developing effective in-country enabling environments and efficient and fair value chains.

Specifically the report highlights the following actions needed:

  • Consistent, transparent, and science-based frameworks for regulating food safety, along with reliable processes for administering sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) rules, are critical to value chain development and increased agricultural trade;
  • Legal and regulatory issues play a significant role at all stages in value chain development – including inputs, production, processing, transport, and end markets – and many of these issues are covered by trade rules and disciplines;
  • Trade policy instruments can help foster the development of reliable systems for moving goods – including food, inputs, and equipment – and services through necessary legal and policy infrastructure and appropriate trade facilitation interventions;
  • A stronger focus on services will be increasingly important to agricultural trade, with laws and regulations needed that can support open systems for transport and distribution services; financial services; and wholesale, retail, franchising, and other services;
  • In places like sub-Saharan Africa where so many markets are small and landlocked, regional integration and harmonization of laws and regulations will be critical to agricultural growth, and particular focus should be placed on how laws and regulations are being implemented in practice;
  • Adequate and equitable intellectual rights protection is becoming increasingly important as technology, information sharing, and communication play an even larger role in value chain development;
  • With agricultural markets becoming more and more global, inward-looking policies – including forced localization – will need to be handled carefully so that they do not pose a threat to agricultural development and food security; and
  • There is a widespread need for commercially-focused capacity building designed to facilitate market development and generate regulatory reform in the agricultural sector.

Undertaking these actions should be the responsibility of the World Trade Organisation and a variety of international trade partnerships. The report clearly shows the need for innovation in trade and for greater transparency, in part to help uncover the potential for trade to actually help develop markets. As GHI state “Trade can and should impact individuals positively, add value economy-wide, and deliver broader food security and development benefits.”

While the report highlights the potential of trade to open up opportunities for farmers there is little mention of the need to protect farmers from the impacts of liberalisation, particularly where markets are mostly informal. Aiding small-scale farmers to meet the requirements of global markets in cost-effective ways must surely go alongside the increasing reach of international trade?