Why the G20 must urgently scale up investment in small farms

Monday, June 20, 2011 - 14:01

Hunger is a man-made problem - literally. Over the past three decades, governments in low-income countries and donors alike have ignored the valuable role of women farmers and instead rely on large scale agri-businesses to feed their people. This isn’t working.

Decades of perverse policies that put all hope in the free-market and ignore the role of smallholder farmers has left close to a billion people chronically malnourished.

Soil degradation, climate change and loss of biodiversity has made the job of farmers tougher than ever, with climate change alone predicted to reduce yields in Africa by up to 50 per cent.

Women farmers hold the key to food security

Smallholder farmers in low-income countries, the majority of whom are women, produce almost half the world's food, but have been systematically ignored.

As a result, close to three quarters of those going hungry in the world are actually smallholder farmers and rural landless people.

But a growing body of research shows investment in agriculture makes twice the impact on poverty as growth in other sectors and an African woman with the same access to land and inputs, produces 20 percent more food than their male counterparts.

In fact, countries that have invested in smallholder farmers have witnessed amazing results. When Malawi bucked the trend and started to invest in its agricultural sector, it managed to cut the number of its people requiring food aid from 4.5 million in 2004 to less than 150,000 by 2009.

Yet despite this growing body of evidence, aid programs continue to ignore the needs of women smallholder farmers.

The global tide is shifting, but not fast enough

Faced with increasing rates of hunger, governments in low-income countries and aid donors alike are beginning to recognise the failures of the current model and are starting to re-invest in agriculture.

However, investment by governments and aid donors has still not reached the levels needed to tackle hunger, and often overlooks smallholder farmers and the needs of women.

The G20 has a role to play

The world must change the way it deals with food crisis.  We must move away from an ‘emergency appeal’ based system, whereby people have to wait until they are starving before they receive food aid and instead invest in preventive measures such as regional food reserves that will save lives before communities reach tipping point. 

G20 nations must take coordinated action against another global food crisis, because it is their countries that possess most of the global food reserves as well as host the largest commodity exchanges in the world.  This means the decisions they make on agriculture play a huge role in setting global food prices.