Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Why investing in smallholders? a review of FAO recent report by the high level panel of experts on food security and nutrition

It was just a very decent and modest facebook post by FAO that triggered my interest : it was announcing an other report on smallholder agriculture. I clicked the link and discovered one of these reports that proofs that the world has changed. I just had a breathtaking read of what at first sight might look like a boring report.

download your own copy from this FAO website.

We know a lot about why smallholders are poor, why they are important, why they don't have access to markets and so on... we know all the pieces of the puzzle. But this FAO report, is the first of his kind that put all these puzzle pieces  together to form an image. It puts all the elements we know about smallholders in perspective, offering an integral overview and finally a good base to build upon.

The first thing that stroke me, who worked on farm diversification in the Netherlands and rainwater management of smallholders in Ethiopia, is that this report finally aknowledges that smallholders can be everywhere, not just in developing countries and that farm diverstification or pluriactivity is an option for smallholders around the world as it allows to spread risk and increase resilience of the livelihood. (for examples see my phd for the Netherlands or this post for an example in Ethiopia).

The second thing that makes me extremly happy, it that finally we have the recognition from the highest level that the time for context specific solutions has come. The report emphases that smallholders are around the world are very different, facing different challenges and therefore needing different support to implement context-specific solutions.
This idea, that  was not yet so widely spread when i started my post doc some two years ago, now has made its way, as the following movie with Carlos Sere (my former big big big boss today at IFAD) suggests.

As Carlos says in the movie, time a come not for ONE green revolution in Africa, but for a mosaic of green revolutions. The FAO reports brings the necessary building blocks for this mosaic together into one document allowing finally to see the full image.

To conclude, the report is a real call to invest in smallholders. It confirms that we have sufficient knowlegde about many technologies, however our understanding on where to promote them so that they fit the context is still lacking. Time has come to focus on multi-stakeholder processes and communication tools (see an example of this here) for which scientific (and often top-down) knowledge and local bottom up knowledge have equal importance and where the space is created to negociate solutions that match the needs and the context of the smallholders, whereever they are.

I hope that i will have the time in the up-coming weeks, to discuss in more detail specific aspects  of this FAO report. You will find those under the label FAO smallholder report.

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