Support smallholder farmers and sustainable agriculture, G20 told

G20 Agriculture Ministers met for the first time on 22-23 June 2011. The G20 is a grouping of major advanced and emerging economies, which was set up to address global economic issues. The Agriculture Ministers discussed key issues affecting global food security, such as commodity price volatility and financial speculation, and a global action plan against food crises.

On the eve of the meeting, the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), called on the G20 to place smallholder farmers, who make up the vast majority of food producers across the world, particularly in developing countries, at the top of their agenda (Item 1). Smallholder farmers are the key to ensuring overcoming hunger and poverty, mitigating climate change, achieving energy security and protecting the environment in rural areas, IFAD said.

However, as highlighted by the UN Special Rapportuer on the Right to Food, governments, in focusing their efforts solely on increasing agricultural production by industrial methods alone, have failed to address food security issues, thus condemning small farmers, the primary victims of hunger, to poverty (Item 2). He set out five priorities for the G20, among which was the need to support the provision of public goods such as extension services and rural infrastructure to enhance the productivity of small farmers in developing countries. He also stressed the importance of helping small producers organize themselves into cooperatives and unions in order to strengthen their positions in food chains and to collaborate with governments in designing programs that are supposed to benefit them.

In a new report, “Food for thought: How the G20 can help prevent a new food crisis”, Action Aid also called for the G20 to increase investment in sustainable agriculture, in particular to ensure sufficient investment in smallholders and women farmers, as well as to support robust food reserve systems that ensure food security, support smallholders, and help manage price stability. The report, which contains many other recommendations, can be downloaded at

With best wishes,

Lim Li Ching
Third World Network
131 Jalan Macalister
10400 Penang

Item 1

Food prices linked to smallholder productivity

Neglect of smallholder farmers will compound food insecurity and food price volatility: IFAD President challenges G20 agriculture ministers

Rome, 21 June 2011 – Kanayo F. Nwanze, President of the United Nation’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), will urge ministers to place smallholder farmers on top of their agenda during the upcoming first meeting of the G20 Agriculture Ministers, on 22–23 June in Paris. Nwanze, who is attending the meeting, will take critical messages to the ministers.

Advocating on behalf of smallholder farmers in developing countries and ensuring their interests are represented in the international arena, the president of IFAD said: “In economically troubling times it might seem prudent to cut back investments on agriculture, but this is a false economy. Cutting back now means losing much in the long run.”

The issue of rising food prices is a particular challenge for those on low incomes who are net food buyers — including poor urban dwellers and rural people. As a result, their food and nutrition security suffers when prices surge, especially when they do so unexpectedly. Women and children in rural households typically suffer the most.

“The smallholder and family farmer are the vast majority of food producers across the world, particularly in developing countries,” Nwanze said prior to leaving for Paris. “And while they feel the impact of these challenges the most, we must not forget that they are the main investors in agriculture. And they are the main producers of food consumed in developing countries.”

“When people cannot afford to eat because they cannot make a decent living, they become desperate, which led to riots during the 2008 food crisis,” Nwanze emphasized. “The current food price increase has pushed an estimated 44 million people into poverty creating once again a volatile mix. During the last price increase, when smallholders were assisted in accessing markets for finance, seeds and fertilizers, they were able to benefit from higher prices and both poor producers and consumers were better off.” 

France holds the presidency of the G20, which consists of the largest economies in the world. In Paris, G20 agriculture ministers are tasked with developing an action plan to address price volatility in food and agricultural markets and its impact on the poor. Numerous studies show that GDP growth generated by agriculture is more than twice as effective in reducing poverty as growth in other sectors.

Nwanze will tell the ministers that the G20 has a comparative advantage in promoting the sharing of experiences of countries that have made significant progress in boosting agricultural supply and creating an enabling environment for investment in agriculture, such as the experiences of Brazil and China. In addition, the G20 can strengthen policy coherence and coordination, which is essential in dealing with sensitive issues in trade, biofuels and responsible investment in agriculture, he added.

“I take this message to the ministers on behalf of the smallholder farmers around the world:  The development of rural areas is central to overcoming hunger and poverty, mitigating climate change, achieving energy security and protecting the environment, and it is the smallholder farmer that holds the key. But we must seriously start investing in their potential to support them to deliver,” Nwanze said.

About IFAD

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) works with poor rural people to enable them to grow and sell more food, increase their incomes and determine the direction of their own lives. Since 1978, IFAD has invested over US$12.9 billion in grants and low-interest loans to developing countries, empowering more than 370 million people to break out of poverty. IFAD is an international financial institution and a specialized UN agency based in Rome – the United Nation’s food and agricultural hub. It is a unique partnership of 166 members from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), other developing countries and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Item 2

Food crises: five priorities for the G20

Op-Ed published on June 16, 2011 in The Guardian, by the UN Special Rapportuer on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter

In the fight to address global food crises, will the French presidency at the G20 summit succeed where others have failed? On the eve of the G20 Agriculture Summit on June 22-23, there is no doubt as to the urgency of adopting an ambitious plan of action. France has a decisive role to play with the other major economies of the planet: together, they must advance the priorities aimed at moving the food system out of its current impasse.

For it is indeed an impasse that we are facing. Starting from the misdiagnosis of attributing global hunger to a simple lack of food, governments have for years focused their efforts solely on increasing agricultural production by industrial methods alone, as a means to both feeding their growing cities and supplying international markets. This has become a quick fix to the "failure" of national production – increasing food supply has become a substitute for a real food security policy. The failure of these long advocated "solutions" is everywhere to be seen. The price spikes occur repeatedly. Environmental degradation accelerates. Rural poverty and malnutrition persist.

Let’s have the honesty to recognize where we have been wrong: hunger is neither the result of demographic problems nor just the result of a mismatch between supply and demand. It is primarily the result of political factors that condemn small farmers, the primary victims of hunger, to poverty. These factors include insufficient access to land, water and credit; poor organization of local markets; lack of infrastructure; and lack of bargaining power against intermediate and an increasingly concentrated agro-industrial sector. It will take G20 leaders courage to put the global food system back on track.

They will have to break the “myth” of hunger as being reducible to a technical issue or to a failure of current food systems to produce sufficient volumes. The French Presidency appears determined to act decisively on the issue of speculation on the agricultural commodities market. But beyond the question of speculation, the G20 members remain deeply divided over agricultural policy for the 21st century. The outcome of this debate will have real consequences for all humanity.

Five priorities may give this G20 summit a vital role in improving long-term global food security. As the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, I call upon our G20 leaders to endorse these priorities, and act upon them:

1. Regulate and make more transparent, the markets for agricultural products. The impact of financial speculation on food prices is now widely recognized, and this needs to be subject to control without delay. The United States legislated on derivatives nearly a year ago. The G20, under French presidency, could encourage other major economies to follow the same path.

2. Encourage the development of regional storage facilities. As we are faced with growing instability in production due to climate change, it is urgent to strengthen systems of storage at the regional level. Currently, in developing countries, 30% of crops - 40% of fruits and vegetables - are lost because of lack of adequate storage facilities. We may in fact move beyond storage facilities to the establishment of food reserves, not just to allow the humanitarian agencies to respond to emergencies, but also to reduce price volatility across seasons. Provided they are managed in a transparent and participatory way, food reserves may be capable of smoothing prices between periods of good harvests and low periods, characterized by rising prices. The G20 should encourage international institutions and cooperating agencies to further support these regional storage facilities.

3. Support the provision of public goods. To enhance the productivity of small farmers in developing countries, it is necessary to accelerate the provision of public goods such as agricultural extension services or construction of roads linking farmers to urban consumers. It is also crucial to help small producers organize themselves into cooperatives and unions in order to strengthen their positions in food chains and to collaborate with governments in designing programs that are supposed to benefit them.

4. Support the capacity of all countries to feed themselves by strategies based on the right to food. Since the early 1990s, the food bills of the least developed countries have increased five- or six-fold due to lack of investment in the production of food crops. The continued promotion of export agriculture has made these countries highly vulnerable to exchange rate volatility and price spikes in international markets. This trend can be reversed by the implementation of multi-year national strategies, designed to restore efficient subsistence agriculture. Where they are adopted in a participatory way, and where they include mechanisms for monitoring the commitments of governments, such national strategies can improve accountability of governments. The experience of some Latin American countries shows that such strategies focusing on the right to food may improve food security in a sustainable manner. The G20 should reiterate this message and recognize the importance of institutional frameworks and adequate governance in any strategy for food security.

5. Strengthen global food security governance. The Committee on World Food Security (CFS) has been reformed in the wake of the 2007-2008 food crisis to strengthen cooperation and coordination between States and international agencies. CFS is now the only forum linking governments, international institutions and civil society in improving food security policies. The G20 should affirm its support for this important step towards better coordination of efforts at international level. It is no longer acceptable that policies in trade or international investment policies, for example, contradict rural development programs in the field that are aimed at improving the situation of poor farmers.

Hunger is not a natural disaster - it is, rather, a political problem. And that is precisely why this scandal must and can be stopped. Today, France, together with its G20 partners, has the unique opportunity of contributing decisively to this end, and I am confident it will do so.