Agriculture: Can we make it more sustainable…and create a sea of change amongst farmers?

by Willem Bettink

This morning I joined a thematic session of the Farmers' Forum at IFAD. It discussed the merits of sustainable agriculture and looked for practises that can/should be scaled- up. Farmer organizations have no problem in embracing sustainable agriculture, but as one participant said "for a farmer to take- up/follow these practices, what matters are the benefits –an increase in income.  They are far less convinced to do so if they benefit climate change."

Segments of the discussion focussed on good practices that promote sharing of know how and transfer of practices and technologies. Many examples were given of peer-to-peer mechanism such as farmer field schools; all agree that this is the way to go. A farmer-to farmer approach implemented successfully by WFO in Zambia is now being spread to other African countries. Notwithstanding these good approaches it id felt that much more can and needs be done: IFAD should increase its support for capacity building of technicians and famers through its investment programmes in the countries where it operates.

From training and technology the discussion moved on to look into the benefits of organic agriculture. Examples were shared by IFOAM about the impact organic agriculture can have on productivity – up to 100% improvement in yields by integrating sustainable practices into their farming. Can we scale these practices up and spread them across countries?

Farmer organizations expressed the need to be more involved early on in consultation processes between IFAD and governments. With all the good practices that are available there is often not a good enabling policy framework that promotes and incentivises sustainable agriculture amongst small farmers.
I came away of this session with a mixed feeling; there are sustainable agricultural practices that have proven to work and benefit famer s; we do not hear (know…) of success of transformational levels in agriculture in any particular country. Thus “What is it that we are not doing right to achieve more strategic and sea changing results?”….hopefully the panels over the coming days can help me out ….