Environmentally Sustainable Smallholder Agriculture is Possible #IFADGC

By Jeffrey A Brez

The IFAD Governing Council began this morning with Rwandan president Paul Kagame telling us that environmentally sustainable smallholder agriculture is possible. IFAD president Kanayo Nwanze then reminded us in his Statement that environmental degradation and climate change are damaging smallholder farming systems.

With that challenge laid out before them, IFAD’s governors and other guests were ready to engage in a discussion on how smallholders can "Feed the World, Protect the Planet" (09:45-11:45), led by 5 expert panellists (see programme), and joined by viewers via the live webcast and social media channels (I also tweeted live from @jeffbrez).

The panellists gave excellent examples of sustainable approaches that are working, and in many cases being scaled up. Pamela Anderson of the CGIAR-affiliated International Potato Center explained how a new multi-functional smallholder agriculture provides a range of livelihood opportunities within households and communities, giving smallholders a “portfolio” of income opportunities, and spreading their risk. Nivedita Banerji of NGO Samaj Pragati Sahayog provided excellent examples of government incentives for smallholders to invest in durable assets and manage sustainable use of acquifers through mapping. Andre Leu of IFOAM explained how smallholders are the centrepiece of IFOAM’s policies on agricultural intensification through “eco-functionality” – where eco-processes are used to increase yields.

Bruce NcNamer of TechnoServe focussed on the imperative of creating business opportunities with smallholders through market systems and value chains that work, on top of which environmental sustainability should be “overlayed.” It was stressed that there are many steps in the value chain where sustainability needs to be injected with a big role for smallholders. Esther Penunia of the Asian Farmers' Association for Sustainable Rural Development described successes in the Philippines agrarian reform program that empowers smallholder communities to manage their natural resources for present and future generations.

There appear to be millions of healthy green shoots of approaches and technologies, virtual shelves stacked with sacks of potent fertilizing government policies, heady flows of energetic ideas on empowering women and farmers’ organizations and incentivizing youth to stay in or return to rural areas. The private sector appears poised to invest in relationships with smallholders. But where in all of this is our next green revolution – the sustainable one that will feed the world (9 billion people by 2050!) and protect the planet?

The comprehensive change of mindsets needed to open the floodgates so that all boats will be raised up through a concerted global upscaling effort remains elusive. A lot has changed and more ears are open than ever. We’re making progress, but there is still work to be done. Join us via the webcast today and tomorrow (including side events that you can watch here) and help us to increase the momentum we are building towards enabling poor rural people to escape from and remain out of poverty through more productive and resilient livelihoods and ecosystems. Rio is just around the corner.

(double check times and programme schedule here).

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