If the opening day of the Farmers’ Forum was all about the big picture, today was about getting down to business. The agenda featured a series of discussions and reports by nine working groups composed of delegates from dozens of smallholder farmers’ and fishers’ networks, as well as IFAD staff.
Actually, the forum had two full sets of working groups. Five regional groups focused on operational partnerships between IFAD and organizations of small-scale producers in different parts of the world. Another four thematic groups drilled down on critical issues, including sustainable agriculture and fisheries, the viability of producers’ organizations, and the role of smallholders in the upcoming Rio+20 climate conference.
Both sets of working groups reported their findings and recommendations at the day’s two plenary sessions. By the time the sun set, the results had been synthesized into a draft outcome document for submission to the annual meeting of IFAD’s Governing Council. The GC, which convenes tomorrow, brings together representatives of the UN member states that fund IFAD. It will meet in a large tent that workers have erected in the IFAD parking lot, and many of the Farmers’ Forum delegates will stay on as observers.
Smallholders in the spotlight
Today, however, farmers and fishers themselves were at centre stage. At one of the plenaries, Farmers’ Forum Steering Committee member Alessandra Da Costa Lunes highlighted their urgent need for more equitable development policies. She was talking about Latin America and the Caribbean, but her comments resonated far beyond that region.
Family farmers on the whole have not benefited sufficiently from broader economic growth, said Da Costa. In fact, they often suffer as a result of policies that degrade natural resources in the name of promoting industry and agribusiness.
Despite the tremendous social capital of rural populations, she added, “economic development at all costs” is taking a heavy human and environmental toll.
For a relative newcomer – I’ve been on staff at IFAD for less than two months – such observations provide a fresh perspective on agriculture, poverty and the environment. From this literally ground-level point of view, you quickly realize that 500 million smallholder farmers already produce 80 per cent of the food consumed in the developing world. It’s plain to see that they must play a central role in ensuring food security for a growing global population as the human race adapts to climate change.
Strengthening producers’ organizations
The importance of smallholder producers’ organizations is the main point emphasized in the Farmers’ Forum draft recommendations to the GC. Most of the recommendations involve strengthening grassroots farmers’ and fishers’ ability to influence policies that directly affect rural lives and livelihoods.
Among other points, the draft urges IFAD to:
- Build the capacities of small-scale producers’ networks
- Involve these networks in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of country programmes and projects
- Advocate for programmes to train rural young people in sustainable agricultural technologies
- Work with governments to adopt and implement FAO’s recently issued voluntary guidelines on responsible governance of land tenure and fisheries
- Support the participation of smallholders’ organizations in Rio+20.
“All of these issues are legit,” said IFAD’s Associate Vice President for Programmes, Kevin Cleaver, speaking at one of today’s plenaries. “IFAD is committed to pushing this agenda.”