Transforming the agrifood industry to develop rural livelihoods

by Laura Pereira

The global food system is facing unprecedented pressure from global change processes. These pressures are exacerbated by multiple transformations in the food system through the expansion of agrifood corporations that are consolidating their power in the global food chain: in their control over the technology of production, the distribution of food commodities, their procurement policies and marketing techniques. In this paper, I discuss how these wider trends can and need to be harnessed in order to build more adaptive rural communities that are therefore more resilient to the global change processes that have a negative impact on their livelihoods. With this in mind, there is a delicate balance to be struck between the profit-making objectives of the private sector and an agenda for developing viable rural livelihoods. I argue that both of these objectives can be met if all parties have an active and equal role in shaping the governance of the food system. However this can be criticised as a utopian view that does not take into account power dynamics and that will be difficult to implement in practice since it would require the full buy-in and co-operation from all stakeholders. Bearing this critique in mind, I put forward an argument for including the private sector in the rural development agenda and I present empirical evidence that some of these companies are willing to engage with local capacity development around the food system and that this is indeed mutually beneficial for all parties concerned. There is definite scope for a critical examination of the relationships that form from such projects and there will be a need to consider the power dynamics, underlying agendas and other system-distorting mechanisms that are at play when such relationships are built, but that is beyond the scope of this preliminary paper.

The question discussed in this paper is how African farming systems should respond to these new trends in the global food system and if so, how can policy help small-scale farmers to start engaging with the agrifood industry. The main premise of this paper is that in order for development and food security needs to be met in sub-Saharan Africa, there needs to be a transformation in the way that the private sector engages with small-scale farmers: by creating markets that these farmers can sell into rather than dictating to farmers how they need to farm in order to sell to these markets. This paper therefore sets the stage for a greater discussion on how to navigate this transformation, which will undoubtedly be tricky and will form the basis of subsequent work in this field.

File: Pereira, Transforming the agrifood industry to develop rural livelihoods.pdf