‘Small farmers can be a driving force in cutting hunger and poverty worldwide’ was a key message to G8 leaders from development specialists at The Future of Small Farms research workshop held in Wye in June 2005. Participants at the workshop, jointly organised by IFPRI, ODI and Imperial College London, concluded that investment in small farm agriculture could help to raise the rural poor out of poverty and catalyse wider economic growth.
However, the challenges small farmers in developing countries face include globalisation – especially the dramatic rise of supermarkets even in poor countries – low world market prices for major agricultural commodities and the expected negative impact of climate change. In Africa, these challenges are compounded by the spread of HIV/AIDS. In addition poor farmers are widely dispersed and have no effective political voice so are usually economically neglected.
But we should not give up on this task according to Dr Peter Hazell, Director of the Development Strategy and Governance Division of IFPRI and workshop organiser. Possibilities for alternative livelihoods within the non-farm sector do not look optimistic for the next decade or so and there are plenty of good investment opportunities within small farms which are good for both growth and poverty reduction.
The workshop participants agreed that:
- Public investment in rural infrastructure, agricultural research and support services is needed to unleash the inherent power of small farmers.
- In many African countries such investment is contrained by the capacity and quality of state institutions through which it would be channelled. These institutions have to be reformed to increase their accountability to farmers organisations and the private sector.
- Donors must think carefully how aid can be used to encourage such reform programmes. The danger is that large increases in aid could remove incentives for recipient governments to undertake real reform.
- The role of the state in providing key support to small farmers needs to be redefined. Structural adjustment programmes have led to state withdrawal from ensuring that small farmers have fair access to high quality seeds, fertilizers, technical advice and credit and marketing services and have left a vacuum which in most poor African countries has not been filled by the private sector. The state should perform a proactive role in collaboration with farmer organisations and private sector to ‘kick-start’ the markets and increase private sector involvement.