BBC World Debate: Failing the Farmer?

Small farmers produce the majority of all the food we consume wherever we are in this world Butin the rich countries and the poorer countries, in the developed world and the developing world, in the north and the south smallholder farmers are leaving the land. Our food is increasingly being produced by big business. As long as there is food for you and me to buy does it matter? A growing body of expert opinions says yes it does.

Studies show that in poorer countries the tens of millions of small farms are a win win for economic growth and poverty reduction. They are more efficient than large farms. They keep large numbers of people in paidproductive work and they ensure secure supplies of food. So if small farms are so important why is their very existence under threat? Why should we care about failing the farmer? Well we’ve brought together an international panel of farmers representatives, from government, from tradebodies, scientists, business, non governmental organisations and donor agencies to discuss whether we are failing the farmer.

Let’s hear from three smallholder farmers for whom farming is their way of life that’s under threat.Paul Nicholson, you’re a farmer from the Basque region in Northern Spain, you speak for the international peasant movement which is La Via Campesina. Why should we be caring about the small farmer?

First of all more than half of the world’s population are farmers, peasants or fisher folk. And we are the mainstay of local economy. We maintain not only local economy but the local cultures, the bio diversity.We are the stewards of nature in that sense, we maintain er a clear water.

And the crisis of family farmers all over the world north and south means that there is not only a big impoverishment of rural areas but also er it drives an immigration from rural areas to urban areas and er it isgenerating a huge hunger for the first time in history hunger’s basically rural.Well let’s move to Africa, to Nigeria, Er Doctor Olaseinde Arigbede. You’re from Nigeria, you’reboth a medical doctor and a farmer. You’ve got 25 hectares for maize, for yams, er for cassava and other vegetables.

Er represent the union of small and medium scale farmers there. What is the condition, what isthe state of health of smallholder farming in Nigeria? Well I’m glad you called it state of health and not just thinking about sustainability which has been abused so far, but state of health is very important. Now a nation, a nation requires people to work to feed it. It is the small-scale farmers who have fed our nations for ages. And these smallscale farmers have so many obstacles placed on their heads, on their shoulders, on their backs.

Governments disappoint them, they’re unfaithful to them, they neglect them, they deny their rights for support, because thosewho produce for a nation have a right to state support, they’re denied this right. At the international level good lord, all global bodies are ganged up against the small farmers. Why the hell are wefighting WTO, why are we fighting IMAF and all that? They are putting pressure on this farmer and claiming that this farmer is an anachronism which must disappear.Well let’s hear from Asia, from Esther Penunia. You’re from the Philippines. How important is thesmall farmer right across Asia?