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By Kanayo F. Nwanze (this blogpost was originally posted on the World Economic Forum blog)

What do the heads of multibillion-dollar companies and those working in development have in common with millions of small farmers? They all know that agriculture can transform economies and lives, allowing people to move out of poverty.

Nearly one billion people go hungry every day. Most live in the rural areas of developing countries. With food prices once again soaring, clearly more needs to be done so that all people have enough to eat. But if we focus only on feeding people today, we will be doing nothing to prevent hunger in the future. 

We must create the conditions for poor rural people to move permanently out of subsistence and into the marketplace.  GDP growth generated by agriculture is at least twice as effective in reducing poverty as growth in other sectors. And experience repeatedly shows – in China, Ghana, Viet Nam and elsewhere – that smallholders can lead agricultural growth.   

The New Vision for Agriculture, to be unveiled this week in Davos, recognizes the fundamental role of smallholders as business partners in feeding the world, protecting our planet and creating prosperity.
Ensuring global food security will require the collective will to create an enabling environment for smallholders,  while addressing the weaknesses in global food and agricultural markets. Only then will we be able to create a business-oriented agriculture sector in developing countries and, in so doing, sow the seeds for a more nutritionally secure world. I am looking forward to the discussions in Davos and hope that this year’s meeting will spur leaders not just to listen and debate, but to take action.

For the most up-to-date, comprehensive assessment of rural poverty, see IFAD’s Rural Poverty Report 2011.

The climate change breakout session of the Conference on New Directions for Smallholder Agriculture was based on (Director of IIED) Camilla Toulmin’s  paper “Prospering Despite Climate Change.”   I’ll use the sum-up by the session chair, IFAD’s Director of Environment and Climate, Elwyn Grainger-Jones, to run through the key points.

  • We are seeing impacts today, and urgency for action is growing: current science and emissions reductions commitments are taking us to a 4 degree Celsius average global temperature increase – with extremes of up to 10 degrees Celsius at the N. and S. Poles.  Also, science is increasingly telling us that the speed of change is increasing.  There will be limits to adaptation: some changes will be impossible to adapt to, some may be possible but too expensive to adapt to. Adaptation is not a cure: although from a livelihoods perspective some said it should be our first concern.
  • Climate change is increasing the scale and the unpredictability of risk. Camilla Toulmin stressed, the past is no longer a good guide to the future. New risks are also appearing. Climate finance commitments need to be invested in research and technologies; info and communications tools; resource rights; bridging local and modern science; social infrastructure and learning; infrastructure like roads and storage; increasing market engagement and better governance…. to build resilience. We also need to distinguish between risk – which we can plan for – and uncertainty – which we can’t. So, spread risk, build resilience.
  • Nahu Senaye Araya, the former CEO of Nyala Insurance S.C. (Ethiopia) explained how that company is offering weather risk insurance products (based on farmer demand, including livestock and crops) to smallholder clients through associations and unions. He stressed that the unpredictability of climate made weather index-based insurance premiums (20% of insured sum) much more expensive than mixed insurance packages – health, fire, death (5% of insured sum). Can the poorest afford 20% (or 5% for that matter)? He explained that it was difficult for Nyala to get reinsurance on international markets due to lack of experience with the product and also lack of country specific knowledge and data for use by international re-insurers (what happens to payouts in bad years?). He urged the development to stop the 1-year cycle of aid provision in favour of a 3 to 5 year cycle of support, including through subsidies to bring down premiums in the short run for smallholders. View Mr. Araya’s excellent PPT presentation.
  • Francesco Tubiello of GET-Carbon reminded us that agriculture’s window of opportunity in carbon markets in closing as the Kyoto Protocol is unlikely to be extended post-2012 – and we must reach out to the negotiators to keep agriculture on the radar. They need reminding that in addition to CO2, emissions include nitrous oxide, methane, etc. not covered under market mechanisms. Given the increasing sums committed for climate change support, but the shifting allocation modalities, he suggested we need to concentrate efforts where both adaptation and mitigation can be achieved (integrated, climate-smart approaches), especially where smallholders are concerned.
  • Following on the “multiple wins imperative” Elwyn noted that – luckily – many of the sustainable intensification or eco-agriculture or landscape approaches (choose your term), such as conservation agriculture and agro-forestry, actually increase resilience and also reduce emissions as they reduce poverty and increase productivity.
  • Knowledge was a recurring theme both in terms of missing knowledge causing unpredictability and how knowledge and skills can build individual and community resilience under changing scenarios. Bioversity International’s Deputy Director General, Kwesi Atta-Krah, pointed out “the genetic resources you have today may be useful not to you, but to another country in the future” and stressed support to preserving and exchanging genetic gene pools. ICIMOD’s Dhrupad Chowdhury told us that indigenous communities in marginal and remote areas often employ the most diversified livelihood strategies and genetically robust crops - ready made for adaptation learning, and perhaps even “saleable”. The lead author of IFAD’s Rural Poverty Report 2011 added from the floor that in addition to knowledge about planting and cropping techniques, pest management or new seed technologies, smallholders should also be provided with portable, intangible knowledge and skills to help them adapt and adopt new technologies as challenges and changes arise – including displacement / migration.
 So much more was shared by the fantastic paper presenters, discussants and participants – migration issues, youth education as an investment for family-level resilience, MRV… the 2 hours went by in a flash. Do you think something important is missing from the discussion?

By Jeff Brez

IFAD's Conference on New Directions for Smallholder Agriculture brought together numerous leading development actors. One among them is Sir Gordon Conway.

Last night, I had the pleasure of listening to a presentation by Sir Gordon. What struck me was how he managed to convey complex concepts in such a natural way. And this was because he actually told us a story - another example of the power and potential of story telling. Maybe next time, anyone out there decides to do a powerpoint presentation, they can at least try and give it a nice plot and actually TELL the story, rather than reading the slides!

This morning, I decided to be bold and ask Sir Gordon whether he would agree to do a short interview. It was a privilege and an honour to have this short conversation with him.

In less than 4 minutes he:
  • shared an important piece of rural development history: the genesis of participatory rural appraisal 
  • complimented IFAD for doing analytical work which is grounded in farmer's realities and challenged us to boil down the messages of comprehensive approach to smallholder development emerging from the  Rural Poverty Report 2011 to simple messages so that the people can understand and act upon them
  • challenged IFAD to do more on climate change and to take the lead on climate change and agriculture
  • shared his optimism on future of agriculture by saying that smallholder farmers in developing countries can feed the world and ensure food security. What we need to do is to use the available the technology and link farmers with markets and the outside world

Examining Latin America at the New Directions for Smallholder Agriculture Conference
This is rural poverty in Latin America. And while its dimensions and striations, variegations, flaws, strengths and commonalities are nearly impossible to capture in a single portrait, it’s certainly worth the effort. In their recent paper Latin America: The State of Smallholders in Agriculture, agronomist Julio A. Berdegué and sociologist Ricardo Fuentealba strive to define and delineate the nuanced reality facing one important component of the 62 million rural people living in poverty in the region: agricultural smallholders. The paper presents strong arguments on the nature of rural poverty, development and family farming in the region, also revealing a series of numbers and facts on rural inequality that lead the paper’s authors to conclude that Latin America has “the most unequal rural sector in the world.”

One thing we know for sure, according to Berdegué and Fuentealba, is that the Latin America of today “is truly a very different place than one generation ago.” Since the scorched earth days of the 1980s, the region has changed the way it works and does business. Its politics and economics have turned 180 degrees – in some cases the turn has been more like 270 degrees – presenting new paradigms for industry and development, and new opportunities and challenges for the rural sector.

“The past three decades have seen the region: liberalize and open its economy, including its agricultural sector; dismantle numerous public services related to agriculture; redefine the relative roles of the state, markets and civil society in development; nurture a growing number of medium and large corporations, including multinational ones, that play a dominant role in agriculture as in other sectors of the economy; dramatically expand the provision of basic health and education services, including in rural areas; introduce television, radio and mobile phone communications to the majority of rural areas; reduce its population growth; concentrate population in urban centers, including small and medium provincial towns and cities; expand the rights and opportunities of women; reestablish democracies and strengthen the rule of law and the respect of human rights; increase the responsibilities of regional and local (municipal) governments; expand the size, voice, and contributions of organized civil society; deforest vast regions, contaminate many of its rivers and lakes, and further erode its soils, while at the same time experience an awakening of an environmental consciousness and activism on the part of growing sectors of the population.” -  Latin America: The State of Smallholders in Agriculture, Julio A. Berdegué and Ricardo Fuentealba

All in all, it looks like things should be going well for smallholders in the region. Sure, the growth in large corporations may be siphoning off some of the money that would otherwise be landing in smallholder wallets, but, with all that growth, surely the region’s smallholders would be able to capitalize somehow on three decades of growth. Unfortunately, the numbers just don’t add up.  Over the past three decades, GDP jumped by over 25 per cent in real terms in the region, yet the number of rural people living in poverty dropped by only 12 million – with a drop of 6 million in the number of people who could not meet their food needs. This means that in rural Latin America today, some 35 million people do not have enough to eat on a daily basis and 62 million people are poor.

Inequality for all
Berdegué and Fuentealba say that unequal access to wealth and land are to blame. “If adjusted by inequality, the Human Development Indexes (HDI) of 18 LAC countries, for which there is data, drop below the HDI for Africa (four countries) or Asia (11 countries),” according to the paper, citing current data from the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Report. And according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poor.

“The 20 per cent richest of the rural population earn between 10 and 50 times more than the 20 per cent poorest ranges (ECLAC, 2010); in 9 of 16 countries for which there is data, this measure of income distribution is worsening (Berdegué, 2010).”

Many of the countries have Gini coefficients of 0.5 or higher for rural income, according to the paper, confirming this to be the most unequal rural sector in the world (a Gini coefficient of ‘0’ represents complete equality, while ‘1’ represents maximum inequality). Inequality in land access is even more marked, with an overall Gini score of 0.78, compared with Africa’s 0.62.

Data from the World Bank tells us that every country in the Latin America and Caribbean region – with the exception of Haiti – falls in the middle-income category ($996 to $12,195 per year in GNI). But, as anyone who has ever spent any significant time in the countryside in Latin America knows, these national averages give a rather distorted view of the reality facing most poor rural people in the region. For example, while Mexico’s GDP per capita is US$8,920, the average income of the poorest 40 per cent of the rural population is just US$652 per year, and that of the poorest 20 per cent is US$456 per year (equivalent to the GDP per capita in United Republic of Tanzania).

Defining our target
One of the greatest achievements of the Berdegué and Fuentealba paper is a refined and multi-tiered definition for smallholder farmers in the region.

“The smallholder or family-based agriculture sector in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) is defined as a sector made up of farms that are operated by farm families, using largely their own labor. A detailed analysis of recent data for several countries allows us to approximate that there are 15 million family farms in LAC, controlling about 400 million hectares. The family farming sector can be classified in three large groups: (a) Almost 10 million subsistence farms, with 100 million hectares, where households derive a large proportion of their income from non-farm jobs, remittances and/or social subsidies; (b) an intermediate group of 4 million farms with 200 million hectares, that are integrated in agricultural markets but face significant constraints derived both from their asset endowment and from the proximate contexts in which they operate; (c) about 1 million family farms that hire some permanent labor and that manage about 100 million highly productive hectares. The performance and opportunities of these family farmers is largely determined by the characteristics of their proximate context, which is unfavorable in most cases. Recent trends of agrifood markets also create a new environment for family farming in LAC.” -  Latin America: The State of Smallholders in Agriculture, Julio A. Berdegué and Ricardo Fuentealba

And while most indicators point to rapid urbanization and increased diversification of incomes for rural people in the Latin America region, according the paper, the smallholder sector is not actually getting any smaller. In fact, in Chile, Colombia, Guatemala and Honduras more rural households are now defining themselves as “self-employed in agriculture.” The problem, say Berdegué and Fuentealba, is that we are using a set of rules and parameters designed for Asia and Africa, and trying to apply them to Latin America and the Caribbean.

“Using the definition of the smallholder sector as that comprised by farms of less than 2 hectares, Nagayets (2005) finds that there are about 5 million small farms in the Americas. This estimate, adopted by other authors (e.g., Wiggins et al., 2010; Hazell et al., 2010) as well as by IFAD in the background concept note for the conference on "New Directions for Smallholder Agriculture" [held January 24 and 25, 2010 in Rome], is patently wrong. While a limit of 2 hectares perhaps fits the distribution of landholdings in Asia, it certainly does not in LAC. Therefore, this procedure distorts our understanding of smallholder agriculture, and misguides the design of public strategies and policies, as it reduces the smallholder to a fraction of its real size, particularly if measured in terms of economic and social contributions.” -  Latin America: The State of Smallholders in Agriculture, Julio A. Berdegué and Ricardo Fuentealba

And while the reclassification of the family farming sector in Latin America and the Caribbean as outlined in the Berdegué and Fuentealba paper is far too complex to capture in a brief format, in examining the issue of farm sizes, it’s worth noting the importance of regional context. For example, in Ecuador, “a subsistence farm on the coastal plains is twice as big as one in the Andean highlands, while one in the Amazon basin is eight times larger. At the same time, a farm of 4.5 hectares in the Andes is already ‘transitional,’ while one of 25 hectares in the Amazon Basin is still in the ‘subsistence’ group.”

Also worth noting is the increased diversification of incomes in the region. According to the paper, about 65 per cent of the region’s 15 million family farms rely on non-farm incomes to keep themselves afloat. “for them, agriculture complements other activities, and remittances and cash, as well as in-kind social transfers and supports are of great importance. Still, this group owns or controls about well over 100 million hectares. Even if small, the income derived from this land is absolutely critical for their survival and to reduce their vulnerability to shocks of all kinds. Many if not most in this group would be considered poor. Yet, an agriculture-based or agriculture-led development strategy would miss the fundamentals in the case of this group.”

A second group of family farmers derive much of their livelihoods from the plow and are well integrated into agricultural markets. Yet this group of about 4 million small farms that control some 200 million hectares of farmland face significant challenges in regards to risk and assets, and would certainly not fall under the guise of the 2-hectare limit.

Supporting this second group is key to the revitalization of rural economies in the region. “The contribution that this group makes to feeding Latin America and, increasingly, other regions of the world, cannot be underestimated. Because they are deeply embedded in the local economies, their agriculture-based development has production and consumption linkages that makes them important local and regional players.”
The final group of family farmers would then be farms that fall somewhere between a traditional Mom-Pop-and-four-pups family farm and a corporate farm. These are farmers that hire labor to increase scales. They hold roughly 100 million hectares and represent 8 per cent of the smallholder sector.

The Berdegué and Fuentealba paper was presented at the New Directions for Smallholder Agriculture Conference held at the International Fund for Agricultural Development’s Rome headquarters in Rome on 24 and 25 January 2010.


Allow me start this blogpost with a personal note. When you commit to do social reporting, you need to be alert and actively follow the conversation and exchanges.  This means, no daydreaming and no way you can check your emails. You are a reporter. You need to listen, concentrate and proactively follow what is happening in the room. If the topic is one close to your heart, you have a less of a challenge, otherwise, you can easily get drained.

When I volunteered to do social reporting for launch of the FAO-IFAD-ILO publication Gender dimensions of agricultural and rural development: Differentiated pathways out of poverty, I was not too sure what to expect. While I understand and appreciate the importance of gender mainstreaming and being gender sensitive, I have to confess that I would not describe myself as a“gender diehard”.

I found  this well-attended, well-organized and substantive event quite refreshing and this was mainly because the participants and discussants while acknowledging the gender fatigue managed to move away from rhetoric and telling the same things over and over again rather highlighted the challenges facing rural men and women from a different angle. Kudos to the authors and the organizers.

“Today we’ve come together to celebrate the fruit of two years of hard work which has resulted in this evidence-based publication”, said Rosemary Varga Lundius, one of IFAD’s gender advocates. And indeed a celebration it was.

Henock Kifle, IFAD’s Chief Development Strategist, in welcoming the over 80 development practitioners and the numerous member country representatives highlighted that this joint FAO-IFAD-ILO publication and the accompanying seven policy briefs address fundamental questions such as:

  • what do we know about the gender dimensions of rural employment?
  • what are the gaps in data and research?
  • are there examples of good practice that could inform national policies?
The main purpose of this research was to gather information on:
  • the different tasks carried out by rural women and men
  • the challenges they face
  • the policy responses needed to reinforce their role in agricultural and rural development
“The research combines empirical data and good practices based on national and international experiences. The publication presents an updated analysis of development issues that are crucial for addressing rural poverty and achieving the Millennium Development Goals,” said Kifle.

The report and the accompanying seven policy briefs provide evidence that rural women have the potential to lift their households and communities out of poverty. But they are hampered by persistent gender inequities. These inequities limit their access to decent work, which they need as a vehicle for economic empowerment, social advancement and political participation.

Loretta de Luca, our ILO colleague, said the a copy of this publication should be in the offices of all member states and policy makers. I think the bigger challenge is how will they use the findings of the report and what actions will they commit to take to overcome challenges such as:
  • valuing the contribution of rural women in bringing about economic growth and reducing poverty
  • recognizing the economic role of women as farmers, wage labourers and small-scale entrepreneurs
  • recognizing women’s “hidden” economic role as caretakers of children and the elderly
Soline de Villard from FAO brilliantly described the policy briefs.  She said: “the accompanying policy briefings are grounded in rural reality. They are ‘down to rural earth.’”

I’m sure developing the policy briefs was more challenging than putting together the 210 page report. This is because practitioners have the tendency to want to cramp far too much cryptic information and fall into the trap of losing sight of their audience needs.

The policy briefs are for people who do not have time to read something cover to cover. So the challenge is to package the wealth of information in such a way that conveys the essential messages in a simple, direct and compelling manner, thus allowing the policy maker to make the right decision and act in a timely manner.

Well, the seven policy briefs not only are ‘down to rural earth’ they are informative and written in a way that clearly outline what action is needed and what policy options are required for:
  • promoting decent work that is fair to both women and men
  • investing in skills
  • promoting entrepreneurship among rural women
  • supporting agricultural value chain development
  • investing in infrastructure
  • making migration work for women and men
  • eliminating child labour
Villard in sharing the concept of ‘time poverty’ said:  “rural women work fewer hours than men in productive work, but all together they work longer hours than men - this both for domestic and productive work.”

“Rural women are relegated to under-valued and under-paid work. They do not have access to infrastructure and child care remains one of the key constraints to women proactively participating in rural labour markets”, highlighted Villard.

She also highlighted the fact that rural employment and women’s employment in particular are characterized by:

  • time constraints in domestic and productive work
  • informal, unpaid working conditions
  • risks and isolation, but women are risk averse
Talking about gender inequalities in rural employment, Villard highlighted this inequality is only partially because of difference in assets. “90% of gender wage gap remains unexplained”, said Villard. “This gap could be contributed to gender discrimination and/or risk aversion.”

This made me reflect that perhaps a challenge to achieve gender equality is for both women and men realize that inequality exists.

During the chat show, moderated by own Cristiana Sparacino - who is born chat show host and is now elevated to the ranks of Oraph Winfrey - FAO’s Eve Crowley pointed out that “to alleviate rural poverty and ensure food security, we need to dig in and understand the root causes of the 90% wage gap between women and men.”

One of the findings of the report that I personally found interesting is summarized in this graphics - namely how being female amplifies rural employment deficits.

This publications is one of the few that I’ve come across that touches upon all gender dimensions and not only women issues.  I think that is why I found it so refreshing. Villard in concluding the presentation of the main findings outlined the need for:

  • compiling sex disaggregated data
  • creating more and better jobs opportunities for rural men and women
  • eliminating child labour
  • putting in place effective policies

Talking about employment opportunities, Claudio Lenoci, ILO director for Italy reiterated that ”decent work means equal opportunity for both women and men”. FAO’s Marcella Villareal underscored the fact the without addressing gender inequalities we will not be able to achieve the targets of MDG1 and cannot effectively reduce hunger and poverty.

Crowely, echoing Villareal reminded the participants that “to reduce hunger and poverty and ensure food security, we need to power women economically, create greater autonomy for women and reduce social inequality.”

“We need to transform agriculture into a sector that not only provides employment opportunities but also provides a better livelihoods,”added Crowley.  ILO’s Loretta de Luca passionately advocated that we need to make women protagonist and made the case that investing in rural women is good business.

Let me wrap up this blogpost with one last personal reflection. We often talk about the disconnect between theory and practice. This causes some tension between the practitioner who “dirties his/her hands” and the academic who hypotheses, writes articles which are then peer reviewed and published in prestigious journals. Well, during the chat show, I saw this dynamics in action. It was interesting to see an academic such as Deepa Joshi from Wageningen University citing and quoting from books and academic materials, and Norman Messer - an on-the-ground practitioners - sharing concrete on-the-ground examples.

I was left with the question whether there was any room to bridge this gap? and wonder how big is this gap?

At the end of event, I was satisfied and happy to have spent my Friday morning attending the launch of Gender dimensions of agricultural and rural development: Differentiated pathways out of poverty. I am sure we’ll be hear more about this report. It surely has gone pretty viral on Twittersphere. A big thank you to all the wonderful people who are tweeting and retweeting about this report. And once again kudos and congratulations to FAO-IFAD-ILO colleagues!

Dom Hélder Câmara - Flexibility. Innovation. Sustainability.

Posted by Greg Benchwick Tuesday, January 18, 2011 0 comments

In 2010, the IFAD Office of Evaluation undertook an evaluation of the Dom Hélder Câmara project in Brazil. The evaluation recognised the innovative content of the project and the strong impact on the empowerment of the target group, including women and youth. In this regard, the Office of Evaluation and the Latin America and the Caribbean Division organized a joint learning event aimed at disseminating the evaluation lessons learned and stimulating discussion on relevant development themes. This short slideshow captures the lessons learned from the project evaluation.

Photos ©IFAD/Giuseppe Bizzarri

Robert Zoellick ("Free markets can still feed the world") rightly acknowledges smallholder farms as part of the solution to food security. The Rural Poverty Report 2011, issued by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), makes it clear how important they are.

In many developing countries a majority of smallholder farmers are net food buyers, and rural households make up a substantial majority of the world’s 900 million-plus hungry. Helping smallholders to increase their productivity and marketed supply is thus perhaps the most important thing that can be done to reduce the number of hungry people in the world. Yet we also know that many smallholder farmers are facing growing difficulties – soil erosion, declining soil fertility, salination of arable lands, growing scarcity of water, and increasingly volatile and uncertain weather patterns – and these are undermining agricultural production in large parts of the developing world.

So yes, we need to help smallholder farmers become a bigger part of the solution to food security, but that needs to go hand-in-hand with also helping them to farm in a way that is more sustainable in its use of the natural resource base, and more resilient to the ever-growing impacts of climate change. It's a challenge that is given added urgency by the need to feed a global population that will likely exceed 9 billion by the year 2050. The alternative is continued hunger, mass migration and a threat to the social stability of many developing countries.

Download the Rural Poverty Report 2011