The New Farm Owners
Regulation of land grabs won't help - land grab financing needs to stop.
In December 2012, I had the pleasure of delivering a keynote address at the high-level Flagship Forum, "Securing food. Harvesting the future!", organized by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), in Berlin. At this conference, representatives of governments, businesses, the research community and civil society shared their experiences in the field of food and nutrition security, contributed ideas to Germany's development policy initiatives and discussed development challenges, in particular those concerning food and nutrition security, rural development and the promotion of agriculture.
In an era of plenty, nearly one in eight people do not have enough food to eat. Another billion may have enough food but lacks the nutrition necessary for proper health and development. These failures seriously damage life chances and the prospects for their communities and economies. With the population expected to grow by 2 billion by 2050, and rising prosperity driving increased demand for food, these numbers are set to worsen sharply. These bleak figures and forecasts are reason enough for anger and action.
"Despite widespread hunger, we are continuing to expand the use of food crops and productive land for fuel."
But there are additional threats which risk making the crisis worse. Despite widespread hunger, we are continuing to expand the use of food crops and productive land for fuel – a mistake, I know, Minister Niebel believes must be corrected. We are also seeing the damaging impact of climate change, an all-encompassing threat to our stability, prosperity and quality of life. Vast areas of once-fertile land are no longer productive. Rising temperatures and changes to rainfall patterns are reducing crop yields. Severe weather events are increasing, causing loss of life and enormous physical destruction. All these problems will worsen with the poorest and most vulnerable – who have done least to cause climate change – paying the highest price.
Yet we still have failed to put in place even the global framework to allow us to slow down climate change. This failure must urgently be corrected. Let us hope the tide begins to turn with the conclusions reached in Doha. Wealthy countries have also used the global financial crisis to break promises on assistance to the poorest. Against this background, the successive increases in Germany's development budget are welcome and a trend, which, I hope, will continue. You have understood that helping nations become more prosperous and self-reliant is not just charity but in the interests of your own country and citizens.
If food and nutrition security for all is central to a better world, how can we best achieve it? It requires both a short-term and long-term approach. We have to find the will and resources to feed those who are starving now. The severe food crisis across the Horn of Africa put the lives of millions under threat. It underlined the need for better coordination of emergency food and nutrition programmes, improved early warning systems, and quicker transfers of cash and food reserves. At the same time, we need long-term solutions, including structural reforms, to make such disasters less likely.
First, there must be a major increase in investment in agriculture in developing countries. There is in fact no shortage of funding globally for agriculture but the vast majority is spent by wealthier countries protecting their own farmers. It is, however, in developing countries where the need and the potential to increase agricultural production and productivity are greatest. African countries have already responded by increasing investment in their own agricultural sector.
"There is in fact no shortage of funding globally for agriculture but the vast majority is spent by wealthier countries protecting their own farmers."
This must be matched by a major boost in development assistance from wealthier countries for agriculture and rural development. We need all countries to deliver their pledges, such as commitments made under the L'Aquila G8 initiative. The private sector must also play its part in filling the "investment gap", which must include new ways to provide smallholders with credit and financial services.
Second, we need a new emphasis on climate-resilient and climate-smart agriculture. New crops and techniques must be developed so the productivity of land and intensity of farming can be increased, without harming the environment or biodiversity on which our food security depends. Governments, research institutions, businesses and foundations must work together to find solutions aimed specifically at the challenges of farming in the developing world. Nor must we forget the important role that animal sources play in providing protein. This must include an expansion of aquaculture if achieved in a sustainable manner.
Third, food production can't be increased at the speed and scale needed without mobilizing the army of smallholder farmers. Even today, four out of five Africans depend on farming to provide for their families. This must include a new priority to help women farmers overcome the unfair barriers they face. Such support will help boost food production considerably. Concentrating on smallholder farmers is not about creating a false choice between big farms and small.
"Food production can't be increased at the speed and scale needed without mobilizing the army of smallholder farmers."
Larger commercial farms also have an important role to play provided they share knowledge, resources, and market access with the local community. But commercial farms cannot be created through land grabs which see communities evicted to meet the future needs for food or biofuels in other continents. Hedge funds and other speculators bought up land in Africa equivalent to the size of France in 2009. This cannot be allowed to continue.
Fourth, unfair trade rules which distort the markets and put the poorest at a disadvantage must be swept away. The international community has to provide effective and equitable market access policies for food and guard against protectionist tendencies. Action is needed through increased transparency and structural reform to limit speculation in food stocks which forces up prices and exacerbates shortages. If the amount of food held in global and regional stocks was maintained at higher levels and publicly known, price volatility and speculation would be dampened.
Dear Readers, this is a big agenda. But the prize is not just reducing hunger and malnutrition. It is accelerating wider economic and social development. Despite some undesirable environmental and social outcomes, it was Asia's Green Revolution, which provided the launch pad for that continent's astonishing progress. Drawing on the lessons from Asia, a uniquely African Green Revolution could provide a similar impetus at a vital time in the continent's story.
"Despite many challenges, Africa is moving decisively in the right direction."
Despite many challenges, Africa is moving decisively in the right direction. Economic growth is strong across much of the continent. Foreign investment and companies are increasingly seeing the opportunities ahead. Governance in many countries has improved. Education and health provision is stronger. Civil society is becoming more active.
In many countries, it is investment and revenues from the extractive industries, which have provided the foundation for rapid economic growth. There is still a great deal to be done to ensure this money is used wisely for the long-term benefits of all the countries' citizens. But Africa's energetic young population, and a rapidly rising middle class, are also providing new opportunities for economic growth.
Helping improve agricultural productivity of smallholder farmers in a sustainable and climate smart way is the goal of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), which I have the honour to chair. We are working now in 17 sub-Saharan countries with an integrated approach aimed at improving the entire agricultural food chain. We are striving to tackle the constraints smallholder farmers face, including access to improved seeds, fertilizers, finance and markets. Let me give you a few examples of what AGRA has achieved with our partners, which include developed and developing governments, businesses, research institutes and foundations.
Over 400 new crop varieties, developed within Africa with the help of local farmers, have been released. Around 14,000 agro-dealers have been trained and funded to get these new varieties and fertilizers distributed to rural communities. About 380,000 hectares of depleted soils – mostly in the Sahelian countries – have been regenerated through microdosing. Training throughout the value chain has been improved while, for the longer term, AGRA is supporting over 450 graduate students to take MSc and PhDs in Plant Breeding and Soil Sciences at African universities.
Access to markets and affordable loans have been increased and the creation of farmers organisations encouraged. The result has been significant increases in harvests and thousands of smallholders moving from subsistence farming to profitable businesses. AGRA is funded primarily by the Bill & Melinda Gates and Rockefeller Foundations with significant support from Sweden, the UK, Norway, Denmark, Canada, and the US. Given Germany's commitment to this area, we hope you will soon join those governments supporting AGRA's work.
The challenge of food and nutrition security is so grave that it is easy to be pessimistic. But I want to end on an optimistic note. My experience with AGRA shows that small farmers and businesses seize new opportunities when they are provided. The results, as we have seen throughout the world, can be dramatic. We have the ability to transform agriculture on the ground and reshape the global food security system to alleviate hunger, end poverty, and promote sustainable development. What is needed is the vision, courage and leadership to deliver this goal. I wish you all the success with your discussions.