Ten years left to end hunger – why hope grows on small farms
Written by Kendrick Lebron on February 14, 2020
Gilbert F. Houngbo is President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a specialist agency at the United Nations.
As a new decade dawns, it seems that the world is truly at a tipping point: Australia scorched by fire; cropland ravaged by floods in Europe; locusts swarming East Africa’s farms; and a record 45 million people facing food crisis in southern Africa.
Extreme weather events are becoming the new normal, posing an existential threat to our food systems – and by extension, to ourselves. Every day 820 million people go hungry, and the wealth gap is widening. It is the poorest and most marginalized that are most often left behind. On our current trajectory, we will not reach the first two Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end extreme poverty and hunger by 2030.
But there is hope. And that hope lies in the rural small-scale farmers who generate income and food for the world’s poorest people.
We know, of course, that agriculture is affected by climatic conditions, and also that agricultural practices have an impact on the climate. But the global importance of investing in small farms is often overlooked.
Half the world’s food calories are produced by small-scale farmers on just 30 per cent of the world’s agricultural land. These farmers have a strong personal incentive to get the most from their land and from their own labour. They also tend to grow a wider range of crop varieties that are adapted to local conditions.
Greater agricultural diversity makes cropping systems less vulnerable to epidemics caused by pests and diseases, it improves soil fertility, and strengthens resilience to floods and droughts. Climate-smart practices reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance carbon sequestration; they can recharge the water tables and prevent landslides and dust storms. In short, they protect the natural capital that is the foundation of life, livelihoods and economies in rural areas.
Prosperous small farms not only provide food but also create jobs, and raise demand for locally produced goods and services. This in turn spurs opportunity, economic growth and more stable societies.
The time has come to recognize the value of small-scale farmers and invest in them. An estimated $115.6 billion annually is needed in investment in agriculture to end global hunger. Yet agriculture receives only around $10 billion a year in official development assistance. If we truly want to end poverty and hunger, this short-fall doesn’t add up.
With more than 40 years’ experience on the ground, we know the last mile can be the hardest. There are only 10 years left to deliver on the SDGs, including the commitment to end extreme poverty and hunger. We can only do this with more funding, new partnerships, better financial models and more inclusive approaches. IFAD is calling on governments to back up their commitment by investing more so we can double our impact by 2030.
It is not too late. We can step back from the precipice on which we now stand, and create headlines that shout out how the world came together to end poverty, quell hunger, and redress inequality – and in doing so preserved its natural resources for posterity. With greater investment in sustainable rural development and small-scale agriculture, this future is possible.