A blog from our CEO Meike van Ginneken.
Last week, I participated in the launch of the 2018 Global Food Policy Report of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in The Hague. Reading the report and participating in the discussion brought home to me how farmers’ income and food security in Africa and Asia does not only depend on the farmers themselves. It does not even depend on the food and agriculture policies in the countries they live in. Indeed the food system is global, and farmers are influenced by policies outside their control.
We live in an interconnected world. In my life this is obvious, since globalisation is so much part of my daily activities that I often take it as a given. I look at my Twitter feeds, or catch up with friends halfway across the world. For farmers in remote rural areas this interconnectedness is not so obvious. They do not get the easy benefits that I take for granted. However, each and every one of us lives in a global village that impacts our livelihoods.
The Global Food Policy Report of IFPRI provides a readable review on how non-sector policies impact farmers. At the launch, we discussed how decisions made in Brussels, Washington DC and other capitals determine the faith of faraway farming communities across Africa and Asia. At SNV, we focus on helping these farming communities to produce food and other commodities to feed their families and sell their produce on the local and international market. We speak the local language and after decades of presence in most of our target countries we have built trusting relationships with local entrepreneurs, civil society, and authorities. Last week’s launch event reminded me that in order to do our local work well, we need to be aware of the global context we work in. We are happy to work with IFPRI to learn about the global food system.
Farmers and local authorities in developing countries need equal access to knowledge and information. In a political environment dominated by rich countries, there is an acute need to make the voices of the poorest heard. Female and male farmers. Rural and urban poor. All trying to feed their families. The local and national authorities that know and represent these people. Three big debates define whether they will be able to feed their families in the future: farm support subsidies, trade policies, and migration.
Farm support services
The Global Food Policy Report provides some sobering reminders of how unequal the playing field is. In 2016, governments spent USD228 billion on farm support subsidies that distort the market. The USA and the European Union (EU) are still the biggest spenders on subsidies linked to production. For instance, in 2016, producer support represented over 20 percent of gross farm revenue for farmers in the EU. At the same time, large emerging economies, such as Brazil, China, India, and Indonesia are increasingly following suit and introducing distortionary farm support. This leaves producers and authorities in other countries with an uphill battle. Not only do they need to invest more in everything from farm equipment to roads and electricity. Also, they need to offer competitive prices for both exporting goods and in their local market where cheap subsidised products from overseas might be dumped.
We also see rich countries increasing obstacles for farmers to enter new markets. The threat of a trade war between the USA and China is on the front page of the newspapers. New import tariffs will not only impact big trading partners but also countless small and medium enterprises around the world.
At the same time, donor agencies increasingly focus on aid and trade. What does this mean in practice? We noted with some concern that aid and trade is often oversimplified to export promotion from donor countries. Without accompanying investments in local private firms, this might harm rather than help these countries. Also, regional cross-border trade plays an important role for farmers. We called on donors to use the new ‘aid and trade’ focus to support regional trade promotion. For instance, the rollout of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement that was recently signed by 44 governments is a priority for an equal aid and trade agenda.
The free movement of labor was considered the “elephant in the room” in the debate about how to reduce poverty and increase food security. A refreshing message of the IFPRI report is that voluntary migration improves food security for migrants, their families, and communities accepting migrants. This is often lost in the politically motivated arguments for migration restrictions. While we still need to learn more about the links between migration and food security, improving mechanism for legal migration seems to be a no-brainer. This includes seasonal migration within and between neighboring countries to find alternative work during the lean season.
Think globally, act locally
We need to go the extra mile to translate and refine these big picture messages to the reality of local stakeholders. In last week’s launch event, I referred to a recent Washington Post article which reported that nearly 30 percent of World Bank publications are never downloaded from the Bank’s website. The article headline states, “The solutions to all our problems may be buried in PDFs that nobody reads”.
This is where the SNV-IFPRI collaboration comes in. Indeed the academics of IFPRI and the practitioners of SNV are beautifully complementary. Through the Voices for Change partnership financed by the Netherlands government we now work with local stakeholders in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Honduras, Indonesia, Kenya, and Rwanda to increase the understanding of current policies and on advocating for change using studies generated by IFPRI and other research institutes. This will help to give local civil society a stronger voice in the local, national, and - ultimately – the international policy arena.
Two weeks ago, I visited some farming communities in Mali. They are working hard to improve their livelihoods and feed their children. They cannot do that alone in an interconnected world. Their voices need to be heard in the big picture debates if we want to improve food security for all.