Productivity and inclusion in the market
Entitled “From Sustenance to Entrepreneurship”, this note is intended to guide Belgium’s agricultural development programs in developing countries. It focuses in particular on increasing the productivity of farmers and their entry into the market via value chains to lift them out of poverty and enhance their food security.
The Coalition Against Hunger, which brings together more than 20 French-speaking and Dutch-speaking NGOs specializing in agriculture and food security, is aware that improving farmers’ incomes is essential to improving their living conditions. It is essential that small farmers can produce enough to feed themselves, maintain their health, and generate surpluses for sale in the markets at remunerative prices. But to put a priority on the entrepreneurial logic to solve the problems of farmers does not seem to us a suitable strategy.
3 points that pose a problem
On one hand, the new note does not take sufficient account of recent research and very important work on the theme of agriculture (IAASTD, IPES Food, UN Special Rapporteur on Food). They demonstrate, however, that the conventional, productivity-oriented model is not sustainable and is not able to meet the challenges of poverty, nutrition, dependency, price volatility, or climate change. This model also contributes to maintaining gender inequalities.
On the other hand, the new note, which focuses in principle on agriculture and food security, focuses only on agriculture with commercial potential. It clearly implies that support for agriculture only makes sense if it participates in the market and creates value by including small producers in the value chains. Thus, this note neglects the risks for producers to engage too exclusively in these sectors (exposure to market fluctuations and loss of autonomy). Moreover, it neglects the other factors that ensure food security: priority food on the local market, control of uncertainties, stable and decent incomes, distribution of the benefits of processing, and valorization of production, etc.
Finally, in the twelve countries in sub-Saharan Africa where Belgian development cooperation is active, the absence of effective mechanisms for control and regulation of trade and the private sector places farmers in a totally unfavorable competitive environment. The note that promotes commercial agriculture does not address the issue of market inequalities and therefore the need to fundamentally re-examine the EU’s economic partnership agreements with developing countries is salient.
AGREEMENT ON PRINCIPLES, NOT ON APPLICATION
So if we share the two basic principles of supporting a sustainable and inclusive agricultural sector and a human rights-based approach to development, we do not agree on how the government plans to implement it.
For months we have been making it clear that the priority of Belgian cooperation remains sustainable family farming and support for food sovereignty policies and the strengthening of farmers’ organizations. Unfortunately, despite our expertise in the field, we regret that our recommendations have not been heard for the drafting of this new note.
Will the farmers still be able to eat?
The strategy for Belgian development cooperation is based on the human rights approach. This choice implies that the strategic note “Agriculture and food security” focuses on the realization of the “right to food” for all, and in particular for the most vulnerable, the vast majority of whom are disadvantaged farmers. Living in isolated areas (as a reminder, 795 million people were still suffering from chronic hunger in 2015, 2/3 of whom were peasants). In its new strategy, the minister prioritizes support for producers with “commercial potential”, that is, those who are strong enough to integrate into commerce and value chains vertical. The question of the future of farmers, who are struggling to ensure their subsistence, is swept away by asserting that they will have to find alternative sources of income or be supported by social security. But these two approaches do not currently exist, or in a very fragmentary way, in most of the partner countries.
DANGER: SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL COMPARED BY PRODUCTIVITY
If the members of the Coalition Against Hunger coincide with the minister on the fact that it is important to help disadvantaged farmers in the South to obtain a decent income by strengthening their position in the markets, productivity should not be put on a pedestal to the point of eclipsing social and environmental issues. Thus, to be sustainable, agricultural production must preserve natural resources and not threaten consumer health, which implies preferring the agro-ecological approach with a gender perspective. In this sense, the Minister’s note neglects effective experiments in support of family farming, which have made it possible to improve its efficiency by methods that do not bind farmers to credit and input suppliers. Similarly, the note does not underline the importance of diversifying agricultural and non-agricultural activities to strengthen the resilience of family farms in the face of increasingly unpredictable climatic conditions.
The coalition against hunger
NGOs members of the Coalition Against Hunger: Broederlijk delen, Caritas International, CNCD-11.11.11, Collective Food Strategies, Belgian Red Cross, CSA, Challenge Belgium Africa, Mutual Aid and Fraternity, FIAN – FoodFirst Information and Action Network Peace, Le Monde according to women, Leuven Cooperation, Oxfam World Shop, OXFAM Solidarity / Solidariteit, Oxfam Wereld Winkel, SOS Faim, TRIAS, Vétérinaires Sans Frontières, Vredeseilanden.