News / Africa

Smallholder Farmers Key to Food Security

A farmer plows the field in Saulawa village, on the outskirts of Nigeria's north-central state of Kaduna, May 2013 file photo. A farmer plows the field in Saulawa village, on the outskirts of Nigeria's north-central state of Kaduna, May 2013 file photo.
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A farmer plows the field in Saulawa village, on the outskirts of Nigeria's north-central state of Kaduna, May 2013 file photo.
A farmer plows the field in Saulawa village, on the outskirts of Nigeria's north-central state of Kaduna, May 2013 file photo.

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Kim Lewis
The international aid group ActionAid said a key approach in addressing global food insecurity is to focus on making food more accessible. In order to achieve this, the group said attention must be placed on empowering smallholder farmers. 

“Smallholder farmers actually produced most of the world’s food and they are also some of the people that sometimes go hungry,” explained ActionAid’s senior policy analyst Doug Hertzler. “There are studies over many decades that show smallholder farmers can actually produce more food per land area than large farms when they have adequate access to resources and input.”

Hertzler proposed increased public investment in agriculture to strengthen the productivity of smallholder farmers.

“If you look at Africa, what’s happened since the 1980’s, there’s been a decrease in investment in rural areas. There’s not good infrastructure in rural areas, there’s not good extension services in rural communities in terms of educating people about markets, ways of producing. Public investment can do things that private investment can’t,” he said.

The ActionAid official said only a few countries have actually achieved the goal set in 2004 to increase their agricultural investment by up to ten percent.

Hertzler noted that smallholder farmers can generally feed themselves without outside aid, but that their agricultural production gets disrupted when faced with crises such as war, drought, extreme weather conditions, or an unexpected financial emergency.

“Since people are poor and living on the margins of society, when they have a health emergency in the family or other reasons and need cash, they often sell part of their crop for cash but then maybe run out of food toward the end of the year. So, that’s why we often see hunger,” explained the ActionAid analyst.

Another important factor that should be considered in food security, Hertzler noted, was that often native crops are hardier in climate change than crops spread elsewhere that require specific amounts of fertilizer and water. He said making sure smallholder farmers have the ability to sustain their crops will allow them to be more resilient whenever a crisis occurs.

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