Politics of Poverty

The 2017 World Food Prize: A call to strengthen the role of smallholder farmers in Africa

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Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, 2017 World Food Prize Laureate, has been a consistent champion for millions of smallholder farmers in Africa and around the globe for decades.

Apollos Nwafor is the Oxfam International’s Pan Africa Director. 

Every year around World Food Day, the prestigious World Food Prize is awarded to a person(s) who has made a significant and lasting contribution to improving the availability and access of food around the world.  This week, the World Food Prize announced Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), as the 2017 winner. This announcement is well deserved, as Dr. Adesina has been a consistent champion for millions of smallholder farmers in Africa and around the globe for decades.

Right now, more than 90% of the 570 million farms worldwide are managed by small-scale family farmers, who produce about 80% of the world’s food. Yet too often, these smallholder farmers are marginalized and face significant barriers, including lack of access to credit, markets and resources, that do not allow them to produce enough food for their families. On top of economic and cultural barriers, climate-related disasters such as droughts and floods bring more vulnerability and exasperate inequality gaps and extreme poverty.

Dr. Adesina’s work has long championed smallholder farmers as the backbone of creating a more food secure world. From his early days as an agricultural economist to his time as the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development in Nigeria to his current role as the President of AfDB, his leadership and deep understanding of agriculture’s ability to lift entire communities out of poverty has improved farmers’ yields and incomes. Through his leadership at the AfDB, Dr. Adesina has built a number of strategies and policies that support the lives and livelihoods of smallholder farmers, including AfDB’s “Feed Africa Strategy for Agricultural Transformation in Africa, 2016-2025,” a strategy which focuses much attention on scaling up agriculture as business through value addition, enabled by the public sector using innovative finance mechanism. Positively, the strategy aims to end hunger and rural poverty in Africa by 2025.

This strategy makes a strong case for reversing the current situation in Africa where the continent spends US$35.4 billion on food imports annually despite being home to 65% of the world’s undeveloped arable land. But, to lift people out of poverty, we cannot forget the need to provide concrete policies to support smallholder farmers in achieving the primary poverty reduction goal of the strategy. 70% of Africa’s population and about 80% of Africa’s poor who live in rural areas depend on agriculture. A growing population on the continent, inversely proportional to food production rates, raises the risks of food insecurity and increases pressure on land and water resources, which are all challenges for ending poverty and inequality in the continent.

Under Dr. Adesina’s leadership, the AfDB will invest US$24 billion and leverage additional investments through equity and quasi-equity as well as debts and risk instruments to catalyze investments at scale. These are very good approaches to financing agriculture, but other experience suggests these mechanism can leave the poor behind and increase the inequality gap. These approaches and frameworks should be understood as complementary to and not as a replacement of core investments in public goods smallholder farmers need. Without these public investments, private investments, who aim to make a profit at any cost, will likely perpetuate inequality and leave smallholder farmers without a voice, despite the fact that they account for at least 75% of Africa’s agricultural output.

Over the years, Oxfam has worked to ensure that the concerns and voices of smallholder farmers are heard. Oxfam knows the struggles these farmers face because we have spent decades supporting their efforts to lift themselves out of poverty. If we are to reduce poverty and hunger around the world, we must focus solutions on these smallholder farmers. Dr. Adesina’s work has helped to make overcoming these barriers a priority, and we hope his recognition as the 2017 World Food Prize Laureate will help put smallholder farmers at the center of the conversation on creating a pathway to a well-fed world.

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