A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
A new agricultural investment agenda
The case for a massive, government-led investment in smallholder farming and supporting infrastructure is clear. The 500 million small farms in developing countries support almost two billion people, nearly one-third of humanity,148 and do so without the access to markets, land, finance, infrastructure and technologies enjoyed by large farms. Addressing this gaping inequity offers a crucial opportunity to address the challenges of sustainable production, resilience, and equity.
There are now signs that the disastrous neglect of developing country farming may finally be coming to an end. Agriculture’s share of ODA looks to be heading upwards, having bottomed out in 2006, although it still is under 7 per cent of all aid.149 And in many countries this is being matched by new commitments from governments – most notably the Maputo Declaration, which saw all member countries of the African Union commit to increase the share of agriculture in national budgets to at least 10 per cent in 2003,150 bringing clear benefits to the continent, where food production per head is now rising again for the first time in decades.151
There are also signs that the private sector is taking the challenge seriously. In 2011 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, 17 major companies launched a New Vision for Agriculture committing to increase production by 20 per cent while decreasing emissions by 20 per cent and reducing the prevalence of rural poverty by 20 per cent every decade.152 Meanwhile, some input companies have entered into partnerships with governments, non-profit organisations and research institutions to produce seeds suitable for developing country contexts.153
But realising this opportunity requires more than a few hopeful examples from donors, governments, and the private sector, important as they are. It requires a sea change in the level and nature of support. Donors and international organisations must continue to raise agriculture spending within overall ODA. Rich countries must end their trade-distorting agricultural subsidies once and for all. New global regulations are needed to govern investment in land to ensure it delivers social and environmental returns. And national governments must invest more in agriculture, while carefully regulating private investment in land and water to ensure secure access for women and men living in poverty.
Companies must embrace the opportunities provided by smallholder agriculture – to diversify and secure supply; to build and strengthen brands; or to develop new technologies. And active states must intervene where companies fear to tread: to direct R&D towards appropriate technologies for poor women and men producers, to build market linkages on equitable terms, to ensure the dissemination of knowledge through extension services, and to provide access to finance.