Category Archives: Topic: WEF

Invest in smallholder farmers

The economy of the Philippines grew 7.8% in the first quarter of this year, outperforming China and the rest of Asia. The media announced the news proudly and happily because this is the third quarter in a row that the country’s GDP exceeded 7%.

However, for those of us working in the agriculture sector, an important aspect of this news is that agriculture contributed only 0.4% of the 7.8% growth, compared to 35% contributed by industry and services. Agriculture accounts for almost a third of the labour force, and it is from the agricultural/rural sector that most of our poor emanate. Thus, it doesn’t look like that the country’s growth has been inclusive.

This situation is being experienced in many developing countries in South and East Asia. While many Asian countries are exhibiting growth rates, still more than 60% of the world’s hungriest and poorest are in Asia (687 million), particularly in South Asia, and 70% of them rely on agriculture for a living.

But with the right policies and programmes in place, solutions can be found. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his closing remarks in a conference in Madrid in April 2013, said:

When I was born, four out of five Koreans lived in rural areas, but very few of them actually owned the land they farmed. Most were very poor, and many experienced hunger. The war years, of course, were especially dire. The United Nations helped come to the rescue, not just militarily, but with sacks of grain and other forms of sustenance. When small farmers finally gained access to land and inputs, they were able to move beyond subsistence and contribute to the country’s progress. Today, the Republic of Korea is ranked 12th on the Human Development Index. There is a message for the world in Korea’s achievement: Hunger and malnutrition can be eliminated. With the right policies and investments, we can make dramatic progress in one generation – not in some distant future but in our own lifetimes.

The right investments can help lift millions of women and men farmers from poverty, attract youth into farming and unleash their potentials to contribute to the country’s food security and people’s nutritional wellbeing. This can be done by:

  • Securing small farmers’ access and control over productive resources (land, water, forests, seeds, energy)
  • Building the capacities of smallholder farmers to:

Organize (into associations unions, cooperatives, commodity clusters from local to international levels), network and engage governments for policy and program work
Increase agricultural productivity through sustainable, agro-ecological production and post-harvest technologies
Negotiate for and enter into more inclusive business arrangements with other parties (cooperatives, private companies, government, other NGOs) such that these arrangements give farmers more ownership of their business, more influence in decision-making over business matters, and a fairer share of risks and rewards

  • Improving physical infrastructures as well as services in rural areas (farm-to-market roads, irrigation, communication system, education, health care, advisory services, insurance, financial services).

In the words of one farmer from Laos farmer, “For inclusive development, we need a ‘3P’ kind of partnership engaging the public and private sectors as well as producers.”

I look forward to sharing these perspectives with leaders of business, government, farmers’ organizations and others as part of discussions hosted by the World Economic Forum’s New Vision for Agriculture initiative in Myanmar this week.

Author: Estrella Penunia is Secretary-General of the Asian Farmers’ Association and a Member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Food Security.

Image: A woman sells tomato at a market in Myanmer REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun


Harnessing the power of women farmers

Our world is today reeling from four interrelated crises – food, energy, financial and climate change. And the hardest hit by these crises are farmers, fishers, pastoralists and indigenous peoples, as they comprise the majority of the world’s most poor and vulnerable.

These global problems have brought opportunities to re-examine agriculture. After three decades of neglect, agriculture is back on the international agenda, with stakeholders reviewing its role in poverty reduction and sustainable development. Leading think tanks, governments and international organizations have realized that the key to sustainable rural development is the small-scale farmer, particularly women.

Why should there be a special focus on women in agriculture?

First, women comprise around 50% of the farming population in developing countries; small-scale family farms produce as much as 70% of the foods consumed locally.

Second, women in many developing countries are farmers too; as much as 50-90% of the work on farms is done by women.

Third, women ensure there is food to eat on the table. Before they sleep, they think of what the family will eat the following day, where they will get money to buy food or what plant they will harvest. It is their burden and their task to perform “some magic” whenever their crops fails, whenever the money is not enough. It is also their burden to fetch water, sometimes from far distances, for cleaning and drinking purposes.

Fourth, women are primarily caregivers. When a family member gets sick, it is the mother who drops everything to aid the sick; she takes care of the health and nutrition of her family and community.

Fifth, women are teachers. In most families, including farming families, it is the mother who mainly helps the children with their schoolwork, attends school meetings and imparts family values and traditions.

And finally, women farmers are not “housewives waiting for their husbands to give them money”. Many women market the family’s crops and fish catches. Many have engaged in various income-generating activities to augment the incomes of her family.

If we are to reduce hunger and poverty in this world, we have to recognize that women farmers have the potential and are the solution to bring their families out of poverty, and thus should be at the forefront of agriculture. Women spend their earnings on family basics: food, health and education. Extensive research reflects the gains to be achieved in terms of productivity and income, by focusing development efforts in empowering women and their organizations.

Empowering women is a long and challenging journey. It starts with helping women reflect on their situation, inspiring them to realize their human dignity and their rights, and sharing experiences with other women in similar conditions. Organizing, capacity building, leadership formation, training and helping women become more economically empowered will be key programmes as well.

Farming can greatly help women gain support from their husbands and male community leaders to desensitize traditional dynamics of gender. Farming can help women fully reach their potential.

Author: Estrella Penunia is Secretary-General of the Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development (AFA) in the Philippines.

The New Vision for Agriculture: Transforming agriculture through collaboration

Image: A Vietnamese farmer walks in a rice field outside Hanoi. REUTERS/Nguyen Huy Kham