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Can small farmers solve our big problems?

 

With Live Below the Line fast approaching, this guest blog, which was originally published by the Fairtrade Foundation looks at how we can move towards a fairer world without hunger.

Fairtrade Fortnight launches this year amid increasing hunger in the developing world and sharply rising food and commodity prices caused by rising food demand, poor harvests, climate change, excessive speculation and hoarding.

As concern grows over how the world will feed a rapidly rising population, it is almost taken for granted that increased food production will be supplied by big agri-business operating over large tracts of land and pushing down costs with aggressive margins.

There are, however, 450 million smallholders on whom another 1.5 billion rely on for their food and livelihood. The needs and the potential of these people are all too often forgotten in the escalating global food crisis.

Two years ago, in the light of the food price spikes of 2008, the Fairtrade Foundation released a study showing how smallholder farmers are often among the most vulnerable to increased food prices. Producers in poor countries sit at the wrong end of both chains – paying over the odds for food and fertilizers while receiving a pittance for the product of their skills and labour. A UN report on global hunger, in 2006 indicated that half the world’s ‘hungry’ were actually farmers.
 

This situation is not inevitable. It is a direct consequence of deep rooted inequality, in global society and in the food system specifically.

There is a growing consensus that something is broken in global supply chains. In January 2011 the British government, in its Foresight report ‘Global Food and Farming Futures’, acknowledged ‘a compelling case for urgent action to redesign the global food system’. The Foresight report highlighted both the need to reduce volatility in food prices and to ensure that increasing food production is matched with action to secure universal access to food.

A few months earlier, the Food and Ethics Council launched their excellent report ‘Food Justice’. This report made clear the creation of a fairer food system is central to achieving wider sustainability and health goals.

In 2009, the ‘International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development’ (IAASTD), set out to respond to ‘the widespread realization that despite significant scientific and technological achievements in our ability to increase agricultural productivity, we have been less attentive to some of the unintended social and environmental consequences of our achievements’. Policy options from the report for addressing food security include major investment in smallholder agriculture and ‘increasing the full range of agricultural exports and imports, including organic and Fair Trade products’

The Food Ethics Council report is particularly welcome as too many recent discussions about food security have focussed understandably, albeit simplistically, on the need to produce more and more food, but ignored issues of justice and equity.

We are surely shooting ourselves in the foot if, in our drive to increase food production, we leave more people unable to afford the additional food that we produce. As we stand the worlds agriculture provides more than enough food for six billion, but a high percentage of this is wasted, thrown away or adds to the growing problem of obesity while others go hungry.

A lot of discussions about food security focuses on the need to use technology and economies of scale to improve the efficiency of agricultural production. Such approaches will undoubtedly have a role to play, but a fair and sustainable food system will require an appropriate balance of investment in both small and large scale production.

In its 2011 ‘Rural Poverty Report’ the International Fund for Agriculture and Development (IFAD) President, Kanayo F Nwanze, stated that:

‘It is time to look at poor smallholder farmers and rural entrepreneurs in a completely new way – not as charity cases but as people whose innovation, dynamism and hard work will bring prosperity to their communities and greater food security to the world in the decades ahead.’

Across the world the Fairtrade movement provides thousands of examples demonstrating how smallholder farmers can use the opportunities provided by Fairtrade to invest in agricultural improvement and diversification. This experience complements an increasing number of studies, most notably by Olivier De Schutter, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, suggesting that investing in smallholder farms can be a route to:

- Substantial gains in terms of productivity per hectare
- Improving environmentally sustainablity
- Poverty reduction and improved equality of income

One of the critical factors to achieving these improvements has been effective organisation. The Fairtrade system requires smallholders to organise into cooperatives or other forms of democratic institution. This organisation can provide smallholders with greater control over price setting, access to knowledge and opportunities to capture value.

A paper by the Natural Resources Institute (NRI) in 2010, reviewing all published literature investigating Fairtrade’s impact (over 80 reports in total), concluded that the published literature strongly supports the argument that Fairtrade is having positive economic and empowerment impacts for smallholder farmers and identified democratic organisation as being of particular relevance to the impact.

Of course, Fairtrade alone cannot create a sustainable food system. Much wider shifts in Aid and Trade policy will be required. As an example the recent Government white paper on Trade acknowledges the role that trade can play in development and makes a strong commitment to the ‘Aid for Trade’ programme. This is 15% of the UK’s Aid budget which is spent against a set of criteria explicitly designed to increase poor countries ability to benefit from trade.

A 2009 report by the Brussels-based Fair Trade Advocacy Office shows that, of the £155 million spent between 2001 – 2005 by the UK on Aid for Trade (based on a relatively narrow definition of ‘Aid for Trade’), only 29 projects with combined funds of approximately US$7 million were specifically designed to benefit smallholders – just 2% of the total.

While investment in large scale infrastructure is necessary, it is unlikely to be sufficient to ensure that poor farmers are able to realise the potential trade can offer. Greater emphasis must be placed on programmes with an explicit focus on reaching rural communities. There is also a need to shift the focus towards ‘soft’ interventions such as organisational development, extension services, training and communications services that. Fairtrade has demonstrated just what a catalytic effect such support can have in bringing smallholder farmers into national and global markets.

The fantastic Fairtrade sales figures for 2010 show, even in these troubled times, price is not the only thing that matters to UK shoppers. The basic principles of Fairtrade – that poor producers deserve a fair return for their labour and that there is more than one way to address ‘economic efficiency’ – still resonate. Our policy makers need to take heed!

You can take action in the fight against hunger by joining thousands of others around the world in Live Below the Line this May. Learn more and signup now - USA, UK, Australia.

Posted by Toby Quantrill (Guest Blogger) in Hunger for column Live Below the Line on Apr 27th 2011, 06:29

What's a quid got to do with ending poverty?

 

That’s exactly the question I wanted to explore last year so I challenged myself to live on £1 a day for 8 days in the lead-up to Christmas.

Well, to be honest, the timing couldn’t have been worse… after all the Christmas season is the time of indulgence, Christmas markets, gatherings with friends, celebrations… it’s certainly not the time to live on a very tight budget!

However, I put a lot of thought into what I would eat as spending £8 on groceries for 8 days is not much – not in London, and in fact not anywhere in the world! I went through various recipe books and identified a variety of meals with cheap ingredients I would buy and cook.

I ended up going to three different supermarkets to compare prices before I bought all my groceries. I also put £1 aside for ingredients I already had in my cupboard, such as seasoning and spices - which left me with a meagre £7 for 8 days! I was well aware that simply going to the supermarket and picking up random bits and pieces for this little money wouldn’t work (well). Some more thought was required!

I cooked three meals per day – breakfast, lunch and dinner, no snacks.

My first day of Live Below the Line went well…ish. Of course, nothing bad happened, and I ate £1 worth of food, but I greatly missed my additional breakfast ingredients, such as nuts, seeds, dried cranberries and soya yogurt. I guess, missing food makes you appreciate it more when you do have it.

Still needing to get my veggies for the week, I went to my local market and was pretty stoked to only spend £1.66 on all my (fresh!) fruit and veggies. What a bargain!

As I was paying for my produce, the discussion opened up with the market lady, and we talked about my Live Below the Line challenge. She asked me straight away if I had been to any developing country where people live in extreme poverty. Without giving me a chance to respond she continued saying she’s been there, she’s seen it all. “You can’t compare it” were her last words that she repeated a few times before she shifted her attention to the next customer.

So what’s a quid got to do with ending extreme poverty then? The World Bank defines extreme poverty as what you could buy in the US in 2005 for $1.25, today roughly the equivalent of £1 here in the UK. There are 1.4 billion people in the world who live off this tiny amount every day. That little money has to cover everything, health care, education, shelter… not just food and drink.

I knew the market lady was right. I was only Living Below the Line for food and drinks, and although I went to bed hungry a couple of times, I knew I couldn’t, and never attempted to, compare my experience to the struggle 1.4 billion people face every day – the lack of choice whether to spend the little money you have on medication for a sick family member or on food for the whole family, hoping the family member gets better without any medication.

My last day of the challenge was rather interesting… only a couple of days before Christmas I had to catch a plane to Norway to spend the holidays with my family. Although I was rather organised and took my pre-cooked food with me on the plane, I found myself washing all my clothes when I arrived as my food had leaked in my bag. Luckily I could still eat the food otherwise I would have had to go without dinner on my last day of Live below the Line.

And boy I was challenged many times during the 8 days! Once I became extremely hungry and thirsty in central London and had to take the hour long journey back home to eat my food before spending another hour heading back into central London to meet friends. I also had to reject free food from friends, drink nothing but tap water and even not eat at a farewell dinner!

Live Below the Line certainly opened my eyes and gave me a glimpse of what it’s like to live without having the choice of quickly grabbing food and drink while out and about. But I never compared my situation to that of 1.4 billion people worldwide.

My attempt on doing the challenge was not to compare the situations because, as the lady from the market stall said, there is no comparison! How could I possibly compare my challenge to someone living in one of the poorest countries in the world, where 70% or more of the population lives on £1 or less a day? How could I compare myself to someone who has no choices about how to spend their little money?

My aim was to raise awareness of and get discussions going about this inequality – and raise funds for the Global Poverty Project who created the campaign in Australia in 2009 with the Oaktree Foundation.

Can you do it? Show those 1.4 billion people that you care and that you want to see an end to extreme poverty within a lifetime.

Sign-up now to Live Below the Line in the UK, Australia or the USA.

Posted by Uschi Klein (Guest Blogger) in Hunger, What Can I Do? for column Live Below the Line on Apr 18th 2011, 06:27

Living Comfortably or Getting By - still hungry

 

In this guest blog Lymari Morales, Managing News Editor of Gallup.com, explains the latest findings from research across Africa about how people see themselves.

The "poverty line" has always been a murky concept -- be it in a wealthy country like the U.S. or in impoverished nations where the main gauge is whether one lives on more or less than $1.25 per day.

Gallup’s global surveys underscore the complexity involved. As part of its continuous global research, Gallup asks citizens around the world about basic needs, such as food and shelter, and higher order needs, such as employment and wellbeing. Our research confirms that it is very difficult to achieve the latter without the former.

Gallup also asks respondents about their household income to look at the relationship between the money they have and everything else they think and do. But again, a concept like “household income” can be tricky in a place where, lacking a paycheck from an employer, one might trade goods or accept other means to get by.

For that reason, Gallup also asks respondents, “Which one of these phrases comes closest to your own feelings about your household income these days: Living comfortably on present income, getting by on present income, finding it difficult on present income, or finding it very difficult on present income?”

Here are some results from sub-Saharan Africa based on surveys conducted in 2009 and 2010. What we learn is that a median of 71% of sub-Saharan Africans say they are finding it difficult to live on their present income. Fewer than 2 in 10 say they are “getting by,” and fewer than 1 in 10 say they are “living comfortably.”



But living comfortably or getting by clearly means something else to sub-Saharan Africans.

A Gallup analysis released this week reveals that sizable minorities -- and in some cases large majorities -- of those who say they are living comfortably or getting by also say there were times in the past year when they could not afford to buy the food they or their family needed.

In the Central African Republic, where 87% of respondents tell Gallup there were times they could not afford food, this percentage barely budges across the subjective income categories. In Cameroon, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Niger, Zambia, Comoros, Congo (Kinshasa), and Tanzania, 50% or more of respondents who say they are living comfortably or getting by say there were times they could not afford food. In 20 of the 28 countries, more than one-third of those who say they are living comfortably or getting by still say there were times in the last year when they did not have enough money to buy food.

Gallup’s continuous tracking of these issues reveals that sub-Saharan Africans have only become more negative about their financial situation in recent years -- even as GDP in the region has improved. More sub-Saharan Africans in 2010 told Gallup they were finding it difficult or very difficult to live on their present income than did in each of the prior three years.


These Gallup findings showcase the complicated nature of assessing “poverty” around the world. They also serve as an important reminder that it takes more than classical economic metrics, such as daily income or GDP, to monitor and improve the wellbeing of populations worldwide.

If you'd like to understand more about the challenge of hunger and poverty, sign up to spend 5 days living below the line - eating and drinking on your local equivalent of the extreme poverty line - UKAustraliaUSA.

Posted by Lymari Morales, Gallup.com (Guest Blogger) in Hunger, Poverty for column Live Below the Line on Apr 14th 2011, 06:32

How much food do you waste?

 

Today, we live in a globally connected society in which the food we buy can be sourced from thousands of miles away. This also means that the way we choose to consume affects others.

As the world’s population expands, so too does demand for food. Yet at the same time, most of this population growth is in poorer countries where hunger and malnutrition are common. This presents us a challenge – how to feed the world whilst minimising harmful impacts on the environment. One potential solution lies with you and I...

In January 2011, the UK Government Office for Science published a report titled "The Future of Food and Farming", on this very issue. The report argues that in order to “address the unprecedented challenges that lie ahead the food system needs to change more radically”. One newly recognised solution that the report highlights surrounds reducing food waste by producers and consumers.

From “production to plate” around 30% of food is wasted, with some estimates suggesting the figure is as high as a staggering 50%. So where is this food going?

After food is grown, some produce may be physically lost occur during harvesting and processing. Further losses may be due to disease, deterioration, or failure to meet quality standards during storage and transportation. These losses are typically more in low-income countries where storage facilities and transport infrastructure is poor. Academics have estimated that producer loss amount to 13-15% in South Asia. Food producers may not have the ability to reduce their losses therefore governments must do more to help.

Household surveys carried out in the UK, US, and Australia find that between 15% and 25% of food purchased ends up in the bin. One possible contributor to this wastage is that food is cheap. The government report suggests that the increasing food prices that we see for some food items today will naturally lead to us to buy less extravagantly. Although, the report stresses that this isn’t enough and that greater awareness of the amount of food we waste is required.

A further reason for food waste is that "best before" dates may not be accurate, leading us to throw away perfectly good food. The report calls for introduction of mass-produced sensor technology into perishable food products that would allow us to better manage our food.

Food services such as restaurants and supermarkets are thought to waste around 20%. Instead, food that is fit for human consumption could be redistributed via schemes such as Fareshare in the UK, and food not fit for human consumption could be used in animal feed or energy source.

Ultimately, the report estimates that if we could half the total amount of food wasted to 15% then the amount of food that we need by 2050 could be reduced by 25% of today’s production. As individuals, we have the capability to reduce the 925 million people that are hungry and provide for future population, we just need to make the conscious decision to do so.

If you'd like to understand more about the challenge of hunger and poverty, sign up to spend 5 days living below the line - eating and drinking on your local equivalent of the extreme poverty line - UK, Australia, USA.

Posted by Rohan Mohanty (GPP Intern) in Hunger for column Live Below the Line on Apr 11th 2011, 09:52

Aussie TV challenges you to Live Below the Line

 
 
Global Poverty Project Australia Board Member and Australian of the Year Simon McKeon was on Sunrise on Monday, challenging Australians - and people all over the world to get involved in Live Below the Line.
 
Watch it above, and sign up below:
 
United Kingdom - www.livebelowtheline.org.uk
United States - www.livebelowtheline.com