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Cultivating a Small-Scale Farming Approach to Improve Food Security

By Ibrahima Coulibaly, President of the Network of Farmers' Organizations and Smallholder Farmers in West Africa (ROPPA); Alberta Guerra, Senior Policy Analyst at ActionAid USA; and Esther Penunia, Secretary-General of the Asian Farmers' Association for Sustainable Rural Development (AFA) 

Across the world, between 720 and 811 million people go to bed hungry every day, and we risk missing the target of achieving a world with zero hunger by 2030. The stresses of the climate crisis, a spike in economic instability and conflict – causing further induced migration and food scarcity – and a global pandemic have completely disrupted agriculture and food systems worldwide. In many regions, these systems are the primary source of income and food security for millions, including the 570 million small-scale farmers working small plots of land and who produce roughly a third of the world's food. 

This is unacceptable. We must invest in small-scale farmers to meet their unmet needs, estimated at US$450 billion in agricultural financing, and strengthen their autonomy and capacity to ensure sustainable and secure livelihoods for all. 

Farmer in Tajikistan
Zulfiya Ishmirzoeva is a farmer in Tajikistan. Photo: World Bank

One way we are doing this is through the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) – a global fund that, for the first time, is directly funding small-scale food producers through their organizations. Launched by the G20 in 2010, GAFSP strengthens the agriculture sector in countries with the highest poverty rates and needs by financing public and private sector projects across the entire agriculture chain – or from 'farm to fork.' Funding is focused on small-scale food producers and their families, who are most affected by food insecurity and most vulnerable to climate change. 

Farmer Agency

Our approach to solving the global challenges of rising hunger and poverty, exacerbated by COVID-19 and the worsening climate crisis, starts with small-scale food producers. Smallholders and the organizations and cooperatives that represent them know far too well the issues that confront them daily and should be at the forefront of our global responses to food insecurity, poverty, and climate change. GAFSP puts small-scale farmers at the heart of its decision-making process: representatives of civil society and small-scale farmers' organizations have an equal seat at the table alongside donors, recipient countries, and development agencies – making decisions about projects and the Program.

Because civil society and small-scale producers' organizations help guide the Program's direction, in 2016, GAFSP launched a series of projects under the Missing Middle Initiative (MMI), then a pilot program aimed at enabling, developing, and strengthening farmers' own autonomous organizations. The MMI provided small-scale grants to producer organizations to lead, design, and implement the most appropriate projects for their local contexts. 

Responding to pressing needs 

When provided with the right tools and resources, small-scale food producers can respond with remarkable speed and flexibility in times of crisis – a spike in conflict worldwide and the COVID-19 crisis have shown that. And at GAFSP, we have witnessed small-scale farmers at their most emboldened these past two years.

VCC operator
Musammat Lipi is a Virtual Call Center operator. Photo: Saikat Mojumder

For example, in Bangladesh, the GAFSP-supported smallholders set up 57 Virtual Call Centers, equipping farmers with information to keep produce moving during the pandemic. And in Mali, the project is helping keep young people in farming communities and out of violent conflict. It has also set up a guarantee fund in the banking sector to provide young farmers with the necessary credit to start, run, and expand their businesses. 

Funding farmer-generated solutions 

Five years after successfully testing the MMI on the ground and learning from the experience, GAFSP is now funding small-scale food producers directly through the producer organizations that represent them. This builds on the MMI pilot experience and will strengthen the institutional capacities of producer organizations as key economic players in the agri-food systems, including better access to finance, markets, and innovative solutions for their farmer members. The latest GAFSP Call for Proposals, which included grant financing for both countries and small-scale food producers' organizations, attracted over US$1 billion in funding requests, of which US$115 million was from over 40 producer organizations in the world's poorest countries. 

This is an exciting step forward for GAFSP. This unprecedented interest in funding for agricultural projects signals the high investment demand: small-scale farmers directly need these resources. For example, in the Maldives, the new project will contribute to a resilient and robust food system, overcoming the severe challenges faced due to climate change and COVID-19. In Honduras, farmers will develop value chains through agroecological approaches and improved market access, improving food security and nutrition in the driest parts of the country. And in Niger, the project will strengthen the capacity of producer organizations and their members, focusing on women and young people as drivers of economic and social development. 

banana farmers in Senegal
Veronique and Margarite are banana farmers in Senegal.

This marks a necessary shift from a "beneficiary approach" to an equal partnership that fully integrates small-scale food producers' voices into GAFSP projects and places their demands and expertise first. GAFSP will be taking this further in the months and years to come as we seek to become an even more inclusive and transparent fund to support smallholders, families, and communities' autonomy and resilience. We urge the international community to join us. 

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