Adopting a farmer-centric approach

I was shocked, but not altogether surprised, to learn recently that farmers’ incomes worldwide have remained significantly lower than the average income in most sectors, often by as much as 50%.

This does not bode well for the future, considering that farmers must produce enough food to meet the needs of a fast-growing and demanding world population. And in order to achieve this, they will have to farm sustainably, using fewer resources to produce more, while facing extreme climate volatility.

This explains why, at its 2016 General Assembly in Livingstone, Zambia, the World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO) stressed the importance of a farmer-centric approach to agriculture.

For too long, the very people responsible for producing food have not been properly represented in the global dialogue on ending hunger. Farmers have also, until now, been left out of global climate change talks.

The WFO wants to change this. Since its establishment in 2012, its primary goal has been to change the position of farmers in food chains, represent their interests and ensure that they are adequately taken into account in establishing new policies at a global level.

Over the last four years, the WFO has grown considerably, and now has 80 members (including from South Africa, Agri SA and Afasa) from 50 countries.

Small-, medium- and large-scale farmers are represented, and the WFO must now strike a balance between acting as a global advocate for the diverse needs of farmers from developing and developed regions, and farming businesses of varying scales.

Some challenges pose a threat to all farmers. Principle amongst these are the barriers to entry, such as high start-up costs and poor return on investment.

Summarising this problem, Luis Miguel Etchevehere, president of the Argentine Rural Society and member of the WFO board, said: “Farmers need to be profitable in order to invest for an increasingly uncertain future. They need a fair and ambitious financing framework, and the multifunctional role of agriculture needs to be acknowledged and enhanced.”

Here in South Africa, the policy landscape is certainly not equally friendly towards all farmers, and there are many reasons why farmers and prospective farmers are wary of investing in the sector. But the situation is far from hopeless.

This week, South African farmers could take courage from the fact that the Land Bank urged government to implement subsidised, index-based insurance to support all farmers as they try to manage the risks presented by climate change and other factors.

“We simply cannot leave the agricultural sector to find solutions within the private sector only,” said Mpumi Tyikwe, the Land Bank Insurance Company’s managing director.

“When farmers have done everything they can, and the weather doesn’t come to the party, we need government support.”