by Suzan Joy of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance East Africa
Agriculture is a major driver of African economies, typically representing 30-40% of GDP and 65-70% of labor force. Smallholder farmers still control the largest areas for production, most of whom practice mixed farming. They employ 70% of the workforce and are home to most of the poor. More than half of the rural households are dependent on agriculture.
It’s becoming more common that large commercial farms are buying out small farms.. When this happens they become vulnerable to interests and conditions set by larger farms. The problem is the majority of large farms produce for exports and don’t practice regenerative farming. They practice monocropping which destroys the soil fertility, apply artificial fertilizers which contain chemicals into the soil and are the largest promoters of genetically modified foods.
Because small farms are owned by farmers who have limited resources to counteract challenges like unreliable rainfall patterns, pests & diseases, land conflicts amongst other challenges , they are set off balance and this affects the quality and quantity of food produced.
It’s important to note that smallholder farmers supply food to the local markets. So we can not ignore the role small farms play in ending hunger at national level. Many of them practice ecological agriculture which leads to sustainable production and environmental conservation. Therefore for smallholder farmers to strive, we need to collaborate with them to solve their challenges.
So how can we support smallholder farmers?
There is a need to provide subsidies and policy reforms for farmers. Many have limited access to credit and farm inputs so a package of inputs and credit access would make a huge difference. For example The Pollination project distributes seed grants to grassroots community projects worldwide, and through this they have funded agricultural projects and supported small holder farmers like Martin Morris set up an irrigation system for a community vegetable garden that supplies food to residents of Okunai village, Soroti district. They have supported Akongo Benza with a revolving fund for a savings and credit scheme project comprised of over 130 small holder farmers in Bukedi, Tororo District.
Land tenure policy reform is a priority as many farmers have expressed land access as a major constraint. We also need to strengthen institutions to make markets work better for smallholder farmers. Some of these institutions could provide services such as access to finance, market intelligence, marketing and business development services
Training and resource sharing on key areas like soil fertility, post harvest handling, pests and diseases amongst others. And promote strategic non violence to address the raising cases of land grab.
We need to strengthen the network of regenerative agriculture advocates to lift small holder farmers so they can continue producing food for local markets!