UN’s IFAD Endorses Small Farmer Cultivation in Lead Up to Rio+20

IFAD’s President says small farmers and agricultural development are key to poverty reduction and food security.

Shortly after MPOC CEO Tan Sri Datuk Dr Yusof Basiron praised small farmers for their role and enduring importance in economic and social development, Kanayo F. Nwanze, the President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), echoed his message in The Guardian. Mr. Nwanze discussed the need to support smallholder farmers, underscoring how they represent the best example of sustainable private-sector enterprises and promoted IFAD’s role in partnering with farmers organizations ‘to create the conditions for poor farmers to grow their business’. He also called on governments to take leadership and bring agriculture to the fore while acknowledging the centrality of small farmers in sustainable development.

Although policymakers convening in Rio wisely prioritized economic growth over the objections of environmental activists, they should have done more to highlight the importance of small farmers in the context of poverty eradication and sustainable development. The successful case study of Malaysian palm oil small farmers provides a particularly useful illustration. Today, this crop supports the livelihoods of hundred of thousands of small farmers in Malaysia as well as millions of people across the world.  The oil palm has played a crucial part in Malaysia’s development, with the Government playing an equally important role – establishing a robust supply chain that sees industrious small farmers working alongside larger, more capital intensive growers. With palm oil being the fourth largest contributor to the nation’s Gross National Income (GNI), results indicate that the benefits from the efforts that have been made are tangible and very real. So much so that Malaysia is looking to achieve high income status by 2020.

However,  trade barriers against palm oil together with generous European and US agricultural subsidies, risk hurting Malaysia’s small farmers and their counterparts in the developing world. Subsidies, sustainability criteria on imports and tariff barriers in wealthy countries not only support unsustainable domestic agriculture practices, but also put pressure on small farmers in poorer countries – leaving them unable to compete as equals.

The story of industrious small farmers that Mr. Nwanze and Dr Basiron are trying to tell the world is one that applies for every country where men and women are allowed to own land and produce food. Leaders at the Rio+20 Conference would have done well to acknowledge this and understand that in terms of food security and poverty alleviation, the role played by small farmers is second to none. More should be done to support them, including cutting subsidies and import restrictions that protect producers in developed economies at the expense of global food security and poverty alleviation.

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Written by The Oil Palm