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Sustainable agriculture and the role of local food production groups

Source: CGIAR - Tue, 26 Jun 2012 16:34 GMT
Author: CGIAR Consortium
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In our RIO+20 Call-to-action, CGIAR called for a strengthening and support of local food production groups, livestock herders and smallholder farmers by investing in agricultural research, strengthening land and water rights, increasing access to markets, finance and insurance, and enhancing local capacity, especially with regard to the use of local agricultural biodiversity. We talked to three people about their work with smallholder farmers and herders: Ruben Echeverria (Director General, International Center for Tropical Agriculture – CIAT), Steve Staal (acting Deputy Director General Research, International Livestock Research Institute – ILRI) and Roberto Quiroz (Project Leader, International Potato Center- CIP). “Local food production groups”, that is quite a mouthful... Ruben Echeverria: These groups consist in large part of smallholder producers. Three out of every four of the world’s approximately 1.2 billion poor people live in rural areas, and either form part of such groups or depend on their food production for sustenance and a livelihood. Steve Staal: Local food production groups are very diverse. Just in the dairy sub-sector, for example, you find village milk collectives, dairy cooperatives, milk hawker groups and certification schemes, fresh cheese and butter manufacturers, contract farmers and women’s groups. The kind of production group can vary by region and production system. In Africa for example, they span from village sheep fattening groups in the Nigeria and Ethiopia, to transhumant livestock herders in the West African Sahel, to dairy producers and sellers and semi-nomadic milk pastoralists in East Africa, to goat and beef producers in southern Africa. In Asia, where poultry and pig producers have their own specialized groups, livestock fodder growers, transporters and sellers as well as manure sellers are becoming increasingly common and important as land resources get scarcer. And then there are all the specialized agents supplying inputs needed for livestock farming... Local production groups often combine livestock and farming... Steve Staal: The vast majority of the world’s small-scale food producers mix crop growing with livestock raising. That’s because the integration of these two systems is beneficial to both in many ways, with livestock manure fertilizing croplands, for example, and crops residues after harvest feeding ruminant livestock. The CGIAR Systemwide Livestock Program was instituted to work at the interface of crop and livestock production, further refining their integration for increased efficiencies. Ruben Echeverria: One of the CGIAR’s most important contributions to improving mixed crop-livestock systems has consisted of introducing a wide array of tropical forages (grass and leguminous species). In addition to helping intensify meat and milk production, these species offer multiple environmental benefits -such as recuperation of degraded lands and improved soil fertility- which enhance the productivity of crops and the system as a whole. In addition, tropical forages show tremendous potential for mitigating climate change through carbon sequestration and reduced nitrous oxide emissions. How do you connect your agriculture research with these local food production groups? Steve Staal: Largely through NGOs, private companies, government agencies, local networks and other intermediaries. And by paying close attention to the self-forming groups of food producers and sellers themselves... Are we responsible for bridging that gap? Yes, although we do this more often indirectly rather than directly. In the past, scientists and scientific institutions working for agricultural development have typically not been held accountable for bridging this gap. All too often they have managed to build their reputations within their scientific communities, largely through scientific publications, rather than through the demonstrable applicability of their research, or the benefits it has provided to their main clients, the world’s poor. But that is changing now. Ruben Echeverria: The CGIAR is most definitely responsible for finding more effective ways to link research with development, and this in itself is a suitable subject for social science research. Ensuring that research is applied requires stronger partnerships. Public-private partnerships show promise for faster development and wider diffusion of novel products, such as drought-tolerant transgenic maize, hybrid Brachiaria grasses, and golden -high vitamin A- rice. Another exciting prospect is that of strengthening and expanding our “learning alliances” with major international NGOs, which have immense reach in rural communities across the developing world. Someone once said: “No farmer will grow food he can’t sell”. Giving farmers market access must be crucial? Steve Staal: Oh yes, a good example is a ten-year Smallholder Dairy Project conducted by ILRI, the Kenya Ministry of Agriculture and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute. Working with NGOs and government policymakers from the start, this project managed to change mindsets about what was perceived to be unsafe about the ‘raw’ –unpasteurized- milk being sold informally everywhere. Due to this project, national -and now regional- dairy policies that were hurting the region’s millions of small-scale dairy producers and milk hawkers were removed, with new with certification schemes set up for them, which have greatly increased their market access and their incomes without endangering public health. Ruben Echeverria: In Central America, CGIAR researchers, working in partnership with several international development NGOs, jointly applied through local partners a participatory methodology for strengthening farmers’ market links. As a result, 33,000 rural families developed sustainable agro-enterprises that bring a wide variety of tropical products to market. Now, Catholic Relief Services is applying the same methodology with local partners in various African and Asian countries. What are some of the key target areas, or key points of interventions to strengthen local food production groups? Steve Staal: Well, I would stress supporting small-scale dairy men and women, pastoral herders, backyard pig and poultry keepers, and mixed crop-and-livestock farmers of all kinds in the developing world. Livestock markets are booming in developing countries: we have a tremendous opportunity to help hundreds of millions of poor people move out of poverty by meeting the rising demand for milk, eggs and meat. And we also have an opportunity right now, which we must seize for the good of people and the planet, to help these people increase the efficiency and safety of their livestock systems, so that those systems are increasingly green and healthy as well as profitable. Ruben Echeverria: While the CGIAR is perhaps best known for its work on crops, we have to keep in mind that soil fertility is a key factor on which the productivity of all crops and cropping systems depends. In sub-Saharan Africa, an approach we refer to as integrated soil fertility management has demonstrated the ability to boost maize, sorghum, and cassava yields by more than 100 percent. Roberto Quiroz: Indeed, soil is most important, and not just to grow crops. Soil contains more carbon than the Earth’s plants and atmosphere combined. When undisturbed, carbon retained in the soil enhances soil quality and productivity, but when land is cultivated carbon is released into the atmosphere in the form of greenhouse gases. Not many people realize that agriculture contributes close to 15 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions globally. CIP and Embrapa’s research into soil carbon levels in Peru has shown that wet grasslands and peat lands in the highlands have the highest concentration of carbon stocks – between 200 and 300 tonnes per hectare. These stocks are also at highest risk of being released into the atmosphere as farmers are increasingly moving their crops into these higher areas to avoid issues related to climate change found at lower altitude, such as drought, pests, and diseases. To combat this problem, CIP is working with farmers in the Andes region to develop a number of potato varieties with drought-, pest-, and heat-resistant characteristics that can be grown in the existing lower-lying areas, leaving the vulnerable highland areas unaffected.   In developing countries, smallholder farms provide up to 80 per cent of the food, with women making up about 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force and accounting for an estimated two-thirds of the world's 600 million poor livestock keepers. Faced with environmental degradation, climate change, scarcity of land and water, loss of agricultural biodiversity and ecosystem services, and a world population that is continuing to climb, CGIAR believes that agriculture and natural resource management should be central to development and environmental agendas. CGIAR is a global partnership that unites organizations engaged in research for a food secure future. CGIAR research is dedicated to reducing rural poverty, improving human health and nutrition, and ensuring more sustainable management of natural resources. It is carried out by the 15 centers who are members of the CGIAR Consortium in close collaboration with hundreds of partner organizations, academia and the private sector. Read more about CGIAR’s participation at RIO+20 With thanks to Susan McMillan, Valerie Gwinner and Nathan Russell Picture courtesy Peter Casier

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