eDialogue on future of small scale farming: Fundamental Issues

Our first online session of this eDialogue began by “Setting the Scene” with a range of global and regional perspectives, and in the second session we heard more “Local Perspectives on Small-Scale Farming”, with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa. These vlogs are largely contributed by researchers, but a few farmers have shared their ideas and we’d love to hear from many more people so we encourage you to submit vlogs to us.

What we have heard to date only scratches the surface of the huge diversity of smallholder farming systems around the world. This is not surprising given that the best estimates are that there are more than 500 million small-scale farmers worldwide! Reflecting on what we have heard so far, what can we learn? For a start – small-scale farmers are key to both local and global food and nutrition security, and to rural livelihoods throughout the world. Second – generalisations are dangerous! All of us are influenced by our own experiences and examples. The huge diversity among what are termed small-scale farmers manifests itself not only in terms of differences among continents and regions, but also within countries and, the deeper we look, even within each village.

When thinking about the future of small-scale farming, we hear highly optimistic voices with some wonderful examples of individual farmers and farmer groups and cooperatives who are carving out their own future through farming. At the same time we recognise there are major challenges faced by small-scale farmers, not least due to the continual pressure to drive down food prices globally. We certainly don’t have all the answers so we’re counting on hearing many more voices and perspectives in the coming sessions.

Two critical questions come to mind for me, which I’d like to share and hear your comments on:

  1. We realise that simply tweaking the current systems is not enough – and we are challenged through the SDGs to think about “transformation”. To be honest I find this really hard – as a scientist I am pretty good at unpacking why things don’t work – but not great at imagining new futures. What would this transformation look like? I discuss this in an article just published which I entitled the “Food Security Conundrum of sub-Saharan Africa”. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what sort of policies and actions could support a transformation of small-scale farming on Africa.
  2. To what extent can successful models for rural development around small-scale agriculture in one part of the world be an inspiration for change and transformation elsewhere? It seems to me that the differences among continents – in terms of opportunities both within the agricultural sector, in terms of alternative employment beyond the farm, in terms of cultures and the general economy to name a few – are so different that we must be cautious in trying to transplant approaches from one place to another.

So there is plenty more to discuss – and in our next session we are planning a series of separate meetings for different regions to address some regional specificities. Then we will have a joint session to explore some of the similarities. This will hopefully provide guidance for our two sessions in November where we will think about transition pathways and then finally policies to support future transformations.

Please do join us! We need your input.