13 May 2015


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ORANGE PLENARY: INCLUSIVE DEVELOPMENT - THE FUTURE OF SMALL-SCALE FARMING SYSTEMS. Discussions around the theme of inclusive development at the ILC’s biennial Global Land Forum have returned repeatedly to the rights of small scale farmers whose tenure is often unclear...

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May 13 2015 - Dakar

Discussions around the theme of inclusive development at the ILC’s biennial Global Land Forum have returned repeatedly to the rights of small scale farmers whose tenure is often unclear and insecure and whose livelihoods are threatened by the expropriation of land for commercial purposes. This was the focus of the first Plenary. On one side, we heard from National Policy makers instituting Land Reform purportedly to protect the rights of small farmers while at the same time facilitating an external market for land to maximise economic returns. On the other, small scale farmers themselves, once actively engaged in policy formulation, spoke of a reversal whereby their rights to land have either been removed or diminished creating at best, an impasse, at worst, real conflict.

Land grabbing is commonly associated with the exploitation of minerals or investments by agribusiness as a result of inward investment (FDI). In his plenary address, however, Ibrahim Coulibaly (CNOP Mali) powerfully argued that the real land grabbers were the national elite - policy makers and businesses. “The one who is looking for the needle has their foot on it”. Although national land governance frameworks are in place, there is a clear disconnect with the realities experienced by smallholder farmers on the ground. In Mali, although farmer organisations shaped the National Agricultural Policy in 2005 just a few years later, in the wake of a food crisis, Coulibaly stressed that 700,000 ha were expropriated, dispossessing 100,000 people and threatening ‘food security’. It is interesting to note that while discussions here at the GLF have referred to ‘food security’, the issue of ‘food sovereignty’ has been neglected. While the former is premised largely on market solutions, the latter involves bottom-up, farmer-first solutions to food production. The future of small-scale farming cannot be secured through land rights alone (although this is the start); there also needs to be a fundamental joined-up policy shift away from a focus on food security towards food sovereignty.

Land endowments for small scale farmers need to be supported by entitlements – the ability to farm the land productively and sustainably. Mario Cerutti of Lavazza argued the (business) case for working with c.20-25million small holder farmers in coffee production where large scale extensive farming is unviable in the hillslope locations where coffee is grown. He noted however that in the long-term this production is threatened by the subdivision of land due to customary inheritance and allocation practises affecting entitlements especially those of women. This resonates with many of the core debates of the Forum, namely tensions between customary tenure and legal rights to land. The role of MNCs in small holder farming further raises issues of livelihood sustainability where mono-culture is often the norm, exposing farmers to the volatility of global markets in particular and, in some cases, their exploitation where produce is not fairly traded. Michel Mordasini (IFAD) argued that small scale farming should be diversified and needs to move away from monoculture to be sustainable, thereby reducing exposure to shocks and stresses. Security of tenure for small holder farmers should be accompanied by a package of measures that support diversification, address gender inequalities and sensitise farmers about impacts on ecology and the environment. Small-scale mono-culture driven by MNCs can be as damaging to small scale farmers, and hence food sovereignty, as direct interventions through land grabbing.

One year on from the International Year of Family Farming, the future of small scale farming hangs in the balance. While there was a strong belief from speakers that small farmer production can support domestic growth, there needs to be the political will and legislative frameworks to support this. Security of tenure is the fundamental starting point, albeit free from the loopholes underpinning existing policy that serve to benefit elites and foreign investors. There also needs to be a policy shift away from that premised on the need for ‘food security’ towards a focus on ‘food sovereignty’ placing small farmers at the centre of rural development.

Author: Deborah Sporton, University of Sheffield
Last modified on Thursday, 14 May 2015 13:08

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