Written evidence submitted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture and Food for Development


1.   The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Agriculture and Food for Development welcomes this International Development Committee Inquiry into the Sustainable Development Goals. This submission focuses on the essential role of agriculture and support for smallholder farmers in order to achieve both a broad agenda for sustainable development and a specific goal to end hunger and achieve food security.

2.   The finalised text ‘Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ rightly concentrates on People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership and recognises the interlinkages and integrated nature of the Sustainable Development Goals. As attention turns to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, the APPG on Agriculture & Food for Development calls for agriculture to be prioritised by DFID, other donors and national governments.

About the APPG on Agriculture and Food for Development

3.   The APPG on Agriculture and Food for Development brings together parliamentarians concerned with enhancing agriculture, nutrition and food security in developing countries. The APPG was established in 2008 in response to the growing concerns over heightened food prices and the chronic underfunding of agricultural development by bilateral and multilateral organisations and national governments. Chaired by Jeremy Lefroy MP and Lord Cameron of Dillington, the APPG is a cross-party initiative drawing members from both Houses of Parliament.

4.   The APPG recognises that a vibrant, resilient and environmentally sustainable agricultural sector is key to development and that agriculture is one of the most effective tools to ensure economic, social and political well-being in developing countries. Smallholder farmers are central agents to addressing global hunger, eradicating poverty and increasing national productivity. In recognising this, the APPG uses its cross-party membership to facilitate informed debate to deepen understanding of the needs, opportunities and challenges of the 500 million smallholder farmers who feed 2 billion people worldwide.

5.   1.3 billion people are engaged in agriculture in developing countries and 70% of all Africans depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Women represent the vast majority of smallholder farmers. Women produce 70% of the food consumed in Africa. Currently, the world’s 500 million smallholder farmers, farmers who manage less than 10 hectares of land, produce as much as 80% of the food consumed in Africa and Asia. Despite this, smallholder farming is often seen as a source of poverty and food insecurity, rather than a solution to those challenges.

6.   1 in 4 children have had their growth stunted by malnutrition. Acute malnutrition is a reality for 52 million children. Stunting and wasting in the first 1,000 days after conception represents a blatant squandering of human potential. Poor nutrition impacts health and education, which can limit job prospects. Eliminating child malnutrition could increase GNP by 11% in Africa and Asia.
Prioritising Agriculture for Poverty Reduction

7.    ‘Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ states ‘We are determined to end poverty and hunger, in all their forms and dimensions, and to ensure that all human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality in a healthy environment.’ The APPG advocates that prioritising agriculture and support for smallholder farmers is essential to achieving these objectives. Improved agriculture is the best route to fulfilling many of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals including poverty eradication (Goal 1), food security and nutrition (Goal 2), health and well-being (Goal 3), gender equality and women’s empowerment (Goal 5), sustained and inclusive growth and productive employment (Goal 8), combating climate change and its impacts (Goal 13) and sustainable natural resource management (Goal 15).

8.   Profitable agriculture is the foundation stone which kick starts the whole rural economy. For sub-Saharan Africa and many of the least developed countries, agriculture and the economy are synonymous. Investing in agriculture can play a transformative role in improving incomes and economic wellbeing at both the household and national level. For the vast majority of people, increasing household income means increasing the amount of money that can be made through agriculture. As the APPG has previously argued, improving agricultural performance and linking farmers to markets is the most powerful tool to end global poverty and hunger and boost shared prosperity. As the World Bank 2008 Development Report demonstrated, agricultural development is an essentially pro-poor source of economic growth – about 2 to 4 times more effective in raising incomes among the poorest than growth in other sectors. Agricultural growth reduces poverty both directly, by increasing farm incomes, and indirectly through its positive impact on all other sectors of the economy. Interventions that help small-scale farmers to move from low-productivity farming to profitable small businesses will boost economic self-sufficiency and resilience and help to create a profitable, sustainable and inclusive rural sector in sub-Saharan Africa.
9   Investment in smallholders is highly cost effective and enables them to spend more of their incomes on health and education. Support for smallholders can also boost nutrition by providing better quality and more diversified food. Smallholder farmers are therefore central agents in addressing food and nutrition security at the national and household level. There are benefits for women’s empowerment too as support for smallholder agriculture can boost the economic and social status of women.
10   However, it is important to recognise that not all smallholders are the same. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (2014), for example, has defined broad categories of farming activities based on their relation to markets and their capacity to innovate, as follows:

  1. Subsistence or near-subsistence smallholders who produce essentially for own consumption and with little or no capacity to generate surplus production for a market.
  2. Small farms that are either already market-oriented and commercial, generating surplus production for a market (local, national or international); or have the potential to become market-oriented and commercial and generate production for a market, given the right incentives and access to markets for their production.
  3. Large farms which, although managed by a family and using mostly family labour, have more of the characteristics of industrial ventures.

Category (3) is likely to be dominant in several high-income countries, but can also be found in low- and middle-income countries. Categories (1) and (2) are likely to be present in the majority of low- and middle-income countries. Whilst all categories are important, category (1) is more about addressing poverty issues through social safety nets and category (3) is more about facilitating investment through private capital. The APPG would like to emphasise that the following recommendations in terms of implementation and the role of DFID refer in large part to category (2) in order to meet the SDGs.

Implementing a Goal on Food Security and Nutrition

11.   Addressing food and nutrition insecurity means empowering smallholder farmers to move from subsistence farming to profitable small businesses. In rural Africa small-scale farmers face significant barriers, including a lack of access to and use of new agricultural technologies (e.g. high-yielding seeds and affordable fertilisers), limited access to knowledge, finance and markets, and land tenure insecurity. Together with poor infrastructure (e.g. roads, power and irrigation) these barriers put farmers at an overwhelming disadvantage and significantly limit their productivity. Support to increase access to technology, knowledge, finance and markets for micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs) and agribusinesses is a critical gap in the business ecosystem in sub-Saharan Africa. Without this support smallholder farmers remain stuck in a vicious cycle where low investment, low productivity and low incomes are the norm.

12.   There is a broad spectrum of interventions needed to improve the livelihoods of small-scale farmers and maximise the opportunities for income generation in agriculture. This requires reliable financing, strong public sector support and an enabling environment for private sector investment, which will underpin the transformation from subsistence farmers to successful small businesses.

13.   Governments, with assistance from donors, must act to create the conditions that attract pro-poor private sector investment to secure and sustain the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. This by its very nature needs to be a long-term venture. The role of governments in kick-starting commercially-viable smallholder agriculture includes adequate investment in public goods that support smallholder agriculture, specifically agricultural extension services, rural roads, education, and irrigation and power supplies. Although private enterprise will drive investment in the agricultural sector, governments have an important role to play in facilitating an enabling business environment, including creating a favourable investment climate for farming, in which farmers can buy inputs, access credit and sell their produce more easily.

14.   Ensuring that there are effective institutions to allocate and protect property rights is another component of government support for smallholder agriculture. Secure property rights are critical to incentivising productivity-enhancing investments in the land. With secure rights to the land on which they rely, smallholder farmers are also more likely to qualify for credit, which can facilitate important productivity-enhancing investments, such as improved irrigation.

15.   Nutrition is essential to creating a sustainable food system. The APPG report ‘Home Grown Nutrition’ (2013) argues that agriculture must be seen as a catalytic tool in ending malnutrition and undernutrition. Food and nutrition security policies and interventions must extend beyond a simple focus of productivity and producing more food. The relationship between agriculture and nutrition is complex but investment in smallholder farmers and nutrition sensitive agriculture is fundamental to the pathways to sustainably improving nutrition.

The role of DFID

16.   As a major international donor DFID must take the lead in championing support for smallholder agriculture as the springboard for economic development and reductions in poverty and hunger. The UK and other donors must invest in agriculture with a ‘patient capital’ approach. Investment in agriculture must be a sustained long-term venture.

17.   With the right support the 500 million smallholder farmers worldwide will be able to grow themselves out of poverty, for good. Only then can a goal focused on ending hunger, achieving food security and improving nutrition be achieved. Donor governments, including DFID, have a key role to play in supporting this agenda.


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