On World Food Day, a salute to small farmers

BY: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

Today, Saturday, October 16, as the United Nations family marks World Food Day (WFD), my reflections focus on the sobering subject of hunger, how millions are reportedly going hungry, despite the abundance of food elsewhere. 

According to the findings of the UN food agencies: “Globally, about 8.9 per cent of the world’s population — 690 million people — go to bed on an empty stomach each night.”
Little wonder that the second of the UN’s ‘17 Sustainable Development Goals to transform our world’, says simply: “Zero Hunger”.

World Food Day was established by FAO's member countries at the Organization's 20th General Conference in November 1979. Credit is given to the Hungarian Delegation, led by the former Hungarian Minister of Agriculture and Food Dr. Pál Romány, who suggested the idea of celebrating the WFD worldwide.

The FAO marks World Food Day on October 16, the first one having been held on Oct 16, 1981. It has since been observed every year in more than 150 countries, raising awareness of the issues behind poverty and hunger.

This year’s theme for the WFD is “Our actions are our future – Better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life”.

Some more thought-provoking statistics, from the UN: “About 90 per cent of the world’s 570 million farms are small. Most are found in the rural areas of the developing world, and are owned and operated by families.

“Many of these smallholder family farmers are poor and food insecure and have limited access to markets and services … but they farm their land and produce food for a substantial proportion of the world’s population.

“Today, in order to tackle the triple challenge of producing more food … there is a need for competitive and sustainably productive farms… and small family farmers lie at the heart of the solution.”

Also, the FAO points out that: “smallholder farmers produce more than 33 per cent of the world’s food, despite challenges including poverty and a lack of access to finance, training and technology.”

Here in Ghana, there is also the thorny subject of the loss of food crop lands, grabbed from small farmers by the powerful in society, but they still manage to produce food to help feed the nation.
Thus clearly on a day like this, smallholders and peasant farmers deserve a salute from the rest of the population.
My thoughts turn to possible initiatives to make farming more attractive, more rewarding and less back-breaking. If smallholder farmers – including Ghanaian farmers –are producing more than 33 per cent of the world’s food, despite their serious challenges, what support measures are in place for them?

For example, I have been wondering for years why in Ghana district assemblies in farming communities can’t arrange dedicated farm transport, to bus farmers to their farms and back for a small charge, especially when they have produce to convey home.

Most of the farms are far from town, hence getting the produce home becomes a problem as commercial drivers are not always willing to transport farmers with produce. This is why in some places food rots in the bush, because there is only so much that farmers can carry by headloads.

Surely, arranging a vehicle to transport farmers to and from, should not be too difficult for the district assemblies to organise? If schools can arrange for school buses, why not one for farmers?

Obviously, another, major reason why food rots in farms is because of poor, or no access, roads in those agricultural areas – a fact evidently known to the local government.
Having had the privilege of partly growing up among farming folk, I can well appreciate the situation of farmers.

Earlier this week, I read with interest a news item in the Ghanaian Times of October 12 about an official’s advice to farmers in the Upper East Region:

“The Upper East Regional Director of the Department of Agriculture, Mr Francis Ennor, has advised farmers to, as a matter of urgency, undertake market survey to determine demand of produce of commercial buyers and consumers before embarking upon agricultural production.

“This, the director noted, would not only enable the farmers to have a feel of the taste of the buyers and consumers, but it would also empower them to establish agreement with commercial buyers so as to produce accordingly, to avoid post production losses and poor sales.”

In my opinion, the advice that Regional Director Mr Ennor gave the farmers is sound and he deserves commendation for that. However, I wish he would go the extra mile for the farmers.

Why can’t the Regional Director himself make the contact with the commercial buyers and then brief the farmers? Or, why can’t the district agricultural officers be given that assignment?
Presumably, it would be easier for the agricultural officers to contact potential clients than individual farmers trying to do that.

If farmers approach commercial buyers by themselves, that might signal to the buyers that they desperately need their business, and thus rogue commercial buyers might take advantage of the approach by the farmers to cheat them, offer them low prices.

Two other issues come to mind: Firstly, one of the most pressing obstacles for Ghana’s peasant and smallholder farmers, is the disastrous effect of illegal mining, or galamsey, activities on their land. This is land normally meant for food crops farming but which, taking advantage of the poverty of the people, the illegal miners manage to acquire.

Secondly, sometimes with the collusion of chiefs, wealthy people manage to procure land meant for farming, usually through bullying helpless small farmers, for commercial property development.

On occasions such as World Food Day, these critical matters should be high on the discussion agenda in Ghana, but are they?

Evidently, the selfish, unprincipled actions of the powerful point to an uncertain future for the defenceless small farmers and affected communities, denying them – and us – a better life.
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