Sunday, 29 May 2011

POVERTY: Another reason to improve small farm output

May 24, 2011
A lot of emphasis has been put on small farmers in the aid world lately, and for good reason. Small farmers grow food for themselves, but any surplus they can later sell to market for extra income. When their yields are bad they can't make any money from their work; or worse yet, they will not be able to feed their families for the year. United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development says that two billion people depend on the crops coming from 500 million small farms.
So the aid world has put a focus on improving the technology, the seeds used and more in hopes to end hunger. We discovered another reason why this is important today from a post at the From Poverty to Power blog. Writer Duncan Green introduces us to a small farmer in Tanzania by the name of Thelezia Salula. She says that it is important to improve the yield and income of small farmers so that future generations can be attracted to farming as a vocation. Without such improvements, they will instead migrate to the cities for work.
More farmers arrive and we move to the partial shade of a leafless tree. The conversation turns to their hopes for their children. Most of them, like poor farmers everywhere, want their kids to study and escape from farming to a ‘good job’ in an office, or for the government. ‘The world is changing, but if they stay in farming their lives won’t change.’ None of their children want to be farmers: ‘no-one will farm when I am old and I will suffer the consequences’, says Thelezia ‘My children will have to pay for labourers to work the farm.’ Farming, it seems, is the last resort when you fail your exams.
But one woman, Salome Luboja, does want her kids to be farmers, and sets out three things that would have to change for that to happen. Firstly, education and knowledge about modern farming methods; second irrigation to safeguard farmers from the vagaries of the newly unreliable rains, and third improved markets and prices. I’m not convinced – towns are just so much more fun than farms, especially for young people – but the women insist that if the facilities were there, the work would not be such a grind, and if the incomes were higher than in the town, the kids would stay on the farm.
I still think many of them will chose to migrate, but if governments and aid donors invest properly in small farmers like Thelezia, (which is one of the things Oxfam is pushing for in the impending Grow campaign, launching on 1 June) at least her children will have a dignified and genuine choice between staying and leaving. That’s only the start though: the flatness of this plain, under a huge sky and scorching sun, seems especially vulnerable to the whims of an increasingly harsh climate. Unless climate change can be controlled too, and people helped to adapt to it, any progress is likely to be short-lived.

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