Inequalities in agriculture: A threat to sustainable development

How climate change and environmental inequalities prevent farmers from reaching their potential

The world’s 500 million smallholder farmers face a variety of environmental, economic and educational inequalities. These equalities must be overcome to deliver the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. The panel will discuss the structural causes of inequality in agriculture and how to address them.

  • Environmental inequalities: How climate change, invasive species and water scarcity affect farmers;
  • Educational inequalities: Farmers’ lack of access to information, best practice, data and advice; and
  • Economic inequalities: Financial access and land rights as barriers for farmers.

The panellists bring a wealth of experience to the discussion, and will discuss how cross-sectoral collaborations in agriculture are the only way to build a world which leaves no one behind.

Key points

  • Smallholder farmers are innovative by nature; the innovative processes they use must be supported.
  • Young people and women must be given more support so they can become farmers in their own right.
  • Agriculture must be made more interesting to encourage young people to return/stay on the land.
  • Creating an enabling environment for farmers to develop their land is key.

Synopsis

The world’s 500 million smallholder farmers face a variety of environmental, economic and educational inequalities. Inequalities are wicked problems. There is not one solution, and solutions will be messy and will take a long time. However, we can unpick those complexities. While the changing nature of those inequalities makes them difficult to address, one way is to disentangle the communities and talk about different groups within communities and their different needs. Young people, for example, are not necessarily recognised as full members of the economy or as agricultural producers in their own right. This can drive them away from the land leaving older farmers to work well into their eighties. To address this issue, older farmers should be allowed to retire. To keep young people on the land, we need to recognise and encourage them, and create an atmosphere where agriculture is seen as interesting and a rewarding career option. This can be done through using new technologies or simply by asking young people what they want and actively listening to them. Beyond young people we need to acknowledge that people in general have a more interrogative understanding of their own lives than we tend to credit them with. Here again the key is listening to them and encouraging them by developing an enabling environment. Smallholder farmers are fundamentally innovative. They know what they are doing and their innovative processes need to be supported, especially those relating to marginalised groups because not all farmers are equal. The lack of information and training among farmers also needs to be tackled. For example, farmers in the developing world tend to know very little about fertilisers, weed killers and pesticides and they often fall prey to those who promote only chemical products. Even small information initiatives encouraging them to switch to organic farming or grow niche products can have far-reaching benefits. Consumer awareness can also play a part in this. Since we are all co-producers, it is what we eat every day that will determine what the farmers plant. Women in agriculture, like men, face the challenges of a lack of access to education and information. Women often also lack access to finance. Despite this, opportunities abound. For example, women are becoming more involved in coffee production and are doing so successfully. Thanks to various initiatives, women are taught how to make better coffee and how to access speciality markets. Climate change is one area where not enough is being done and where information is crucial. We need to teach smallholder farmers resilience in the face of climate change and we need to communicate the urgency of addressing the threat of climate change at all levels. Small farmers in Africa, for example, must learn the importance of not chopping down their forests. They must also be taught the importance of changing some of their farming practices to reflect climate change. Developing countries may not be major contributors to climate change and pollution, but this does not mean they can rest on their laurels. They also need to protect their own environment. Agriculture should be a source of both pride and income.

Insight

The use of “colonial languages” in information videos geared towards farmers was widely criticised. This is due to the huge difference between those living in cities and those living in the countryside who have next to nothing. Measures must be taken to ensure that country dwellers, young people and women do not receive second-best information. They should also receive information in their local language and not in English or French, which often they do not understand.

Organised by

Speakers

Moderator
Ben Deighton
Managing Editor
SciDev.Net
Josefa Sacko
Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, African Union Commission
African Union Commission
Sarah Cardey
Associate Professor, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development
University of Reading
Pacita Juan
Founder
ECHOStore
Dennis Rangi
Director General Development
CABI