Opinions Thu, 5 Apr 2018

Does food security agenda mean any good for farmers?

When you wake up in the middle of the night for lack and want of food in your stomach, you would understand why the whole world is racing against time to improve food security given the extra 2.3 billion populations to feed by 2050.

The global population is expected to reach 9 billion in 2050. It is estimated, in fact, that the decline and conversion of croplands use could cause a reduction in cultivated land area of 8-20% by 2050. Moreover, the combined effects of climate change, land degradation, cropland losses, water scarcity and species infestations may cause projected yields to be 5–25% short of demand by 2050 according to the Barila Centre for Food Nutrition.

FAO defines food security as: “Food Security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” What this means is that every person who has a purchasing power to afford good food should by no means be hindered by the unavailability, quality, nutrition or whatsoever.

Many governments all over the world have put in motion desperate measures to contain the imminent disorder. As the rage continues,the complexity in the management of the various positions of individual actors and the lack of agreement on choices and decisions to be taken by these institutions in the implementation of solutions and initiatives could be best described as sorrowful, lethargic and one-sided. We could be seen as in a hurry but to nowhere. If the imminent effect is anything scary to go by, then, as of now, the solution implementation scheme should have been a household mantra since 2050 is barely far away.Situations of this type create significant lag for rapid, economic and social development with disastrous consequences for the population, especially the poorest ones.

When the world was made to know its global food supply was on the decline, it was all hot and hope for farmers. But, does this encourage farmers to produce to in the quest for food security benefit farmers? Are farmers happy? Will farmers invest their entire whole being ensuring they produce sufficiently enough to feed the growing number of mouths and run at loss the end? Does the quest for food security make economic sense in this regard?

I once asked an old farmer going through a financial turmoil as to why he is continuing agriculture despite heavy uncertainties and financial losses. I asked this because I was born into a farming family and I have been doing it since I was a child. He said he could dream of doing nothing but agriculture. If he does not go to his field even for one single day, he feels empty inside. The simple feeling of being connected with nature is what keeps him going. I smiled. In a way, I could relate to the feeling.

Farming has been a way of life, but you see, it is being transformed into a business. Computerizations of farms records, farm growth and modern scientific advances have forced producers to take a more businesslike attitude towards farming. Currently, farms have grown in size and complexity and technology has made it feasible for the farmer and family to remain a viable economic unit.

The missing link, however, is that as the campaign for food security rages on, there emerged a visible lack of massive equivalent determination from the institutions that matter or state-led exertion at managing post-harvest losses for farmers. Agriculture prices and incomes have been very low. The problem has been one chronic of overproduction. Across the continent of Africa, the prevalence of post-harvest losses continue to burden farmers --- debt and low prices for crops have pushed many farmers into poverty or at least into a debt-trap. Burdened by debt, some have gone to extreme --- taking their lives. Perennial food wastage is not a good tribute to give for their hard work. In general terms, farmers have not prospered as the rest of the economy has, primarily because the supply of agriculture products has been increasing faster than the demand for them especially at bumper harvest.

This situation has bred bloodsucking middlemen whose only motto is to mint money from innocent farmers. These middlemen double as usurers who loan monies to farmers at pre-farming seasons as farmers increasingly face the challenge of accessing loans from the mainstream financial system. Most farmers have had to give up their managerial control because of credit requirements. Some farmers who are financially sound, are free to make production and marketing decisions, and thus are their own bosses. And they win.

Indeed, if farmers want to price their products, then, they must go to the marketplace with equal or greater strength than those middlemen who buy their products. Clearly, agriculture producers are being taken advantage of by these racketeers and profiteers--- processors, wholesalers and retailers in the supply chain system.

Yes, it would definitely benefit local farmers if and only the middlemen who are buying farm produce are genuine farmer mediators or business minded people rather than unbridled racketeers who are spotted out rarely.

Already, the gradual loss of agricultural soil and other aquatic seafood triggered by crucial temperature changes affecting the availability and different types of fish species are enough worries. So, for farmers, their problems are plenty. But, they always hope for a better tomorrow, a better next crop. On the margins, some budding startups are helping farmers ditch racketeer middlemen and selling their crop on their own terms, which is a very positive sign because it’s competitiveness for farm produce that will induce profitability, farmers’ scalability and ultimately drive the food security agenda home.

Christian Dormedzui

Wit Center for Research

Columnist: Christian Dormedzui