World Food Day celebrates the anniversary of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's creation on 16 October 1945, and is a good occasion to reflect on the challenges of achieving food security worldwide. This year’s theme, 'Family Farming: Feeding the world, caring for the earth', was chosen to raise the profile of family farming and smallholder farmers.
There is general agreement that family farming plays important roles in eradicating hunger and poverty, providing food security and nutrition, improving livelihoods, managing natural resources, protecting the environment, and achieving sustainable development. However, the debates around the specific policies and investments needed for this are as heated as ever.
In sub-Saharan Africa in particular, the challenges of feeding a growing and increasingly urbanised population, while increasing household incomes for rural producers, have given rise to fierce debate and contested recommendations.
A new form of Afro-optimism
IIED, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) have teamed up to explore these debates by commissioning research with funding from the Department for International Development (DFID) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the first seven papers are published today.
The project team wanted to see what has changed since 2001, when influential papers in an issue of Development Policy Review entitled "Rethinking rural development" suggested the power of agriculture to drive development was declining, as more and more people sought jobs in other sectors.
Today, the world is a different place. Agriculture is firmly back on the African development agenda, but the political and institutional environment has changed. Most rural Africans now live and farm in liberalised markets, which most African and international policy forums assume to be the best basis for economic activities.
This shift has been accompanied by changes in the framing and narratives that underpin policy discourse and processes. Mainstream debates on agricultural policy now orbit around notions like opportunity, competition, entrepreneurialism, value chains and public-private partnership, resulting in an enterprise-agrarian variant of Afro-optimism.
Liberalisation, coupled with rising food prices, has also sparked interest among private investors in Africa's agricultural land and commodities. African institutions such as the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) seek to help African countries reach a higher path of economic growth through agriculture-led development and boosting agricultural productivity. Donors such as the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition are keen to support this vision.
But not everyone is happy with these developments. Those questioning the effectiveness of liberalisation to catalyse sustainable and fair development point out that many big questions remain unanswered.
- Will smallholder farmers drive agricultural growth or will such growth side-line these farmers?
- Will 'farming as a business' contribute to rural poverty, unemployment and migration, or support the growth of the rural non-farm economy? And
- What about agroecology and food sovereignty?
T.S. Jayne, Ferdinand Meyer and Lulama Ndibongo Traub investigate 'megatrends' such as rising food and energy prices, climate change, urbanisation and demographic transitions that are shaping African economic, political and social landscapes. They discuss how policy choices will influence each of four plausible scenarios for African food systems, and argue that the state can play a major role to engage the public in determining what a 'good society' looks like.
by Barbara Adolph and Laura Silici, IIED
This article first appeared on the IIED website.