Shifting the Attention from Farms to Farmers
Norman Borlaug described food as a moral right. Now decades later, while many in the world continue to advocate for this fundamental right, for most, the right to food has become a reality.
Production of staple foods may be less of a prevailing rhetoric and may take less precedence in the world today where there is a general discernment of food security. Farmers, the producers of food, have come much closer to each other, not just for trade and commerce but also ideas and shared knowledge. Norm would have cherished that.
Norm would have also reminded us of nutrition (and not just food) and farmers (not just farms).
Farms in developing countries have come a long way, but farmers often have not. Higher production from farms does not mean better income for farmers. Production does not translate by default into better income, and hence, while the overall food production may have gone up in developing countries, agriculture’s potential as an income generating sector remains less promising. This is especially true for developing countries that host roughly 80 percent of the world’s population and 78 percent of harvested cropland. Farmers in most developing country systems, while working extremely hard, still rely on low-input, low-output farming and remain subsistent.
Income and realization of hard work in farming is a moral right too.
The role of agriculture scientists is not just to assure food security to consumers but also income security for producers--farmers who are in a very risky business that is getting riskier with time with challenges of climate variability, price volatility and continued disparities.
In the last few years, there has been welcome attention towards income. Countries like India, Rwanda, Nigeria, Vietnam, and Bangladesh are looking at serious reforms towards redefining agriculture not just as a food production engine but an employment sector that continues to employ 40-60 percent of their population. This is a welcome shift and an important focus on farmers--the employees of agriculture sector. These employees are also the largest investors in the agriculture sector, and hence better return in agriculture will also mean more investments in agriculture.
The shift from farms to farmers and production to profitability will also mean better attention to output markets and post-harvest optimization. This is a gap in most developing countries where the systems (public as well as private) are largely production-centric and geared towards agriculture inputs, production and pre-harvest protection with post-harvest part of the value chain being mostly informal and investment deprived.
Reforming its system from production to profitability is a steep curve for counties but a climb worth exploring, as on the other side will be better realization of agriculture markets and better incomes for almost half of their population--who are not just food producers but also consumers and thus drivers of economic reforms.
Farms and farmers--when they excel together, they create a transformation in the world.