Nelly Bassily | June 9, 2008
Far from the small-scale farms where much of the world’s food is grown, leaders from 181 countries met to seek solutions to the current food crisis. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO, hosted a food summit in Rome, Italy, during the first week of June. The meeting turned the world’s attention to these small-scale farms and the people who work them. It closed with a declaration on the importance of supporting small-scale farmers to increase food production. But there was little indication that the summit or its declaration heard the voices of representatives from farmers’ organizations.Participating countries pledged billions of dollars to back the conference declaration and support small-scale farmers by making seeds, fertilizer, and crop markets more accessible. Farmers’ groups at the conference shared this focus on supporting small-scale farmer production and market access. But there was a huge difference of opinion over the kind of support small-scale farmers need.
Philip M. Kiriro is president of the Eastern African Farmers Federation-Kenya. He says that African governments have to invest in small-scale farmers – and they must be able to provide these farmers with subsidies and market protection.
Ndiogou Fall is president of the executive committee for the Réseau des Organisations paysannes de l’Afrique de l’Ouest, a network of small-scale, West African producers. He agrees that clawing back open market policies is key to increasing small-scale farm production and ensuring that farmers profit from their work. Fall says that, for 40 years, African governments were told that trade liberalization was the way to go, but now it’s time to find another way.
The summit declaration, however, supports the path towards open world markets and global trade liberalization. In fact, the declaration stated that reducing trade barriers will give farmers, particularly in developing countries, new opportunities to sell their products and support their efforts to increase production.
Jacques Diouf is Director-General of FAO. Speaking to reporters at the close of the summit, he maintained that food scarcity caused the rapid rise in food prices, and that increased production will be the solution. Mr. Diouf also maintains that food scarcity is the driving force behind food subsidies. He suggested that, when enough food is available, governments will not feel the need to subsidize farmers.
Some delegates may be content with the declaration’s support of open market policies. A vocal group, representing mostly Latin American countries, complained that heavily subsidized food from the United States and Europe floods their markets, and prevents their small-scale farmers from selling crops. True market liberalization would put an end to such subsidies. Mr. Diouf responded to questions about rich country agriculture subsidies by saying it’s up to the World Trade Organization to resolve these disputes.