- Ibrahima Coulibaly, President of the National Coordination of Farmers’ Organizations in Mali (CNOP) and FAO Ambassador for the International Year of Family Farming
- Claire Cuny, Secretary General of the young farmers’ association, Jeunes Agriculteurs de Meurthe-et-Moselle, and member of the French Farmers and International Development Association (Afdi)
- Bruno Losch, economist and researcher at CIRAD
- Zacharie Mechali, project manager in the Agriculture, Rural Development and Biodiversity Division at Agence Française de Développement
Please find below the summary :
Growth in the world’s population, urbanization, changes in eating habits: these are all factors that necessarily make agriculture a key sector for the future of Northern and Southern countries alike. In this sense, the farming profession undoubtedly has a future, especially since “agriculture is still today the largest employer in the world, with 1.3 billion active workers, that is 40% of the world’s working population” (B. Losch). Farming activities do, however, need to be ecologically viable, sufficiently attractive and a source of revenue.
Future of farming profession: a question of agricultural models
Northern and Southern countries alike need to look at which agricultural models should be promoted. While this is a major issue in rich countries, where environmental concerns and dietary patterns are recurring issues in public debate, it is even more so the case in Southern countries, where farmers can account for up to 80% of the working population.
Worldwide, the sector is marked by substantial imbalances. 95% of the active agricultural population is in Asia and Africa, but only 2% of agricultural workers use a tractor, and 70% of them are in longer-standing industrialized countries. Consequently, productivity differences range from one to a thousand and “the confrontation of these different agricultural systems on integrated markets at international level poses a real problem of overall viability” (B. Losch).
With its overwhelming majority, world agriculture – whatever its technological level – is first and foremost a family agriculture. In Southern countries, agriculture has a low level of mechanization and is mainly based on smallholdings which do, however, primarily ensure food security. But the courses of modernization followed by Northern countries, even if they have allowed huge productivity gains, are practically impossible to reproduce in the South today, as they have brought about radical impacts on the structure of employment and on the environment. The difficulties encountered also raise questions about the viability of these agricultural models.
In order to modernize their agriculture and provide a future for their farmers, Southern countries must “trace their own development path” (I. Coulibaly): it is possible to “conceive modernity in family farming systems”, “Reflection should be based on these family farms, which are already efficient” (Z. Mechali).
The food crisis in 2008 did not sufficiently raise awareness to the fact that there is a need to really invest in local food production, or remind us that the first entrepreneurs to have this capacity to rationally invest are small- and medium-sized holdings. With realistic and better-targeted policies (taking into account the actual situation of family farms), “in four years, all African countries could be food self-sufficient” (I. Coulibaly).
Drivers for job and income generating agriculture
Access to financing. In Southern countries, due to the lack of guarantees, banks are reluctant to take risks by investing in farming, and microfinance is not always an appropriate tool. It is necessary to develop “tools that are able, beyond land, to reassure banks in terms of investment in the farming world, such as warrantage or collateral management” (Z. Mechali). Farmers’ solidarity credit unions are also a solution for the future.
Importance of training hinged on vocational integration. This is an aspect that is often neglected in public policies, as it appears to be uneconomical in the short term. Yet “training is linked to starting an activity, to agricultural production: it represents an extremely important economic value” (Z. Mechali). Training for farmers must focus on a practice, be firmly rooted in territories, and lead to support for vocational integration.
Securing land tenure. “It is necessary to increase controls on movements in agricultural land” (C. Cuny). In Africa, no legislation explicitly recognises farmers’ property rights. Since 2008, the rush of investors on land, with “negotiations completely disregarding communities”, has dispossessed a large number of farmers of their land. “FAO’s voluntary guidelines on land management are a standard-setting tool that can and must be used to ensure that the rights of communities are respected” (I. Coulibaly).
Proactive public policies. “What all countries that have developed have in common is that they have created agricultural systems with a strong State presence, and farmers who have access to a number of amenities: loans, inputs, equipment, border protection” (I. Coulibaly). This support from governments for their farmers is lacking in most African countries: governments devote less than 5% of their budget to the 80% of active agricultural workers. The sector is weakened as a result, and young people turn away from agriculture. There is a need to rebuild confidence by recognising the importance of smallholders, who are the main investors in the sector.
Promote regional integration against liberalisation processes. The free trade economic partnership agreements that Europe may sign with the West Africa region in the autumn are likely to seriously destabilise smallholder farming. “There is a need to think about the notions of the competitiveness and marketing of agricultural products at a subregional level, and to remain critical of liberalisation processes that would seek to put agricultural economies from these countries in competition with Europe or the world” (Z. Mechali).