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Small Farmers and the Future of Africa
Alex Steffen, 4 Oct 04

The most important constituency for improving life in most African nations? Small farmers.

At least, that's the conclusion reached by a new report (PDF) from Imperial College, London, and FarmAfrica. The authors note that nearly half the people living in Sub-Saharan Africa now live in absolute poverty, surviving on less than $1 a day -- three-quarters of them in rural areas, and that small farmers provide nearly all the food and much of the employment (and thus potential for progress) in the region. But,

"[S]mall-scale farmers face a host of problems, including inefficient ministries of agriculture, inadequate access to services and markets, the impacts of HIV/AIDS, patchy roads and telecommunications, poor soil, adverse terms of trade in global markets, low produce prices and limited irrigation (4% of cropland in Africa is irrigated, compared with 40% in South Asia).

They recommend a six-point program to help small farmers: empowering rural, developing world people politically; redistributing land more justly where possible, but providing better access to water everywhere (especially through rainwater harvesting and the like); better farmer support services; and improved rural infrastructure -- as well as reforming global trade policies and price stability measures.

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