AGRICULTURAL policies aimed at alleviating poverty in Africa could be making things worse, according to new research findings.
University of East Anglia (UEA) researchers this week published a report on so-called ‘green revolution’ policies in Rwanda. Governments, international donors and organisations such as the International Monetary Fund claim these strategies are successfully growing the economy and alleviating poverty, but researchers revealed that they may in fact be having very negative impacts on the poorest people in the country.
One of the major strategies to reduce poverty in sub-Saharan Africa is through policies aiming to increase and ‘modernise’ agricultural production. Up to 90 per cent of people in some African countries are smallholder farmers reliant on agriculture, for whom agricultural innovation, such as using new seed varieties and cultivation techniques, holds potential benefit but also great risk.
In the 1960s and 70s policies supporting new seeds for marketable crops, sold at guaranteed prices, helped many farmers and transformed economies in Asian countries. These became known as “green revolutions”. The new wave of green revolution policies in sub- Saharan Africa is supported by multinational companies and western donors, and is impacting the lives of tens, even hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers, according to Dr Neil Dawson, who led the UEA study.
The UEA research reveals that only a relatively wealthy minority have been able to keep to enforced modernisation because the poorest farmers cannot afford the risk of taking out credit for the approved inputs, such as seeds and fertilisers. Their fears of harvesting nothing from new crops and the potential for the government to seize and reallocate their land means many choose to sell up instead.
PRIVATE AID MAY NOT BE HELPING
The report follows another by social justice organisation Global Justice Now, which suggested the world’s largest private donors, who wield huge amounts of influence and financial power have “Dangerously and unaccountably [distorted] the direction of international development” in a way that could entrench corporate power and poverty. This has been done by, amongst other things, championing highly industrialised agriculture, which is undermining smaller-scale, biologically diverse systems.
Dr Dawson’s findings tie in with recent debates about strategies to feed the world in the face of growing populations, for example the influence of wealthy donors such as the Gates Foundation, initiative’s such as the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, and multinational companies such as Monsanto in pushing for their vision of agriculture in Africa.
There have also been debates about small versus large farms being best to combat hunger in Africa, while struggles to maintain local control over land and food production, for example among the Oromo people in Ethiopia, have been highlighted. In a recent policy document advocating on behalf of small-scale farmers, FAO warned that “The over-arching paradigm of economic growth, considered the highway to secure development, has left the social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development behind.”
Dr Dawson, a senior research associate in UEA’s School of International Development, commented, “Similar results are emerging from other experiments in Africa. Agricultural development certainly has the potential to help people, but instead these policies appear to be exacerbating landlessness and inequality for poorer rural inhabitants.
“Many of these policies have been hailed as transformative development successes, yet that success is often claimed on the basis of weak evidence through inadequate impact assessments. And conditions facing African countries today are very different from those past successes in Asia some 40 years ago.”
‘MODERNISATION’ NOT THE WHOLE ANSWER
Outlining one of the main criticisms with this vision of agriculture and its place in development policies, Dr Dawson added: “Such policies may increase aggregate production of exportable crops, yet for many of the poorest smallholders they strip them of their main productive resource, land. [My research] details how these imposed changes disrupt subsistence practices, exacerbate poverty, impair local systems of trade and knowledge, and threaten land ownership. It is startling that the impacts of policies with such far-reaching impacts for such poor people are, in general, so inadequately assessed.”
The research looked in-depth at Rwanda’s agricultural policies and the changes impacting the wellbeing of rural inhabitants in eight villages in the Country’s mountainous west. Here chronic poverty is common and people depend on the food they are able to grow on their small plots.
Farmers traditionally cultivated up to 60 different types of crops, planting and harvesting in overlapping cycles to prevent shortages and hunger. However, due to high population density in Rwanda’s hills, agricultural policies have been imposed which force farmers to modernise with new seed varieties and chemical fertilisers, to specialise in single crops and part with “archaic” agricultural practices.
Dr Dawson and his UEA coauthors Dr Adrian Martin and Prof Thomas Sikor recommend that not only should green revolution policies be subject to much broader and more rigorous impact assessments, but that mitigation for poverty-exacerbating impacts should be specifically incorporated into such policies. In Rwanda, in their view, that would mean encouraging land access for the poorest and supporting traditional practices during a gradual and voluntary shift.
Economic value of red meat sector rises
HE VALUE of the iconic beef, lamb and pork sectors to the Welsh economy rose in 2020, as consumers turned to local, sustainable, quality food during the COVID pandemic, according to analysis by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC).New figures from the Welsh Government ‘Aggregate Agricultural Output and Income’ report show that the total value of agricultural output in Wales for 2020 is projected to stand at £1.7billion – a 6.2% (or £99 million) increase on the provisional figure for 2019.
Cattle and sheep account for 44% of this total at £750million; the highest proportion recorded since 2016. The agricultural output value for Wales’s pig sector also increased (by 34.3% or £2 million) to a value of £8 million.
The figures reflect the strength of the livestock sector in Wales and sit in contrast to Total Income From Farming (TIFF) figures for the UK as a whole newly released by Defra. Although the TIFF figures are a different form of measuring farm production, the UK data concurs that the livestock sector has had a strong year, but in other parts of Britain, this was more than offset by poor harvests in the arable sector.
Demand for beef and lamb have been strong in the domestic retail market since the immediate aftermath of the first COVID lockdown in spring 2020. After initial market volatility, marketing campaigns by HCC and other bodies encouraged consumers to recreate restaurant meals at home.
Over the past 12 months, domestic retail sales of lamb and beef have trended consistently higher, with spending on lamb 20% higher than the previous year. Sales at independent high street butchers are also strong.
Research shows many demographic groups, including families with children, buying more beef and lamb than previously, and turning to quality home-grown produce.
HCC Data Analyst Glesni Phillips said, “The strong demand for red meat from the domestic consumer has helped drive market prices for beef and lamb at Welsh livestock markets in the second half of 2020 and into the early months of 2021.
“It’s no surprise, therefore, to see that the overall value of the industry is projected to have grown. We have seen inflation in the costs on farmers, which offset some of the gains from improved market price; however, it’s heartening to see consumers’ support for quality Welsh produce.“Welsh Lamb and Welsh Beef remain key drivers of our rural economy, and given their excellent brand reputation, they act as flagship products for the growing Welsh food and drink sector.”Further analysis of the aggregate output and income figures for Welsh farms are available in HCC’s latest monthly market bulletin.
Ian Rickman: 2021 is a critical year for Wales’ farming future
THE INCREASINGLY negative narrative around livestock farming and its portrayed impact on the environment and climate change has led to farmers in Wales standing up to tell their stories and highlight the positive impact livestock farming has.
Through the Farmers’ Union of Wales’ campaign ‘Guardians of the Welsh Land’, farmers are addressing misleading claims by various groups about the role livestock farming plays in relation to climate change and the environment. Launching the campaign, FUW Deputy President Ian Rickman said: “The FUW has consistently recognised the threat represented by climate change and the need to take action. This is clear from a cursory look at our manifestos and policy documents published over the past twenty years.
“We know that farming is already responsible for a critical carbon resource in soils, woodland and semi-natural habitats and I’m pleased to launch the FUW’s environment campaign – ‘Guardians of the Welsh Land’ from my home farm here in Carmarthenshire today. As farmers are the most trusted link in the supply chain, they are best placed to communicate their stories, helping to address consumer concerns and influencing political agendas. Members can also look forward to a variety of webinars over the coming months, which will focus on the different challenges ahead for the industry and how to overcome them.
“There is no question in our mind that we need to counteract the continuation by the anti-farming lobby of their campaign to vilify and belittle domestic food producers. These attacks are corrosive and grossly misleading, negatively influencing consumer perception of the industry and influencing political agendas on a global scale.”
Mr Rickman added that 2021 is an important year for these types of conversations.
“Knocking on our door are the United Nations Food Systems Summit and COP26. The FUW has been engaging with these conversations at an international level and shares some concerns with other industries across the globe about the wider narrative and ambitions set out in inconspicuous looking documents. Plans, we and the general public don’t support. Telling the positive story of the guardians of our Welsh land is now more important than ever,” he said.
Starting in the first week of June, the campaign introduces four farmers all of whom tell the story of how they are addressing environmental and climate change needs in their unique ways: Carmarthenshire organic sheep farmer Phil Jones, the Roberts family from Meirionnydd, Ceredigion dairy farmers Lyn and Lowri Thomas and FUW President Glyn Roberts who farms with his daughter Beca at Dylasau Uchaf in Snowdonia.
“The campaign will further highlight that Welsh farmers are rising to the challenge of improving soil health and increasing organic matter in soils, improvements which represent further opportunities for sequestering more carbon. These improvements, the campaign will highlight, are achieved through specific livestock grazing patterns and rest periods. The campaign is also clear that the correct options, guidance and rewards are required to encourage more farmers to adopt such systems,” said Mr Rickman.
Soil, the campaign will stress, is a long term investment and at present, around 410 million tonnes of carbon is stored in Welsh soils and 75,700 hectares of Wales’ woodland (25%) is on farmland, representing an important and growing carbon sink.
“As acknowledged in Natural Resources Wales’ State of Natural Resources Report, using land for food production is an essential part of natural resource use and management. Whilst we acknowledge that agricultural intensification has undeniably had negative impacts on some species and ecosystems, there is overwhelming evidence that other factors, including reductions in agricultural activity and afforestation, have also had severe negative impacts,” he added.
Excellent Easter for lamb sales
Lamb proved a popular choice for consumers over Easter with retail sales soaring above the last two years. This demand has been reflected at livestock markets where farmgate prices are still standing strong.
At a time when lamb is always a firm favourite, this year people of all ages were both buying and spending more as a result of a renewed interest in sourcing quality, local produce and cooking at home.
In the 12 weeks to 18 April 2021, the total volume purchased was up 14.8% on the year, and 6.0% higher than in 2019. Consumer spend on lamb reached £190.0 million, which was 18.7% more than in 2020 and 14.6% higher than the same period in 2019.
Lamb leg roasting joints were the most sought-after cuts despite the fact that Covid-19 restrictions on large gatherings remained, followed by chops and mince.
Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales’ (HCC) Data Analyst, Glesni Phillips said: “Lamb performed exceptionally well over the Easter period this year. It saw a 10.2% increase in the number of buyers engaging with the product and a rise of 3.3% in the frequency of which lamb was bought.
“The average price of lamb was also higher, but this obviously did not deter new buyers. The figures show that there are new buyers in all age categories, but this is especially true for shoppers aged under 45 years and those with children.
“The pandemic has led to more consumers cooking at home, giving many the opportunity to realise and enjoy the exceptional qualities and versatility of Welsh Lamb, and at the same time, support the local economy.”
Butchers also benefitted from the popularity of lamb in the run-up to Easter with total spend increasing by 16.1% on the year. The volume sold also increased, by 12.6%.
Glesni Phillips added: “As we approach the end of Spring, the consumer demand for lamb is continuing. This can be seen in the liveweight lamb prices which remain strong when compared to historical averages, with the average SQQ in Wales standing at 329.7p/kg in Wales for the week ending 15 May 2021.
“New season lambs are now entering the market – they accounted for over 70% of lambs at auction in Wales during the latest week – but the supply is still relatively tight. HCC is looking forward to working with retailers over the coming months on new activity, which will include in-store marketing, press and targeted digital communication to maintain this growth in sales. Butchers, who demonstrated their key role in the community during the pandemic, will also be offered training on a number of key skills to boost their sales even further.”
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