Why the UK Government must make agriculture a top development priority
23 August 2010
While agriculture and food security appear to have been left off the Coalition Government's development agenda, a focus on boosting smallholder agriculture must be central to tackling development challenges, argues IDS Professorial Fellow Ian Scoones.
In a paper, Why agriculture and food security are central to meeting DFID's new Structural Reform Plan, Professor Scoones, co-convenor of IDS-based Future Agricultures Consortium (FAC), writes that reviving rural economies through small-scale agriculture and associated market and trade activities is the only long-term solution to ending poverty.
New DFID priorities
UK aid funding has been protected, despite budget cuts elsewhere, and the UK's Department for International Development (DFID), in its recently unveiled structural reform plan, proposes new development priorities of wealth creation, conflict and stabilisation, gender equality and climate change. This is alongside a new focus on value for money and aid effectiveness.
However, while there is no explicit mention of agriculture and food security in the plan, policies to boost agriculture must be central to meeting these challenges, Professor Scoones argues.
He contends that if the 2015 targets for the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) are the only aim, then a 'quick win' or an 'easy' target is probably the best option. But, he says: 'These are too often just the sticking-plaster solutions, stemming the problems temporarily while boosting the stats.'
He asks: 'Has the new administration forgotten the debates around the Africa Commission, the Gleneagles Agreement, the World Development Report (WDR) on agriculture or the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD)? Have the food price hikes of a few years ago been dismissed as a blip? Was agriculture simply last year's thing?'
'Support for agriculture and food security must be central to the implementation of this new plan and, across the departmental priorities, a focus on support for agriculture, food systems and rural livelihoods must feature prominently ... This is not a romantic vision of a peasant idyll. This argument is based on hard-nosed assessments drawing on solid empirical evidence.'
Researchers working with the Future Agricultures Consortium are showing how a focus on agriculture and food security can help the Government meet its priorities:
- For wealth creation, FAC work on commercialisation is showing, that getting markets to work for pro-poor agriculture is key.
- For conflict and stabilisation, FAC work on pastoralism in East Africa and the Horn is showing how improving pastoral livelihoods is at the core of peace-building and conflict prevention.
- Supporting women's roles in science, technology and innovation is essential. FAC's work shows that a more participatory approach in breeding programmes - rather than, for example, simply aiming for productivity increases is gender-sensitive and inclusive in its approach.
- For responding to climate change, FAC's work on climate change shows how a more joined-up policy process is required if the front-line tasks of building resilience to climate change in rural areas is to be achieved.
Professor Scoones says: 'The dramatic economic transitions we have seen in parts of Asia in the past few decades have been built on the foundation of a solid rural base. And when this crumbles, big problems arise - as we are seeing today in some of the emergent "tiger" economies ... For Africa for now, there is little option but to focus on the economic sector where comparative advantage lies, i.e. smallholder agriculture.'
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