State collaboration with family farmers is key to global food security

19 May 2014
Press release

TNI's new report chronicles working alternatives across the world that have succeeded in increasing food security while protecting family farmers, their communities and the environment.

Amsterdam/Rome, 19 May 2014 – As  government representatives gather in Rome to discuss how to responsibly invest in agriculture in the context of an unprecedented wave of land grabbing, a new report by the Transnational Institute has chronicled working alternatives across the world that have succeeded in increasing food security while protecting family farmers, their communities and the environment.

TNI’s report, Reclaiming Agricultural Investment: Towards Public-Peasant Investment Synergies1, argues that global food sovereignty2 depends on moving away from the current dominant focus on financial and private investments towards building synergy between peasants and state investments. Illustrated through case studies from Thailand to Ghana, Brazil to the United States, the reports shows how the state can use rural finance, subsidies, agricultural research, land reform, and social policy to support small-scale food producers in providing food for all.

The report shows that:

  • Placing food security at the heart of public policy has a dramatic impact on poverty and human development. Brazil’s cross-cutting Zero Hunger programme which combines aspects of public health, nutrition, social education and agriculture played a major role in reducing infant mortality  by almost 40% between 1997 and 2007 while the share of the population living below US$2 per day  decreased by 9% since the start of the programme.
  • The climate crisis can be confronted and food security  strengthened through a sustainable form of farming based on an ecological balance between humans and nature. Cuba’s switch from  high-external input, industrial agriculture towards agro-ecological farming resulted in the highest food production levels in Latin America and the Caribbean, with Cuba importing only 16% of its food. The use of agricultural chemicals declined by 72% between 1988-2007 while Cuba’s family farmers currently produce over 65% of the country’s food.   
  • Healthy, local food systems which source nutritious foods from a known provenance can be expanded and supported. US ‘Food Hubs’ act as a one-stop shop for the marketing of local food products through the provision of grants and federal assistance. The value of these local markets was estimated at US$4.8 billion in 2008
  • Some of the most effective strategies for dealing with the food crisis have involved the use of public stocks and the setting of minimum farm prices for producers and maximum consumer prices for key staple commodities. In Indonesia for example, these measures ensured that the price of rice actually decreased in 2008 while it was escalating in neighbouring countries.

The report provides crucial inputs for the government representatives, civil society organisations, and private sector actors meeting in Rome for the critical negotiating week of the principles on Responsible Agricultural Investment (RAI) at the Committee on World Food Security – the world’s premier forum for policymaking on food security and nutrition.

From the outset the debate on the RAI principles has been contentious. While governments such as the US, Canada and Australia have been in lock-step with the private sector in advocating for a set of ‘optimistic’ principles that welcomes foreign direct investment (FDI) through clear and efficient land titles, the rule of law, and the proper functioning of markets, civil society and social movement representatives have been keen to point out the destructive impacts of many large-scale investments on local rural ecologies and societies.

“Corporations feed off profit, rather than food, so putting them at the heart of solutions to global food insecurity can not be the principal answer to food crises,” said Sylvia Kay the author of the report. “In fact this reliance on private investment has fuelled a global wave of land grabs threatening the future of family and peasant farmers that still feed 70% of the world’s population. The solution can hardly be to support farming without farmers. Instead we must link the dynamism of small-scale food producers with active support from the state.”