UN Report: Focus on Rural Farming Takes On Equity and Climate

Small-scale farming is a climate solution

Investing in small-scale local farm activities can take on rural poverty, sustainability, and nutrition challenges according to a report released today by the UN's International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). The report, Transforming Food Systems for Rural Prosperity, recommends supporting all elements of food production, not just growing crops. Expanding the focus of food systems to include storing, processing, and marketing will result in an expansion of job opportunities, especially for women and young people. Many of the small-scale farmers, agrifood entrepreneurs, and rural workers who work to make the global food supply are unable to earn a decent living, an indictment of the current model.

IFAD: Ethiopia | Poor people don't just need food - they need nutritious food, September 21, 2021.

Why This Matters

Small-scale farming is part of the climate solution. Farms that are two hectares and smaller produce about a third of the world's food, so how they grow and distribute their products matters. The current global agriculture system, focused on productivity over all else, has paradoxically led to an increase in malnutrition and food waste. Another paradox: modern food systems create 37% of greenhouse gas emissions, but a warming planet is already changing where food can be grown.

As the report writes, "Rural prosperity is inextricably connected with the way the entire food system functions -- from the local to the global level."

Sentient Media: Food System Emissions - How Can We Reduce Our Carbon Footprint?, June 18, 2021.

Recommendations from the report

The report emphasizes the importance of taking local conditions and politics into account and makes the following recommendations for policy makers establishing "nutrient-dense, knowledge-intensive, circular and equitable agricultural systems":

  • Create opportunities for smallholder farmers to diversify, such as where and how they can sell their products and growing a wider range of crops.
  • Incentivize sustainable production so that farming can move away from maximizing output and focus on optimizing natural resource use.
  • Invest in local farm-level research and educational programming that bridges the divide between ​​farmer-led indigenous knowledge and public and private research and innovation.

"Current food growing practices are not good for our environment," Dr. Jyotsna Puri, Associate Vice President of IFAD's Strategy and Knowledge Department, said in a statement. "It is clear that we need a revolution. A revolution so dramatic that previous versions of food systems are unrecognizable."