Within the span of six years, farmers in the village of Mbuvo in southern Kenya moved from food aid dependency to economic independence.
Their company, called Mbuvo Commercial Village, is growing with one successful enterprise after another. Their innovation and hard work is a pivotal part of the success, but they couldn’t have done it without help from Canada.
This group of farmers first came together in 2010 because they needed food aid. They couldn’t make a living from their farms, so they joined a food-for-work project, digging silt out of a pond and getting paid in food.
They started thinking about working together to improve their farms and teamed up with agricultural extension agents from the Kenyan government.
Around that time, Canada was increasing the amount of money within its aid budget that went to agriculture in developing countries.
In response to the global food crisis of 2008, Canada made a three-year commitment to step up efforts for food production and poverty reduction in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The Mbuvo farmers and Kenyan extension agents joined with researchers at McGill University in Montreal and received money from a new Canadian fund for food security research. Several years on, Canada’s investment in this project has enabled hundreds of farmers to move from food aid dependency to commercial production.
This partnership has also led to improved prospects for the women farmers, increased attendance at school and greater access to water and electricity.
Unfortunately, when that three-year commitment came to an end in 2011, Canada’s aid for agriculture declined. It remains low today.
The Canadian Foodgrains Bank has been working with other organizations to encourage Canada to reinvest in agricultural development. We have met with many members of Parliament and officials at Global Affairs Canada, seeking a commitment to more aid for agriculture in Canada’s 2017 budget.
However, last month’s budget is a disappointment because overall aid levels are flat and there is no mention of the key role of agricultural development.
Aside from the obvious benefit of increasing food production and helping farm families out of poverty, wise investments in agriculture can help in other ways.
Farmers are on the front lines of climate change, struggling to produce crops and livestock amid changing rainfall patterns, stronger storms and rising temperatures.
Investment in research and extension can help them adapt, keeping them on the land and productive, rather than fleeing to the slums of already-crowded cities or across borders to look for work.
With farming being the main source of livelihood for women in developing countries, a focus on farming can help them improve their income and their status in male-dominated societies. In many cases, women farmers benefit more when they work in groups, whether it’s saving money or marketing their farm products.
Canada is well-placed to invest in agriculture in developing countries. Our domestic farm sector has successfully overcome a harsh climate to become an agricultural powerhouse.
While our exports focus on grain, oilseeds and livestock, Canada has many successful domestic innovations, such as community supported agriculture, conservation farming, agricultural co-operatives and horticultural production in protected structures. It has a reputation for strong research and problem-solving capacity in agriculture, bringing together diverse disciplines to solve real-world problems.
Investments in international agriculture not only help poor countries, they also help Canada. Global prosperity and security depend on food security around the world. Agriculture is the biggest employer in most poor countries, and improving opportunities in farming reduces poverty and de-fuses tensions.
This in turn reduces the chances of diseases, refugees and conflict spreading over international borders, and increases opportunities for Canadian farmers and businesses.
Paul Hagerman is director of public policy with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.