Rural transformation needs support

June 17 is the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. This year’s theme is Growing the Future Together and focuses on celebrating sustainable land management and the difference it can play in helping communities around the world lift themselves out of poverty.

Walking through her five-acre farm with a smile, Ruth Mitila pointed to a large white mat on the floor covered with bean seeds being dried under the hot sun.

“My farm is doing better than ever,” she said, looking at the abundant seeds. “I am now growing enough crops to feed my family throughout the year.”

Mitila is one of many small-scale farmers trained through a Canadian Foodgrains Bank conservation agriculture project in the Machakos district of Kenya, with Government of Canada support. Increasing drought, linked to climate change, is a big issue in the region, and resource-poor farmers, mainly women, are most affected.

Mitila learned skills and techniques that are helping her address increased drought. These include minimizing soil disturbance, permanently covering the soil, and including crop rotations in her farming.

After two years of applying these skills, Mitila’s life has been transformed. Her yields have more than quadrupled and she makes additional income by selling seeds to other small-scale farmers.

Investing in small-scale agriculture helps empower Mitila and other farmers to build a better life for themselves and their families. Canada can support rural transformation around the world by investing in agriculture, especially for women and small-scale farmers.

Six out of seven people who live in rural areas of developing countries make their living from agriculture and many don’t earn enough money to feed themselves and their families. Small-scale farmers, with five acres of land or less, make up more than half of the food-insecure people in the world. The challenges they face, such as depleted soils, uncertain climate, poor access to markets, and lack of access to farm extension and necessary inputs, are usually more severe for women.

Many problems can be overcome with appropriate investments in agriculture, which can support economic growth, provide better nutrition, and improve the lives of many women and children in developing countries.

After the food price crisis of 2007-08, Canada made food security an international development priority and committed substantial resources to support small-scale farmers. These investments were lauded for being well targeted and effective.

Yet, from a high of $741 million in 2009-10, Canada’s investments have been in decline, down to $297 million in 2017-18, despite rising levels of food insecurity globally.

Moreover, Canada’s aid contributions, measured as a percentage of gross national income (GNI) or our wealth as a country, lags behind. Other countries with similar economies invest an average of 0.52 percent of GNI in aid. Canada’s current contributions and pledges in coming years are 0.26 percent — and has been in decline.

Increases to Canadian aid targeted to small-scale farmers could improve millions of lives through higher crop yields, improved nutrition, increased incomes, better educational opportunities and a more peaceful and stable world.

The foodgrains bank is asking Canadians to support its “I Care” campaign to demonstrate to the Canadian government that Canadians care about ending global poverty and hunger, and they want their country to contribute generously to this goal.

For Mitila, the benefits of Canadian aid are evident in the improved life she is building.

Canada hopes to make strides in eradicating poverty, achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls. These goals cannot be achieved without increases in its aid budget and investments in small-scale agriculture.

To learn more about the foodgrains bank’s “I Care” campaign, visit foodgrainsbank.ca/icare/.

Andrew Defor is a policy adviser at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

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