Small farmers from poor countries help to rescue credit crunched Britain

Small farmers from poor countries help to rescue credit crunched Britain

By agency reporter
21 Mar 2009

Farmers from some of the world’s poorest countries are coming to the rescue of credit crunch Britain, offering expert advice to those turning to growing their own fruit and vegetables to beat the budget blues.

Small-scale farmers who rely on their land to keep their families and communities fed are helping Britain’s new breed of gardeners and allotment holders take the first steps towards growing their own fruit and vegetables. Their tips have been collected by international development agency Progressio as part of a drive to highlight the crucial role played by small-scale farmers across the globe.

Coming from countries as far apart as Honduras and Malawi, these ‘land-to-mouth’ farmers use organic farming methods which have been finely tuned by centuries of reliance on the land for survival. Their tips are being launched as 100,000 credit-crunched Britons queue up for allotments, vegetable plots are created in many more of our 15 million gardens, and sales of fruit and veg seeds jump by 28%.

No area is so small that it cannot be put to good use. Faustino Reyes Matute, a 52-year-old farmer from San Marcos in Honduras, says: “Don’t despair if you haven’t much room – you can still get produce from plants grown in old tins and tubs on window sills or balconies.”

Preserving precious resources is second nature to small-scale farmers. “Collect and save rainwater to water your plants, by investing in a water butt,” advises Mary Gerald, a 40-year-old farmer from Chiola village, Lilongwe, in Malawi. Mary grows enough organic produce on her small farm to feed her family of eight, as well as a small surplus she sells at the local market.

The tips, which have been given the thumbs up by the Royal Horticultural Society, include advice on the organic control of weeds and pests and ways to to maximise crop yields. But not all of the farmer’s suggestions made it on to the RHS hit list. Tips on where to dig your own well would have been unlikely to improve allotment holders’ relations with their council-planning department.

Adding dried blood to organic fertiliser is probably not practical for gardeners in the UK either. And one farmer’s suggestion that a bucket be placed under leaky pipes to collect water was countered with the advice that you would be better off getting the leak fixed.

Guy Barter, Head of Advice at the RHS said: “Growing your own food is seen as an enjoyable activity in Britain, but elsewhere it can be a matter of life and death. The ingenuity of people in this position can be inspiring and their advice helpful.”

The farmers’ tips come with a crucial message. Progressio, which has worked with farmers in the developing world since the 1970s, believes that small-scale farmers are essential to solving the escalating food crisis across the globe. “These farmers are real professionals,” says Petra Kjell, Progressio’s Environmental Policy Officer. “They have to be – their lives depend on it. And given half a chance they could play a key role in solving the global food crisis.

“Not only do they produce food to feed 2 billion people – a third of humanity – many do so in a sustainable way, managing a large proportion of the world’s water supply and preserving the soil’s fertility.”

Yet Progressio is warning that many small-scale farmers are now under threat, particularly in low-income nations. Not only have vast swathes of land been given over to large-scale commercial agriculture, but backing for small-scale producers has dwindled in national aid budgets.

This gradual erosion of support for once self-sufficient, smallholder producers has meant the vast majority of households in developing countries, including small-scale farmers, are now net buyers of food – spending more on food than they earn from selling it.

Tim Aldred, Progressio Policy Manager, comments: “We can learn a lot from these people and they have much to offer – but they need our support and the world’s leaders and policymakers need to wake up to this fact.”

The G20 meeting in London, which begins on April 2, will see world leaders come together to consider a package of measures to tackle the [worsening] global financial crisis. Progressio is warning that amidst all the talk of problems in the financial markets, the importance of small-scale farmers and the negative impact the banking crisis is having on world hunger must not be forgotten.

“This is an easy win for world leaders and land-to-mouth farmers alike,” insisted Tim Aldred. “Investing in agriculture in developing countries by getting seeds, tools, sustainable practices and credit to smallholder farmers so they can produce more food and get it to local and regional markets, must be built in to any measures to tackle the financial crisis. Big farms are not the only solution. Small-scale farmers deliver the food that feeds a third of humanity – we simply cannot afford to ignore them.”

Progressio is calling on governments to take action in three key areas:

* Provide more investment and support for small-scale farmers, giving them higher priority in national budget allocations and overseas aid budgets
* Review policy at national and international level so it benefits small-scale farmers instead of undermining them
* Help build the capacity of small-scale farmers to enable them to contribute to policy-making at a local, national and international level.

There are an estimated 450 million small farms around the world. In Africa alone, 33 million smallholder farmers account for 80 per cent of the continent’s agricultural outputs. Nine out of ten poor people in rural areas are smallholder farmers who depend on small plots of less than two hectares for their food.

Progressio is an international development charity that seeks to help poor communities solve their own problems by providing help and expertise from skilled workers, rather than money. Progressio also lobbies decision-makers who make the policies that keep people in poverty.

For the full list of tips and further information on Progressio’s drive to highlight the situation facing land-to-mouth farmers, visit: www.progressio.org.uk

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