Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bringing innovation to small farmers

Research into agriculture has helped the developed world have more than enough food it has even helped booming nations such as India and the Philippines. Still, over a billion people in the under-developed world have not experienced the benefits of the food boom. So many food research experts are pleading the case of bringing the same innovations in farming to the many small farmers in the the third world.

From IPS, writer Paul Virgo talks about the great importance in helping small farmers.

"The developing world's agricultural research systems are currently insufficiently developmental-oriented," says an expert paper laying the foundations for a roadmap that will be approved at GCARD on how agricultural research should be transformed.

"Research organisations have generally not been good at integrating the needs and priorities of the poor in the work of researchers," the paper says. "Agricultural research and development efforts that engage farmers and build from the bottom up can release locked-up innovation, become responsive and effective, encourage many different pathways, and result in adequate food for all."

Smallholders need research to provide them with innovations - new farming and livestock breeding techniques and seeds - that are not only effective in increasing yields in a scenario made more difficult by climate change, but are also affordable, and appropriate to their skills and equipment.

Smallholders are often remarkably quick at changing their practices to adapt them to changing situations on the ground, such as rainfall patterns, and so feedback from them can be excellent input to shape scientific studies.

"Agricultural research plans need to allow for a genuine two-way flow of knowledge and information, between the scientists and the rural communities, including indigenous peoples, to ensure that our response to the needs and conditions in rural areas is truly comprehensive," IFAD President Kanayo Nwanze said at the conference.

Good agricultural research should also be increasingly interdisciplinary. Rural insurance and credit innovations are needed, for example, to encourage poor farmers, who are frequently reluctant to take loans for fear of not being able to repay in the event of bad weather or crop price changes, to invest in new resources.

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