What many are wondering is what this relationship would look like when big agri-businees begins to invest in the small farms of the under-developed world. Would the small farmer impove financailly, or would they be exploited? From the Guardian, writer Matthew Newsome attended a conference that covered this subject.
This month more than 500 private-sector representatives, government officials, donors, civil society representatives, farmer organisations and academics met in Ethiopia for a conference organised by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Co-operation. They discussed the role of the private sector in upgrading smallholder agriculture to meet demand from foreign and emerging markets in developing countries. Investment interest is underscored by the IMF's forecast of 5.7% economic growth in 2013 for sub-Saharan Africa, which is being driven by rising commodity prices.
Rising food prices suggest global demand is still outpacing farmers' productivity, and resource-constrained smallholders need greater market access, training and technology to increase their agricultural production, according to the experts at the meeting in Ethiopia.
Development organisations are promoting the merits of a mutual partnership between large corporations and small farmers. John Moffett, director of policy and strategy for Self Help Africa, has been working with small-scale cashew nut farmers and those who commodify the nut in Benin, with support from PepsiCo, to supply Europe's markets. "Strengthening smallholder value chains is really about helping farmers to move from being subsistence based to enabling them to make a better profit," says Moffett.
Moffett says the role of NGOs is starting to change: he sees them playing more of a temporary role in facilitating trade between small-scale producers and the private sector. Once the supply chain links are in place he says, "the NGO will shift to being a watchdog".
"Development is now really focused on the economic development of Africa through trade," Moffat adds. "It is moving away from the constant injection of aid funding into Africa and focusing on something which, over time, should be more sustainable." Africa's population is expected to reach 2 billion by 2050, so some argue it cannot afford to be short-sighted when dealing with investors.