Oxfam's EU Advocacy office in Brussels

Smallholder farming is a serious business. It’s time the EU recognised that.

By Hanna Saarinen, Oxfam Policy Advisor on Investment in Agriculture

More than 30 million people face hunger, with famine only recently pushed back from parts of South Sudan, and still looming in Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen. Hundreds of millions more people around the world cannot be sure of their next meal. The EU could tackle the deep-rooted problems in the global, national and local food systems by supporting smallholder farming: ecologically sustainable agriculture that empowers local communities and is proven to help people escape stuctural poverty.

But the EU has failed to act on the solutions that it has itself promised.

On the surface, the EU has shown commitment to going beyond just short-term fixes to world food crises. The 2010 EU policy framework on food security emphasises ecologically sustainable small-scale agriculture, empowerment of marginalised groups, and a specific investment in women. These are measures that have been proved to reduce poverty and increase food security.

Analysis shows: EU failing to live up to its policy commitments

However, an Oxfam-commissioned analysis of the EU’s aid for agriculture, examining 7500 projects, reveals that the EU is failing to live up to its own policy commitments.

Between 2007 and 2015, less than one quarter of EU aid for agriculture explicitly targeted small-scale producers. Only 2-3% of the funding promotes gender equality, while ecological sustainability is largely missed out in planning documents altogether.

What’s more, the countries that face greatest hunger and poverty are getting an ever-smaller share of support. Since 2009, the amount of agricultural aid the EU sends to countries in Europe, a region which is not threatened by hunger, has grown 10-fold at the expense of other regions like sub-Saharan Africa, where hunger is the most prevalent.
Added value of private sector involvement not proven – and the Commission knows that
Simultaneously, the EU is setting in motion a policy to strengthen the role of the private sector in development. Private sector engagement can provide additional funding and know-how for the agriculture sector. But a report written for the European Commission itself recognises the private sector does not necessarily bring any added value in terms of development impact and may not reach the most marginalised populations. There is a risk that aid money channelled through private companies won’t help the people it is supposed to help.
Untapped capacity of family farms

By contrast, investing in smallholder agriculture, and especially agriculture led by women, has immense potential for reducing poverty and tackling the twin challenges of food insecurity and climate change.

There are approximately 500 million family farms in the world, producing about 80% of the world’s food, and the sector still has untapped capacity.

Women can play a transformative role in agricultural development. But they need targeted support as they continue to face legal and social discrimination that limit their potential.

The EU has made positive commitments that could help millions escape poverty and hunger. Now it needs to live up to its own promised solutions. We call on the EU to:

    • Ensure funding goes where it is most needed, instead of to countries the EU sees as strategically important to its own interests.
    • Deliver on existing commitments to empower small-scale producers, promote gender equality, and support ecologically sustainable agriculture models.
    • Only engage the private sector in development where it can demonstrate positive impacts and does not put environmental standards, women’s rights or public services at risk.
    • Prioritize food security and small-scale agriculture in the post-2020 EU Multiannual Financial Framework, focusing on efforts to tackle structural causes of food insecurity and poverty.

Read the full report for more details.

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