ForumforAg Food Systems Podcast Summary

Food Systems Podcast 27

In discussion with Amirul Islam Podcast summary

Thursday, Jul 22, 2021

Smallholder farming in crisis

Smallholder farmers in Asia have been hard hit by the pandemic and climate change, as well as systemic issues like landlessness and lack of secure tenurial rights to land, water and forest resources. Ahead of the UN Food Systems Summit, our latest podcast discusses the particular challenges for small farmers in this region with Amirul Islam, Operations Manager for South and Central Asia, Asian Farmers’ Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development. For a few quick highlights, read our short summary below, or dive into the full 22-minute Food Systems Podcast for much more. 

What impact has COVID-19 had on family farming in Asia?

About 60% of the 4.5 billion people living in the area are dependant on agriculture. As of July 9. About 4 million people in Asia were infected. This has had a great impact on agriculture… job losses, businesses, supply flows of perishable products, input costs and facilities to start up. Many in the farming community also depend on tourism.

Most farmers in Asia are smallholders with one holding who depend on the everyday markets. They cannot store their produce. When the harvest season comes and the markets are closed, the produce is lost. So this is really a sad, miserable situation.

Is small family farming the biggest structural problem facing the sector?

The problem is finance: perishable products have to be sold at market as soon as possible, otherwise there is no money. On the opposite side of things, when income sources are closed off, at least people in agriculture keep some of the food so they are less vulnerable if you compare to other sectors.

What is the big difficulty in financing the Asian family farm?

Smallholders are dependent on their productive resources – land, water, seeds, pesticides, fertilizer. If they cannot sell their products, how can they continue farming, because they have no capital to reuse for food production. The pandemic has been with us for a long time – not one or two months, but 21 months so far.

You’re speaking to us from Bangladesh, which is also suffering severely from the impacts of climate change. What are you seeing?

When the climate changes, everything changes – rainfall patterns, heat, the seasons. It becomes very hard for farmers to cope. When they need rain, there is drought, the number of hurricanes and bigger storms are increasing. Climate change is devastating in this country.

Do you think governments and other bodies are doing enough to combat climate change?

In developing countries like ours, we have limited resources. But so far, many of the farming countries are trying to support farmers. The big issues are not in their hands. This is the responsibility of global leaders.

What more should the international community be doing?

There are commitments, but we have seen there are no effective steps so far to reduce global temperatures. In particular poor countries need support.

Then what do you hope comes out of the UN Food Systems Summit – are there specific points?

We hope the decisions taken will support smallholder farmers. To summarize three points. Agro-ecological practices: this needs to include access to common land, the rights to seeds and water, and skills development for farmers. Empowerment of smallholder farmers – regulations, governance, investment, government policies and programs. And finally, access to financial incentives, including tax incentives and similar initiatives.

Could you give us your policy ideas for creating a much more sustainable food system?

At the Asian Farmers’ Association we talk to about 22 national farmers’ organisations. We want to promote a number of things: ‘reclaiming the commons’, or ensuring access to natural resources, like land, water, forest, seeds. The second is to produce diversified and nutritious food through sustainable, integrated, resilient, organic agro-ecological practices. Third is to promote big extended family farmer cooperatives and their enterprises to give farmers stronger involvement and opportunities for women and young people. And finally, policy advocacy and capacity building.

If you have found this short summary interesting, there’s lots more to hear in the full 22-minute conversation. It is available now on iTunes, Podbean or Spotify or on this website.

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