“Talk with farmers, not about farmers”

A passion for their calling and a determination for their opinions to be heard were the overriding sentiments demonstrated by speakers at today’s Farmers Forum, one of the key sessions at the 2020 AGRA Summit.

Ms. Onyaole Patience Koku, for example, CEO of Replenish Farms in Nigeria, came to farming from a career in fashion and has no family history in agriculture. She calls farming “the hardest thing I have ever done,” and hopes for a future in which everybody can work together “to create sustainable systems that enable Africa to feed herself.”

Dr. Dick Kamuganga is President of the Uganda National Farmers Federation, representing 120 members across the country. He tabled a list of objectives for African agriculture, ranging from providing sufficient food for every household, delivering sustainable development and driving inclusive growth to delivering export expansion and creating fully inclusive business models.

Among many other thoughts, Ms. Hellen Akinyi Onyango, Crop Aggregator at the Farm to Market Alliance, aired her hopes for a more inclusive industry that attracts more bright young people. As she said, “Just two percent of African students are studying agriculture, while the industry drives 32% of African GDP. We must think hard about how to make it more appealing and more profitable for them.”

She also raised the issue of food safety, and called for consumers to become more vigilant and interested in the processes by which high-quality food reached their tables. “There is a great opportunity for Africa to produce wholesome food that enables its people to overcome malnutrition and stay healthy.”

Mr. Daniel Gad, Owner and General Manager of Omega Farms, centred his thoughts around a single word: “action”. Action on infrastructure, creating and maintaining the physical road and rail systems by which farmers can bring their produce to market. Action on building smallholder confidence by giving them access to resources like seeds, apps and information. Action on education, via accessible training centres for young people. And action on transforming the value chain, by giving producers a direct link to food-processing resources.

Other contributions included pleas for farmers to exercise their power and take more responsibility for solving the issues they face by sharpening their focus on getting their produce to market and working harder to minimise losses through enhanced storage and distribution.

All these views and many more were masterfully summed up by Dr. Theo de Jager, President of the World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO), who reminded his audience of some of the challenges ahead. “Inequality is increasing every day,” he warned, citing the imminent arrival of two billion more mouths to feed and the accelerating shift of populations into cities.

He emphasised that systems have never been under as much stress as they are now. “COVID-19 has revealed everything that’s wrong,” he said. And he called for farmers to be given opportunities to provide the answers for themselves. “If we are not at the table, we’ll be on the menu.”

He included this impassioned plea: “Leave no one behind, no one can be excluded. We must ensure we address poverty and hunger – and if any sector can create this wealth, it is indeed agriculture. Let’s make smallholders into profitable businessmen and businesswomen.”

He completed his presentation by listing four key requirements for African farmers. “Agriculture must create wealth to destroy poverty and inequality. There must be a fair distribution of risk and reward. Innovation and entrepreneurship must be decentralised. And there is a need to remind the world to talk with farmers, not about farmers. We can talk for ourselves, and it is our responsibility to get organised.

“The R in AGRF is for Revolution. So let’s get in the driving seat. Let’s modernize, commercialize, mechanize.”

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