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Re: HLPE consultation on the V0 draft of the Report: Investing in smallholder agriculture for food and nutrition security

FSN Forum Team FAO, Italy
21.01.2013
FSN Forum

Posted on behalf of Sara J. Scherr, EcoAgriculture Partner, USA

Dear CFS-HLPE of the Smallholder Agriculture Paper,

Congratulations on putting together a very strong overview of the current conditions, constraints and opportunities for smallholder agriculture in food and nutrition security. I support the sections on defining smallholder agriculture and their significance, and the elements on investment, constraints and recommendations that have been put forward.

However, I believe there is a very substantial gap in the analysis related to the role of natural resource conditions and flows of ecosystem services in smallholder constraints, opportunities and recommendations for action. This element is almost entirely missing from the report, yet are consistent with and would support the main recommendations. I encourage the HLPE to look at the recent reports by UNEP (Avoiding Future Famines: Strengthening the Ecological Basis of Food Security through Sustainable Food Systems) and UNDESA (http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2054838) that elaborate these issues from diverse perspectives and with a strong focus on smallholder farmers.

Here are my specific suggestions:

p.9: Add Land Degradation as a major challenge for smallholders, both at farm level (soil erosion, fertility decline and water-holding capacity) and landscape level (devegetation of watersheds with resulting reduction in water flow and storage, threats to irrigation, loss of pollinators, pest problems, et al). The lack of mechanisms for collective action by smallholders and their communities to manage such issues and for financing of investments that provide returns only in medium and longer terms.

p. 22:  Smallholders need to have a much stronger voice in territorial (and other spatially defined models for integrated landscape management)initiatives, and to strengthen their voices in defining development strategies at district, landscape, watershed and sub-regional levels (including agricultural development, water resources development, forest development, et al).

p. 27:  I suggesting adding a short sub-section 2.1.3 on the important role of smallholder farmers, in many parts of the world, in producing ecosystem services for other groups in society through their stewardship of farm and non-farmed lands, controlling erosion, protecting watersheds, sustaining wild plant and animal species, maintaining culturally important resources and germplasm, and sequestering carbon in ways that mitigate climate change.

p. 29:  Figure 1, add ecosystem services and natural resource management as key components.

3.2:  “Natural capital” is defined here much too narrowly, and should include types of natural capital at farm, community, and landscape scales upon which smallholder farmers depend (agricultural soils, natural pastures, woodlands and community forests, riparian vegetation, sources of raw materials used in agricultural production  or agro-processing, woodfuel, medicines, fodder for livestock, and particularly the management of micro- and sub-watersheds and the diverse vegetative cover, rainwater harvesting structures at farm and landscape scale, biodiversity for pest and disease control, etc..

3.3 Add a new sub-section on collective action by smallholder farmers to improve ecosystem health and ecosystem services upon which they depend.

4.1.2  Smallholders have a particularly weak voice in decision-making about landscape strategies for agricultural development, water resource development, forest development, which are too often decided at district, provincial or national levels without consultation or engagement of smallholders.

4.2  This section should also highlight the lack of access by smallholders to natural resources that are located off their farms but are critical as inputs for agricultural production or agro-processing, such as forest resources needed for woodfuel, raw materials, ‘natural’ pesticides and fertilizers, water for irrigation, etc.

4.3  I suggest creating a separate category for ‘natural resource and environmental risks’, separate from ‘technical risks’, to highlight the high threats from soil loss, fertility decline, damage from flooding, pollution of water supplies for people and animals, and the host of climate change-related risks such as rise of new pests and diseases, increased drought risk, increased severity of storms,et al.

4.  I encourage you to include at least one example of the many documented case studies showing how smallholder investment in natural resource management, at farm and local landscape scales, improves ecosystem health in ways that directly increase agricultural productivity, stability and resilience. I would be happy to suggest some examples and refer you to the experts.

Figure 15: Another challenge for smallholders’ well-being is their access to natural resources and ecosystem services critical for their livelihoods, as described above. For example, access to cropland along is not sufficient in most smallholder farming systems—their access to forest, water and grazing resources is also critical, and in many places, to cropland parcels located in different agroecological zones to enable different types of crops to be grown under varying weather conditions.

5.4.2 The definition of territorial developmentshould be broadened and enhanced to incorporate diverse area-based approaches that can aggregate smallholder activities to improve stewardship of critical natural resources and ecosystem services (e.g., Landcare) or that will enable smallholder farmers to negotiate directly with other stakeholders in planning that affects their access and quality of land, water and other resources, and strategies of investment that will affect their ability to use them productively.

Thanks very much for the opportunity to comment on this very important report.

Sincerely,

Sara J. Scherr, President

EcoAgriculture Partners (www.ecoagriculture.org)

Facilitator, Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative (www.landscapes.ecoagriculture.org