It is heartening to see calls for decentralized approaches to addressing the war against malnutrition. From my perspective and the company that I work for, I feel that there is a serious need to put the needs of the customer first and foremost who in this case is the small holder farmer.
Without assigning blame or pointing fingers, because for all intents and purposes activities are performed with the best of intentions, assistance to farmers in my region is piecemeal, incomplete and ineffective. In general programs look at working with volumes of farmers with numbers under 1000 generally not considered. There is no problem with this except when you take into consideration the funding levels that are assigned to assisting these numbers of farmers and the structure of the programs that ensue.
What I mean by this is that we will have a seed and basic equipment distribution to farmers to assist with increasing production. There is nothing wrong with this, but too many times they are supplied to farmers that do not have access to effective irrigation for example. The end result is crop failure. In other cases the need is not seeds or tools, but agronomy support and training. However under these large unwieldy programs because of the nature of the funding this is not supported effectively.
Rather then this mass one shoe fits all approach there needs to be a call out to the community to ask what each INDIVIDUAL farmer needs.
The model that I work with in the Pacific and in Samoa to be specific is to identify champions in each of the village communities. We do this by driving through communities and identifying those farmers who are actively participating in the sector. Our total company focus is making our farmers more successful. We then ask this farmer if he would like to work with us and if he/she agrees we discuss a farm plan. Our first question - What is holding you back? This gives us the base to work off. In most cases the initial issue is yields from his/her current crop. We then propose a program, present the farmer with forecasts and costings and on agreement we begin.
We work on the principal the success breeds success. We know how our communities work. When they see that something is working for a neighbour they will copy this. From a commercial perspective each of these farms is a marketing platform in each village. Within very short time frames other farmers from the area start calling and asking to be involved and we bring them into the program. In addition to this we are continually training our farmers (we are a biological organic company). We invest a lot of time and effort in up-skilling our champion in the village. They become an in-trenched field consultant to the other farmers and a knowledge sharing base in the community.
End of the day it is working. My take - smaller, properly funded programs according to the farmers needs. Stop trying to heal the world in a single program. We discard too many "small step" programs because we think that they take too long. However if we had been working that way from the beginning we wouldn't be having this discussion now.
Soil Health Pacific Ltd
This thematic discussion was led by FAO and WFP in collaboration with “The World We Want”.
The consultation was facilitated by the Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)