Thank you all for this continuing dialogue. Both moderators have raised some very important questions.
How can the FSVC approach address what is grown from a bottom-up perspective (rather than a market demand perspective)?
We believe there needs to a multi-faceted bottom-up approach to FSVC that includes education, market demand, and technology improvements.
EDUCATION: One of the important elements that Professor Louis Bernard Schmidt discussed in his multiple papers on the American Agricultural Revolution in the 1800s was “the establishment and growth of various agencies for promoting agricultural scientific knowledge”. We believe education is a necessary condition in “bottom-up” FSVC improvements. Local smallholder farmers and their children need to learn the modern science of farming as well as the basics of nutrition.
We are incorporating what we know today about sustainable farming methods, biodiversity, and nutrition into classes at the village level. We want the next generation of smallholder farmers to not only understand scientific farming, but be able to creatively apply that knowledge in appropriate, sustainable, and biodiverse ways.
This agricultural education will enable us to collaborate with the local smallholders to produce a much more nutritionally balanced “suite” of products than they now produce using current manual farming methods.
MARKET DEMAND: We are not only producing food ourselves, but we are also offering to purchase surplus food from local smallholder farmers. We have some ability to influence what type of food is produced at the local level by offering to buy specific types or varieties of food. This alone will not increase the diversity or nutrition of food, until farmers are educated about why they need to produce non-traditional crops, but it does reinforce the education with financial incentives.
TECHNOLOGY IMPROVEMENTS: Education and market demand for non-traditional products need to be combined with practical ways to produce those new crops. Some of the technology is new seed, some of the technology includes new ways/tools to farm. Bottom line, it is finding ways to assist local smallholder farmers to meet the desire (education) and demand for new, non-traditional crops.
How is what is grown determined so that diversity, including dietary diversity, is encouraged and how does this approach ensure that food gets to the hungriest regions?
This is a very important question. One of the oft-repeated comments all of us in food security have to overcome is “We have never done it that way before”, followed often by the comment “If it was good enough for my grandmother, it is good enough for me…”
We are addressing the issue of dietary diversity using a combination of agricultural and nutritional education, demonstrations of non-traditional foods grown locally to improve dietary diversity (e.g., sample farm plots with new crops), and offering incentives to local farmers for non-traditional crops.
Moving food to the hungriest regions is primarily a transportation and logistics challenge, especially when combined with market pricing. A historical example may help to demonstrate the issue. In 1830, it is reported that the cost of moving a wagon load of grain 60 miles to Chicago was greater than the sale price for that grain in Chicago. The result was that no grain was shipped 60 miles to Chicago. It was not until the cost of shipping grain dropped substantially due to the opening of a canal, followed by railroads, that Chicago became a major grain center.
The situation is the same today. The cost of transporting from food surplus areas to food deficit regions has to be in line with the market price at the delivery/sale point. Supply chain literature has much to say on this topic, of course.
The challenge in areas where subsistence level farmers have lost their annual crops (and thus will starve without external assistance), is that they have no resources to purchase food they were planning on growing themselves. This is where the World Food Programme must enter the picture, because by definition subsistence level farmers do not grow enough food for more than a single crop year, nor do they have storage methods or capacity to safely store food from one crop year to the next.
The long-term, systemic solution to the dilemma of the subsistence farmer is to change both farming methods so that they are capable of growing surplus food, and the storage technology so that they can safely store grain from one year to the next. A corollary option is to encourage farmers to grow surplus food that they can sell, and encourage financial savings using mobile banking technology. This would enable them to purchase food at market prices should their crops fail.
How does the FSVC approach encourage the continuous process of developing and maintaining agriculturally biodiverse systems (one of the components mentioned in question 3)?
In our experience, agriculturally biodiverse systems are a future development goal for much of East Africa. However, long-term agriculturally biodiverse systems (ABS) can be developed and maintained through a combination of local education, market demand and incentives, reinforce by demonstrations on the practical benefits of ABS. Education on nutrition and sustainable farming methods creates the awareness and knowledge, local incentives provide financial benefits of behavior change, while demonstrations of the practical benefits shows that “ABS really works”.
Is the market-based, traded system resource intensive? What about negative environmental externalities beyond the loss of biodiversity?
The transformation from human-powered, manual farming and transportation to animal-powered then to mechanized farming & transportation systems enables increased productivity with less labor. This transformation is capital-intensive, for it requires capital to purchase a horse, oxen, tractor or plow. It is more efficient to carry farm produce in bulk, via truck, barge, or ship than to carry the same amount of produce on the backs of people. But someone must provide the capital to purchase those productivity-enhancing tools, and the market prices must work so that investors or lenders earn a return.
Negative environmental externalities have frequently occurred in the FSVC where we have not been aware of those negative effects. In general, farmers are (and should be) long-term stewards of their land and resources, so the most sustainable methods provide earnings now and long into the future. As improved sustainable methods are developed and proven to work, implementation occurs as that knowledge travels and capital becomes available (if necessary). The combination of education/knowledge transfer at the local level, combined with technology improvements and behavior changes, should minimize environmental externalities.
Can one use the FSVC approach and support small-scale farmers in agro-biodiverse systems? How is specifically does it do this?
Supporting small-scale farmers using the FSVC means educating small-scale farm communities, removing“blockages” to the FSVC, and encouraging behavioral/cultural changes where necessary to create a robust, sustainable, agro-biodiverse local “system”. Each element is a necessary condition, but separately are not sufficient conditions to create sustainable agro-diverse systems.
Education in agricultural science and nutrition needs to be incorporated at the primary school level, as part of the standard curriculum. In regions where it is rare for children to attend school beyond Primary School, the farming and nutrition curriculum needs to be included to reach the broadest possible number of students.
Agro-biodiverse, surplus food production needs to be incented through offers of forward purchases of food at planting time, because it is too late to effect behavior change (i.e, plant more crops) any later in the crop cycle. If additional seed is required, then innovative solutions (e.g., “seed loans”) should be adopted so that that farmers are able to plant and grow surplus crops.
At harvest time, storage and handling facilities have to be available to thresh, dry, and store the newly created surplus crops. Trucks, roads and barges need to be acquired to transport surplus produce to storage facilities, and to markets. Supply chain logistics are very important to solving the FSVC impediments.
Price risk of the trading company or food cooperative or intermediary must also be carefully managed, so that they can pay reasonable prices for local agro-biodiverse food and profitably store, transport and sell that production to the end consumers.