World Food Day 2020. Innovation in support of small farmers and sustainable food systems

With the theme “Grow, nourish, sustain. Together. Our actions are our future”, World Food Day 2020 is calling for more resilient and robust agri-food systems, and for global solidarity - both vital for our recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, and for building back better. The Day provides an opportunity to thank Food Heroes – farmers and workers throughout the food supply chain - who, no matter the circumstances, continue to provide food to their communities and beyond.

FAO believes that innovation in agriculture is the central driving force for achieving a world free from hunger and malnutrition. Innovation is key to support small farmers in their role as Food Heroes of the food systems. Here below we illustrate some of the ways FAO is working on innovation to support small farmers in their contribution to global food security.

FAO plays a key role in promoting the importance of innovation in agriculture to increase food security and nutrition. As part of this role, FAO hosted in 2018 the International Symposium on Agricultural Innovation for Family Farmers, where the central role that family farmers play in agricultural innovation was clearly recognized.

Innovation is a complex process, where governments and other key stakeholders play critical roles.At FAO, the Research and Extension Unit of the Office of Innovation is leading efforts in agricultural research and extension towards the strengthening of Agricultural Innovation Systems (AIS). These include all the individuals, organizations and enterprises that bring new products and processes into use to achieve food security, economic development and sustainable natural resource management.

For example, through the European Union-supported Capacity Development for Agricultural Innovation Systems (CDAIS) project, implemented by FAO and Agrinatura from 2015 to 2019, capacity development for agricultural innovation was supported in eight countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America by fostering participatory and multi-stakeholder processes including small farmers and small producers.

Inspired by the successful CDAIS experience, since 2019 FAO is implementing a five-year European Union-funded project called “Developing capacities in agricultural innovation systems: scaling up the Tropical Agriculture Platform Framework” (in short, TAP AIS project), which focuses on nine countries: Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Colombia, Eritrea, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malawi, Pakistan, Rwanda and Senegal.

In Rwanda, for instance, the CDAIS project brought a new way of working, which succeeded in solving problems accessing water needed for food production.

FAO also participates in other innovative projects including “Small farms, small food businesses and sustainable food security” (SALSA), funded by the research and innovation programme Horizon 2020 of the European Union. The SALSA research project is pioneering a novel multi-method approach to assess the role of small farms and businesses in achieving sustainable Food and Nutrition Security in Europe and in selected African regions. SALSA project results include key policy recommendations to help small farms add value to their produce and to facilitate cooperation as the most enabling and empowering form of governance.

Extension and advisory services (EAS) also play a crucial role at system level for boosting smallholder’s innovation. EAS are demonstrating their indispensable role at the frontline of the COVID-19 response, especially in rural areas (for more info, see this Policy Brief).

It is more important than ever to recognise the need to support our food heroes - farmers and workers throughout the food system – who are making sure that food makes its way from farm to table even amid so unprecedented disruptions. In particular, smallholder farmers need to be supported at multiple levels:

-        By consumers: they have the power to influence what is produced through healthy food choices, which in turn contributes to more sustainable food systems.

-        By governments: they can invest in social protection policies and programmes that ensure safe conditions and decent incomes for smallholder farmers and adopt measures that avoid economic disruptions.

-        By private sector: they can have an enormous influence on how communities, economies and food systems respond to a range of challenges including climate change. They can share expertise and resources. Among other initiatives, they could extend credit where needed to help smaller enterprises stay afloat.

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