Unleashing enterprise

Food security is not just about money. FAO's Special Programme is proving it

ROME, 12 June 2002 -- The war against hunger can be won down on the farm. That is the best way to sustainable food security, and FAO and 69 of its Member Nations have been proving it.

On the opening day of the World Food Summit: five years later, delegates heard how the Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS), which helps Member Nations boost food production and income by using simple and sustainable methods, which farmers can take up without getting deep into debt, is kick-starting agriculture in 69 countries.

  • Salif Diallo, Minister for Agriculture of Burkina Faso, described how techniques pioneered under the SPFS had improved yields by 23-60 percent. He further added that Burkina Faso intends to extend the SPFS coverage nationwide.

  • Edin Barrientos, Guatemala's Minister for Agriculture, Livestock and Food, explained how the SPFS had helped produce harvests three or four times a year instead of just twice.

  • Aleke K. Banda, Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation, Malawi, is now going nationwide with a programme based on the SPFS that pioneered technologies such as disease-resistant crops and low-cost treadle pumps.

  • Gan Bobo Salissou of Niger's Ministry of Agricultural Development said Niger had now implemented the SPFS in 66 villages in five regions, with 1 193 demonstration plots. Women had been involved in groundnut production, goat raising, beekeeping and fish smoking.

  • Dr Salisu Ingawa of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture of Nigeria said that Nigeria had invested US$45 million of its own money in the SPFS. Fisheries, livestock, marketing and soil fertility were all targeted.

The SPFS is based on the principle that better use of resources on the farm is preferable to large-scale irrigation or infrastructure projects. Activities usually include more efficient water use; more efficient crop production, which could include better varieties or planting dates; and diversification, which gave Guatemala more harvests and Malawi more disease-resistant crops. All these activities are designed with the farmers, and constraints to production are discussed with them. Where SPFS projects have been implemented over a very wide area in a given country, the programme can move into a second, 'macro' phase, focusing on policy reform and preparation of investment plans based on the first phase results.

From small beginnings
The SPFS started with 15 countries and US$3.5 million in 1995. But the 1996 World Food Summit speeded it up, and so far it has mobilized about US$425 million. Over 60 percent of funding comes directly or indirectly from the target countries. Mexico, Nigeria and Venezuela are amongst those paying for their own programmes.

South-South Cooperation is another important feature of the SPFS under which developing countries help each other -- and pay the bills. China, India, Morocco, Viet Nam and many other countries have provided some 400 experts to other developing countries.

Now seven years old, the SPFS has just had an external review, which praised the programme's concentration on agriculture, the backbone of poor countries. The review liked the programme's democratic approach and the way farmers are encouraged to take decisions and responsibility. The approach to water use, diversification and food security for women were welcomed, as was the political and financial support the programme attracts from developing countries.

The review cautioned that the SPFS should branch out to target very poor farms and regions, not just those with the greatest potential, if food security is to improve. The evaluation team also wanted more evidence that the technologies in the projects were spreading and cautioned that subsidized inputs might not be sustainable. They pointed out that seasonal threats to food security should also be taken into account.

The team reported, however, that the "SPFS ... has a number of positive characteristics or strengths, not always supported by other donor and FAO-supported programmes, that deserve recognition and can be usefully built on."

Sustainable food security is not a dream. The Special Programme for Food Security can prove it through direct action against hunger.
Learning to vaccinate pigs as part of an SPFS project in Cambodia

Learning to vaccinate pigs as part of an SPFS project in Cambodia

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FAO, 2002