Being farmer, becoming agripreneur: Imitation is the highest flattery

Sierra_Leone_rice_farmer

On October 11, 2017, I attended a side event organized by the World Farmers’ Organization and the governments of New Zealand and Canada at the 44th Session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). This side event focused on the role of farmers as stewards of environment, in adapting to climate change and attaining food and nutrition security in the world. At the discussion table, two farmers and farmer representatives spoke on behalf of the world farmers and expressed the need for greater involvement of the farmers in all discussions and decisions concerning their activity.

Mrs. Brenda Tlhabane from the African Farmers’ Association of South Africa (AFASA), highlighted the role of various technologies for more resilient agriculture, after portraying the various impacts of climate change on agriculture in her home country. Dr. Theo De Jager, President of World Farmers’ Organization (WFO), after presenting the causes of vulnerability of the agricultural sector and farmers to climate change, called for the development of an innovation plan by and for farmers. He also pointed out that farmers do not need experts who speak or decide only on their behalf, but need people who truly partner with them for a better contribution of their sector to food security and sustainable development. The calls for a partnership that recognizes the role of farmers and allows them to take the lead on their issues, gave rise to a crucial question that crossed my mind during the session: Who is a farmer?

This question finds its root in a recent global fad that nowadays: everybody claims to be a farmer. It is as if the great terror events that affected our world in recent years have been a source of inspiration in the agricultural sector, too. The terrorist attack on the French satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” on January 7, 2015 in Paris led to a global mobilization, with the rapid spread of the slogan “Je suis Charlie” by the French graphic designer Joachim Roncin. So I ask myself, are climate change, global development and food security challenges also inducing similar trends in the agricultural sector? Without knowing whether it is due to compassion for vulnerable farmers, as is in the case for the victims of Charlie, I now hear people proclaiming: I am a farmer” or “I am an agripreneur”. It has become another modern, fashionable tagline.

Times have surely changed! Not long ago, nobody wanted to be called a farmer—a name generally associated with “dirt”, “poverty” and “shame”. But the trend has evolved positively in this regard.

Returning home from the 18th World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty earlier this year in Washington DC, I met during my transit in Casablanca an old friend and colleague who was coming from a training of young agricultural entrepreneurs in Germany. In the meantime, he has proudly become an “agripreneur” with strong involvement in defending the interests of farmers in association settings.

At the recent UNLEASH LAB 2017 in Denmark, I also had as team-mates two postgraduate African fellows, both proudly claiming the status of farmers: a young woman specializing in mushroom production and marketing, and a male expert in vegetable production, especially tomato. They have both in the meantime become “agripreneurs”.

During the CFS44 at FAO headquarters in Rome, I met another young, well-dressed African gentleman with a nice suit and tie. When I asked him about his profession, he replied: “I am a farmer” and he continued: “I am an agripreneur, coordinating a young farmer association”.

This transformation is very encouraging in a context where the world pursues objectives related to food security, youth employment and sustainable development.

However, we have to be careful that the real small-scale farmers are not left out. I do not want to deny that profound transformations are taking place in the world today, as agricultural activity is imbued with new value. It is a rather positive trend, as I mentioned above, and it attracts newcomers. I have personally encountered in northern Benin cases where young people are taking advantage of the new agricultural technologies that make crop farming easier, profitable and attractive, to get increasingly involved in the sector. However, it is necessary to understand whether many more people are increasingly engaged in agriculture compared to the situation in the past, or whether people, for various agendas, are becoming farmers only by name/title? If this is not clarified, the world will probably miss the goal by diverting enormous resources intended to support poor rural farmers in adapting to various shocks and uncertainties, towards nourishing the happiness of new “white-collar” farmers or (neo)farmers.

I would like to argue that the title of “farmer” be once again granted to those who really do farming, who work in the fields to grow food for their families and for the world. This will give them the recognition they need to make them the drivers of a new and different kind of partnership for this sector, as requested by Dr. Theo De Jager. I do not deny that agriculture must be a business in its own right, which provides financial and material wellbeing to those who engage in it. But it is also possible that many people are simply taking advantage of global discourses on climate change, smart agriculture, agripreneurship, agribusiness etc. to self-proclaim themselves farmers or agripreneurs.

Approaches that focus on and accompany farmers at grassroots level are needed. The model of the Prolinnova (Promoting Local Innovation) network, which consists in identifying the innovations of grassroots farmers and helping them to improve their initiatives in a participatory way, in collaboration with other actors (such as researchers and extension workers), can be cited as an example. This makes it really possible to know who is who and who is doing what in small-scale farming on the ground. Immitation may be the highest form of flattery, but we must make certain that there is substance in our similitude. 

Blogpost by Georges Djohy, #CFS44 Social Reporter – gdjohy(at)gmail.com

Photo credit: Laura Lartigue/USAID 

This post is part of the live coverage during the 44th Session of the Committee on World Food Security, a social media project supported by GFAR. This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.

 


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