Trade Not Aid

This post is from LEAF Marque Technical Manager, Anthony Goggin, on the FRICH project.

Earlier this year Christian Aid produced a comprehensive report entitled, “Hungry for justice: Fighting starvation in an age of plenty”. One of the many interesting chapters was on ‘Agriculture: sustainable solutions’ and the role that smallholders in the developing world can play in eradicating hunger and tackling the effects of climate change.

The chapter asks the following challenging questions:

“What kind of agriculture should be encouraged and supported? What kind of agriculture can address poverty and hunger in a world that faces the challenges that confront our planet at present?”

Reviewing recent literature, the chapter reported on the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) survey of global agriculture. This survey was critical of the way agricultural development had ignored important social and environmental goals, highlighting intensive systems, which rely on the use of external ‘inputs’ such as fertilisers, pesticides and modern varieties of seeds, often in combination with monocropping systems, such as ‘Prairie’ production of cereals.

They argued that, “monocropping reduces biodiversity to the extent that it can eradicate local species of plants”. However, this can be done in a sustainable way if the grower is committed to following the principles and practices of sustainable production. We know in LEAF that monocropping is sometimes the only option, for example, a banana plantation in St Lucia. But we always challenge them with other questions: ‘How long have you been practicing this rotation and will you be able to continue without any environmental detriment?’, ‘Can you enhance the habitats, within and around, the land you are managing?’

Farming systems need to be structured, yet flexible enough to ensure the site specific nature of the land, accounting for economic, social and environmental aspects.  The principles of Integrated Farm Management (IFM) are at the heart of the LEAF’s work and the LEAF Marque standard ensuring a commitment to soil health, judicious use of inputs and managing and planting native species to create and enhance the biodiversity on a farm.

The IAASTD stated the requirements for the solution: “Increased attention needs to be directed towards new and successful existing approaches to maintain and restore soil fertility and to maintain sustainable production through practices such as low input, resource-conserving technologies based on integrated management systems and an understanding of agroecology and soil science. These technologies minimize the need for high levels of inputs and are socially appropriate approaches to small-scale agriculture.”

The above is echoed in LEAF’s IFM approach which is defined as, “A cropping and livestock production strategy in which the farmer seeks to conserve and enhance the environment while economically producing safe, wholesome food.  Its long term aim is to optimise the needs of consumers, society, the environment and the farmer”.  The classic definition of ‘sustainable development’ is:

Development that meets the needs of the present without comprising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

‘Hungry for Justice’, quotes Essex University academics Jules Pretty and Rachel Hine’s (Rachel is also currently involved with LEAF and the Sensory Trust’s Let Nature Feed Your Senses project) definition of sustainable agriculture as a process that “seeks to make best use of nature’s goods and services as functional inputs”. They argue the key role farmers have to play in sustainable agriculture; since it “makes better use of the knowledge and skills of farmers, so improving their self-reliance. And it seeks to make productive use of social capital – people’s capacities to work together to solve common management problems, such as pest, watershed, irrigation, forest and credit management”.

I have been privileged to see many of these aspirations outlined in the report at work in the FRICH project (more information here and here) that LEAF has been involved in for the last two years.

We have witnessed groups of small scale growers coming together to be trained in sustainable principles and practices through LEAF’s IFM; they have demonstrated their commitment and enthusiasm to see it work in practice and in Kenya we now have the largest producer group that have become LEAF Marque certified. It is not always easy to maintain sustainability, it is ever evolving, but with LEAF’s help these farmers are better equipped and trained to develop their own skills in farming in a more sustainable way. The next part of our FRICH plan is to roll out the training in the French speaking nation of Senegal.

In their conclusions and recommendations the report suggests, “Sustainable agriculture… can help small farmers to increase production. For them to turn this into predictable, profitable income, initiatives are also needed that enable the creation of and access to markets that return fair prices for producers”. The FRICH project does just this, funded by DfID its aim is to help through trade measures rather than just giving aid. The report also recommends that other sustainable agriculture solutions National governments should consider.

On the final point above, LEAF Marque has been in the process of applying for ISEAL membership. LEAF sees this as an important step in the development of the LEAF Marque standard. ISEAL’s mission is, “To create a world where ecological sustainability and social justice are the normal conditions of business”. ISEAL members are leaders in their fields, committed to creating solid and credible standard systems that give business, governments and consumers the ability to choose goods and services that have been ethically sourced but most of all help the environment and guarantee producers a decent living.

Christian Aid shares the view that the economic, environmental and social elements of sustainability – must be in balance. This is something that LEAF has always strived to achieve.

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