Ahead of the UN Food Systems Summit, the president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) spoke of the "terrible irony" that small-scale producers who grow a third of the world's food should struggle to feed their own families a healthy, nutritious diet.
“With no savings and no access to capital, farming families also have no cushion against climate change and other shocks," warned Gilbert F. Houngbo. "Today’s Food Systems Summit is our chance to commit to concrete changes. We mustn’t squander this opportunity.”
Most rural people in the developing world earn their incomes from agriculture, IFAD stated, with small-scale producers on farms smaller than 2ha growing over 30 per cent of global food, and up to 80 per cent in parts of Africa and Asia.
The organisation pointed to a recent study of various crops sourced from small-scale farms in developing countries, which showed that only 6.5 per cent of the supermarket price went to the farmer.
According to IFAD’s Rural Development Report, consolidation within the food sector has seen profits for large food businesses soar, while those producing, processing and distributing food remain trapped in poverty, unable to afford healthy diets.
"Inadequate incomes are a major reason why around 3bn people in the world cannot afford healthy diets," IFAD stated.
“When rural people are paid fairly for their labour, the ripple effect is enormous. Profitable small farms put children through school, pay for diverse, healthy diets, generate employment, and boost rural economies,” said Houngbo. “Conversely, poverty and hunger are key drivers of migration, conflict and instability. Which future do we want?”
IFAD is urging governments to promote employment generation, decent wages and improved working conditions in the private sector.
"A major focus needs to be on local small businesses which work across our food systems and produce, process and distribute food while creating local jobs and boosting rural economies," it advised. "In particular, there needs to be a commitment from all actors to ensure small-scale producers can access existing and emerging markets on fair terms."
According to IFAD, the UN Food Systems Summit is a culmination of 18 months of engagement with governments, food producers, civil society and companies on how to transform the way we produce, process and consume food, with the aim of delivering actionable commitments from world leaders.
Following the Summit, IFAD revealed it will co-lead the Decent Wages and Living Income coalition with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the support of CARE.
"IFAD is also leading an initiative to unlock the potential of public development banks across the world to address the lack of access to finance for rural producers, while helping to shift investments to more environmentally sustainable and fairer systems," it stated.