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Food: Britain to help poor farmers to feed millions

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Britain will help millions of small farms to grow enough food to eat in the face of a changing climate that could hit harvests in years ahead.

The new support will help communities to adapt to the potentially devastating changes in the climate and pull themselves out of poverty, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced at the UN’s Rio+20 Earth Summit yesterday.

Over six million smallholder farms in sub-Saharan Africa and developing countries across the world will get extra support as a result of Britain’s help.

Farmers will be supported to build their resilience to extreme weather with measures such as flood-proofing storerooms, improving weather reporting and switching to climate-proof crops that are heat or drought tolerant.

Experts predict that higher temperatures and less rainfall could reduce farmers’ harvests by a fifth in some of the world’s poorest countries by 2030.

Speaking at the Rio+20 high level event “Food for life & the life of food”, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said:

One billion people go to bed hungry every night, yet the world will need to feed an extra billion mouths by 2025. This cannot continue - more food must be grown and it must be at lower cost to the environment.

If action isn’t taken, the impact of climate change on agriculture could lead to another 25 million malnourished children by 2050. That is why support to do things like flood proofing, switching to more resilient crops and improve weather reporting is so crucial.

Farmers need to be able to act now to adapt to climate change, to protect their own livelihoods and the health of their communities.

Around 500 million smallholder farms in the developing world produce up to 80 per cent of the food supply in those countries. Often the most vulnerable and marginalized people in rural societies, smallholder farmers are already at risk from extreme weather conditions, such as floods and drought.

Climate change exacerbates these problems, threatening to erode the gains made in other development areas, such as health and education.

International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said:

This is an outstanding programme because it recognises some of the world’s poorest farmers as entrepreneurs, helping them to maintain or improve production in the face of increasing droughts, floods, rises in sea levels or mounting temperatures. It underlines that aid is a means to an end not an end in itself.

In a changing climate, it is vital we help these farmers feed themselves and trade their way out of poverty.

By contributing to the Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP), Britain will improve the lives of over six million smallholder farms and at least half of those benefitting will be women.

Helping women has a disproportionately positive effect on poverty levels. It is estimated production on women’s farms could increase by 20-30% if women had the same access to agricultural resources as men.

Working with the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the programme will provide grants to benefit smallholder communities to allow them to build their resilience to climate change, whether through better water management, advice on investing in the right flood or drought resistant crops, working with Governments to improve infrastructure or even helping better monitor and report on the weather, which is essential for farmers.

IFAD’s President Dr. Kanayo F. Nwanze said:

Climate change is hitting smallholder farmers hard and is changing the way we do rural development, but currently-available climate finance is not benefiting them nearly enough. ASAP will allow IFAD to help poor smallholder farming communities adapt to climate change so they can contribute fully to sustainable global food and agriculture systems and thrive.

The poorest people, especially women, are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, and are the most vulnerable to stresses and sudden shocks from climate change.

Helping women has a disproportionally positive effect on wider communities’ development gains, such as education and health. Women spend an average of 20% more time than men working on farms and often have far less control over the land they cultivate or the income they earn.