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Klaas Johan Osinga
Policy Adviser in agriculture, COPA-COGECA
The Netherlands, 11-03-2015

No farmers no food

Global food security in 2030 can only be achieved with the full involvement of organised farmers around the world. Dutch expertise in building strong farmers’ organisations producing good food very efficiently is recognised internationally. This strength should be used as an important contribution of the Netherlands to achieving the SDGs. 

The failure so far to alleviate chronic hunger and malnutrition should be one of the priorities of the UN in the post-2015 agenda. Approximately 800 million people are chronically short of food and estimates are two billion people are suffering from nutritional shortcomings in their daily diet.

Until 2030, the world population will increase from 7 to 8 billion. “Zero hunger” means that good food needs to be produced for billions of people who are not getting it today.

My point is that the goal of ‘zero hunger’ can only be achieved when farmers are fully involved in the effort.

When I say ‘farmers’, I mean women and men – small farmers and big farmers. I also say that they need to be organised in strong farmer-controlled co-operatives and organisations. Farmers’ co-operatives are to organise farmers’ access to markets.  Farmers’ organisations are to strengthen the farmers’ voice at all levels: locally, nationally, regionally and globally. Both – market orientation and advocacy – need to work hand-in-hand.

It is important to involve food companies in the effort. Big companies have the resources to get something going. They can match market demand with supply. But one thing remains: farmers produce the food and consumers consume it. There can be a direct connection between the two, or there can be many actors in between. The question is what value the intermediate actors are adding or whether they are mostly adding costs and complexity.

One of the main dilemmas in food policies is the choice between free markets or government regulation. Most agricultural policies don’t make a clear choice. Only New Zealand and Australia went for almost full liberalisation. Many other countries just keep regulating markets. In this way they bridge the gap between the interests of farmers – who want an income from farming – and consumers who’s interest lies in having access to affordable high quality food.  This dilemma should be part of the discussion about ‘zero hunger’.

My view is farmers should get organised and integrate vertically into the chain themselves. They should work on gaining ownership of the chain. This will help them to reap the benefits of the value they create, while adding less costs to the system.

Vertical integration helps to bridge the gap between consumers and farmers.

For this, it is necessary to stimulate entrepreneurship among farmers. It is moving beyond being just ‘producers’ and ‘suppliers’. It is about being an indispensible stakeholder. “No farmers no food”.

To achieve that, it is important to educate farmers about markets, consumer wishes, international food safety rules etc.  This is where is starts.  Then it is also about getting farmers to understand what their value proposition is. This is followed by building the business case. At this stage, farmers usually understand the value of co-operation and vertical integration. The process is best carried out when farmers talk to farmers, like Agriterra has been doing.

All of this should integrate SDGs goals like food, health, gender, inequality, governance, water, climate change and sustainable consumption. We need to avoid silos – farming and food are very horizontal subjects. Working with farmers is inherently holistic.

And there is another advantage. The main difficulty in global policy making is about moving from making to plans to actually getting something done. Well, Farmers are your practical partners. Moving from process (planting, tending, harvesting) to concrete results (yields, selling) is what basically what they do all the time. Do make use of that quality by including them in the process from the start.


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Promoting inclusiveness in the Dutch policy agenda on trade and international cooperation

This contribution is part of a consultation for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs on how to promote inclusiveness in the Dutch policy agenda on trade and international cooperation.
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