Brendan Rice, a student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, is currently working as an intern in FAO’s Washington office.
The Association for International Agriculture and Rural Development’s (AIARD) annual conference, held here from 3 to 6 June, focused on inclusive agriculture and rural development.
I attended the first day of the conference in order to better understand how smallholder farmers can be integrated into value chains. As a student profoundly moved by the issue of hunger, I see the importance of ensuring that smallholder farmers have the proper support to be able to participate in markets. The majority of hungry people live in rural areas and rely on agriculture for subsistence. If smallholder farmers had access to the proper tools and resources, such as inputs, financial services and better infrastructure, food production would increase and hunger would be greatly reduced.
Recently, the focus of development agencies has been on market-led approaches. Indeed, the attention given to the development of value chains does provide opportunities, but poor households risk being left out of the equation. Some development activities focus on poor smallholders, where market inclusion is a challenge, while other activities focus on value chain development, which often overlooks the needs of resource-poor smallholders. The conference I attended argued that these two approaches are not mutually exclusive.
The conference brought together important thinkers to grapple with the topics of inclusive agriculture, rural development, making markets work for all, and integrating public- and private-sector extension services.
Doyle Baker of FAO’s Rural Infrastructure and Agro-Industries Division moderated the first two panels. He opened the conference with a discussion on how to realistically and sustainably enable inclusiveness in conjunction with a market-based approach. This development paradigm is effective only when a broad range of actors and initiatives are utilized, which explains the multi-faceted representation at the conference. For example, the Assistant Administrator of USAID spoke of how Feed the Future is working with value chain development and smallholders; the president of Heifer International touched on the importance of developing social capital; and other experts spoke on the importance and potential of extension services. These speakers and others highlighted the challenges in making markets work for all, and their presentations were followed by small group discussions related to how these challenges can be overcome.
The most inspiring portion of the conference was when AIARD’s Future Leaders – a select group of students chosen for their sincere interest in international agriculture and rural development issues – were introduced to the conference attendees.
As a student (admittedly younger than all of the Future Leaders), witnessing the energy and knowledge that these young people bring to the issues that confront our world was invigorating. Faced with the prospect of 9 billion people on the planet by 2050, natural resource constraints, and climate change, the abundant energy that these future leaders bring is not only motivational but absolutely essential for achieving a world where the scourge of hunger is no more.