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Family Farmers for Sustainable Food Systems

A synthesis of reports by African farmers’ regional networks on models of food production, consumption and markets.

Over the past two years three African producers’ networks – ROPPA in West Africa, PROPAC in Central Africa and EAFF in East Africa – have been at work documenting the well-known but most often ignored fact that 80% of the food consumed in Africa is produced by family farmers and reach those who consume it through channels that have nothing to do with so-called “modern” value chains and supply systems. 

Initiatives like the G8’s “New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition” or the World Economic Forum’s “Grow Africa” champion, as the way forward for Africa, the approach of corporate-led large-scale industrial farming (most often accompanied by land grabbing or contract arrangements that deprive smallholders of the autonomy and diversity on which their resilience is based).

In a just-published report on Family Farmers for Sustainable Food Systems the producers themselves argue that, on the contrary:
“Family farming is the basis for modern food provision in Africa, today and tomorrow. Its multi-functionality and sustainable productive potential is supported by extensive research evidence. Family farming and small-scale food production generates food and well-being for the majority of the population and the wealth of the region, and conserves its natural resources. It can  ensure employment for young people within their territories, thus promoting social peace and attenuating migration. Innovative family farming, backed by appropriate research, supportive investments and adequate protection, can out-perform industrial commodity production. It provides the basis for the food sovereignty of communities, countries and sub-regions of Africa.” 

While the development establishment insists on the need to “link smallholder farmers to markets” the producers’ networks recall that few - if any - smallholders operate outside of markets. The key issue is rather what markets, on what terms, to the benefit of whom?   
“One of the major challenges for family farmers is to persuade policy makers to assess the negative impacts of the commodified market – loss of livelihoods, jobs and farms, rural depopulation especially by young people, lower quality food, and food insecurity – and to recognise that these do not have to be inevitable. Outside of the commodified market family farmers seek to build markets that are within the democratic control of the people, that respect nature and promote livelihoods.  If policy makers could recognise and strengthen the broad range of informal trade systems and structures that are, thus far, still strong within Africa, this could support creating an alternative to the commodified market that can better serve the needs of the people.”

As the World Bank acknowledges in a recent report on Growing Africa, “Africa represents the ‘last frontier’ in global food and agricultural markets”. Who will benefit from this opportunity? The ROPPA-PROPAC-EAFF report is an invaluable counter-narrative to that of the corporate-led industrialized and globalized food system. 

 The report has got the support of the Heidehof Foundation and the More and Better Network. It is available in English and French on the website of EuropAfrica, the consortium of which the three networks are members and which sponsored the research.  

Download the report in English

Download the report in French