the yields of staple foods in the region to decline by 18% during this century, further compromising the livelihoods of poor households already food insecure and lacking the resources to adapt. They thus use negative coping mechanisms such as cutting down on the number and quality of meals they eat and withdrawing their children from school."
facing smallholder farmers
Most smallholder farmers in the region do not have individual ownership titles, writes Chikazunga. Land is mostly communally owned.
This means access to formal credit is limited as land cannot be used as collateral and incentives for farmers to invest money and energy in improving the land are reduced.
Acquisition of land rights through tenancy or ownership would provide incentive for the commercialisation of traditional agriculture in SADC.
Access to improved agricultural inputs
Over the past three decades the agribusiness industry has sidelined smallholder farmers and made it difficult for them to obtain improved varieties of seed and appropriate technology.
Big corporations have commercialised and commoditised agricultural inputs, putting them out of reach of the small holder farmer, particularly as access to credit is limited.
Access to seed is crucial for the success of small holder farming but seed production, which used to be a community venture, is now predominantly in the hands of multi-national companies such as Monsanto, Pioneer, Seed Co and Cargill, amongst others.
Prior to agricultural industrialisation farmers would breed and store their own seed, with seed exchange being a cultural practice.
But this practice has been squashed by seed corporations introducing hybrid and Genetically Modified seed varieties containing an inhibitor gene. Poor small holder farmers who cannot afford commercial seeds thus do not benefit from improved seed and recycled commercial seed delivers dwindling yields.
Access to credit
Smallholder farmers are unable to access credit like commercial farmers, which has led to a poor performance in food production and vulnerability in the supply chain. Unlike in Asia, in southern Africa agricultural financial services are sparse. Credit is thus often supplied by agricultural marketing companies and predominantly in the following forms:
- Input traders supplying goods on credit to increase sales;
- Buying crops in advance;
- Input credit under contract farming schemes.
The last has been criticised for as enabling agro-companies to essentially obtain cheap labour while transferring the risks to the producer but recent evidence shows these schemes, where input credit in exchange for guaranteed delivery of a specified quality of produce, often at pre-determined prices, can reduce uncertainty for both the farmer and the company.
Access to functioning markets
Poor rural infrastructure makes moving produce from rural to urban areas difficult and knowledge of potential markets and market expectations is limited, writes Mashingaidze.
Chikazunga writes that in most African countries, less than one-third of domestically produced food enters commercial market channels beyond the local area due to the distances from villages to towns and the lack of an all-weather road infrastructure.
Thus agricultural surpluses cannot easily be moved from areas of surplus to areas where there is a deficit. Further barriers to markets include the lack of economies of scale and an inability to negotiate the best prices for produce.
Lack of irrigation
The heavy reliance on rainfall by farmers in SADC exposes them to droughts and floods common in the region. The lack of irrigation also makes farmers vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change.
Mashingaidze writes that climate change research predicts the yields of staple foods in the region to decline by 18% during this century, further comprising the livelihoods of poor households already food insecure and lacking the resources to adapt. They thus use negative coping mechanisms such as cutting down on the number and quality of meals they eat and withdrawing their children from school. Protection of natural resources (wetlands, rivers, natural forests and grasslands) is also necessary to mitigate the effects of climate change on rural communities.
What is being done?
- Natural resources: Following a process begun in 2008, a Draft RAP Policy Statement covering issues such as trans-boundary water management, climate change adaptation measures and regional agricultural markets has been developed.
However, it was supposed to have been approved by the SADC Council of Ministers in July 2012 and endorsed by the SADC Council in August 2012. These deadlines have been missed. The RAP Policy Statement is expected to be presented to the next SADC Council of Ministers in February 2013.
- Seed: Given the struggle smallholder farmers face to access quality seed, an agreement to implement a system aimed at improving seed trade between SADC countries was signed in 2010 in Kinshasa, DRC.
Called the SADC Harmonized Seed Regulatory System, it aims to facilitate easier movement of seed in the region, increasing the availability of high quality seed to farmers and integrate small isolated national seed markets into a single SADC market.
- Research and development: Additionally, the SADC Council approved the Centre for Coordinating Agricultural Research and Development in Southern Africa (CCARDESA) in 2010 to coordinate agricultural research, the generation of technology and distribution of research information in the region.
However, the CCARDESA Charter is yet to be signed by all SADC states and the Secretariat has still not been established.
- Trade agreements: Mashingaidze warns that in working towards finalising the SADC RAP, trade issues between the countries have not been resolved and trade experts and stakeholders have not been visible in the RAP formulation process.
If the issue of trade in the region is not addressed, it could prove a stumbling block to the RAPs aims.
Additionally, he notes, non-state actors need to be more fully engaged.
But if RAP can successfully address low production, moving smallholder farmers from subsistence agriculture to high value crops they can trade, and improve access to financing, the sector can be transformed.