Why do small farmers need our support and how do they fit into the global conversation about water and food security?
Smallholder farms are small plots of land typically supported by a single family growing a mix of cash and subsistence crops. These farmers make up 40% of the word’s population, and in sub-Saharan Africa smallholder farms make up more than 90% of agricultural production. In a world where 70% of freshwater withdrawal is used for agriculture, smallholder farmers in both developed and developing countries play a key role in water management and food security.
Most smallholder farmers are women, live in rural areas, and when water and weather crises occur, are the first victims of malnutrition. The Women’s Collective of Tamilnadu, India organizes women at the village level to create self help groups around socio-economic issues. Seeing a need for more climate friendly approaches to agriculture and water use, the Women’s Collective gathered local women farmers and reintroduced the practice of using traditional seeds for agriculture. Traditional seeds were replaced during India’s green revolution with high-yield seeds and increased use of irrigation and fertilizer. The widespread switch from millet (which has a high nutritional value) to rice during this time also led to a decrease in nutrition.
The Women’s Collective re-introduced the use of traditional seeds because the seeds are adapted to the climate and require less water, less fertilizer, while providing more nutrients for the consumers. Current traditional seed farmers invite new farmers into the group by providing starter seeds for the first crop. At the end of the harvest, the loaning farmers are repaid in seeds for the use of their starter seeds. Farmers who use traditional seeds diversify and often grow between 15 and 20 different crops at a time, guarding against food insecurity created by water, pests or climate issues.
Why was the reintroduction of traditional seeds so successful? As I mentioned in a previous post on the High Level Panel on Food Security, panelist suggestions included involving farmers in the discussion and solution and using indigenous knowledge to understand ecological and local parameters. The Women’s Collective was so successful because it understood the importance in involving farmers with indigenous knowledge to solve a regional agricultural problem. As we have seen throughout the sessions at the World Water Forum, communication, collaboration, and creativity are key to solving our water issues across the globe.
As small groups work to improve local agricultural methods and increase rural food security, I hope governments, corporations and NGOs look t
o these groups for guidance and ideas in other regions.
What are your thoughts on ways to ensure food security? Have you worked with an organization like the Women’s Collective?