By Jessica Schlager and Teresa Avila
DES MOINES, Iowa — For the past eight years at the World Food Prize, Truth about Trade and Technology has hosted the Global Farmer Roundtable. Here, farmers from around the world discuss today’s biggest issues in farming techniques and economics. Below is a list of common problems the farmers discussed:
- Government assistance for areas of extreme poverty
- Children raised in rural areas view staying on the farm as punishment, Lydia Sasu of Ghana said. There are difficulties with fresh water, poor road conditions and electricity. These children realize what the will lack if they stay within the farming family.
- Bringing opportunity to areas of production
- Opportunities for employment outside of food production are limited in rural farming communities. When an item is produced, it is shipped miles away to be packaged and processed. Bringing processing plants and companies closer to the production area produces more jobs and allows for money to be reinvested in the local community.
- Educating the young AND the old
- Focus frequently goes to educating the young because they are the future of agriculture. The farmers agreed that education, and more specifically agricultural education, should be mandatory and feasible for children across the world. While the younger generations are indeed our future, older generations are still running farms and producing the world’s food. The consensus was that all generations need to learn techniques and stay current with the newest and best information.
- Trevor Gifford of Zimbabwe said that many farmers simply don’t follow good agricultural practices. The two Kenyan farmers in attendance, David Kosegi and Gilbert Bor, championed cooperatives as a way to handle this problem. They said people will trust what their cooperatives tell them about new agricultural techniques and technologies, more than they would trust a stranger. The key, Bor said, is to teach people to lead these cooperatives.
- Sharing information
- Constant communication across countries is crucial in order to succeed. Regardless of size or shape of the community, something can be learned from each and every area. Mary Boote, chief executive officer for Truth about Trade and Technology, said that 98 farmers and about 73 countries are now part of their network. Andrew Weidemann from Australia was the first farmer of this year’s roundtable to suggest an event that would allow farmers from each country to visit one another. Truth about Trade and Technology, in fact, recognized this need and is now planning an alumni event, which would allow past and present attendees to meet and discuss farming techniques in more depth.
- The round table touched on the need to handle how the media covers research. A study from a “thinly refereed” science journal might be trusted more than it should, moderator Robert Thompson said.
- Financial stability and benefits for farmers
- Farmers at the roundtable mentioned that credit has been an issue in their regions because the cost of technology and materials is high. And, Kosgei said, many Kenyan farmers buy televisions or electronic devices that people in urban areas would have rather than reinvesting in their farms with their credit. Gerrid Gust from Canada said the problems in his country lie with insurance. Farmers are reluctant to take risks because insurance availability is not adequate. Only a small portion of farmers are given insurance based on an agent’s judgment of the farmer’s skills. “If something should fail, where does the insurance come from?” Gust asked, considering the uninsured. These problems mean that many farmers cannot live solely off farm income. “Canada is strewn with 1,000 acre farms that are not sustainable,” Gust said. Many farm spouses have off-farm jobs to bring in the needed income cushion. Gifford of Zimbabwe voiced a similar opinion. He said that the government needs to give security to its farmers, but is failing due to “terrible interest rates.”
- Enrique Carlos Oyarzabal from Uruguay said, “all too often people forget how risky, expensive and difficult it is to farm.” Farming is one of the most essential parts of the world, so why isn’t it a more attractive occupation?
- Kosegi said that when land is subdivided among several farmers, they don’t benefit from economies of scale. It’s better for them to group together, and receive dividends of larger farms. “Leaving small scale farms on their own is no good,” Bar said. “Stop chopping farms up.” Cooperatives allow farmers more opportunities in pooling their resources, such as access to machinery and diversifying their production.