Connect with us


For all our hi-tech advances, it's people who drive change in #Agriculture



If there is one positive takeaway from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that even in isolation, the world is connected in many more ways than previously appreciated, writes Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Co-operation (CTA) Director Dr Ibrahim Khadar. 

Amidst global lockdowns over the past month, governments, businesses and communities have nevertheless united to tackle the outbreak, from donating personal protective equipment to forming coalitions of rivals to manufacture new breathing aids.

The same approach can and should be applied to positive transformation across all sectors of global development, including those essential to meeting the most basic of human needs: farming.

While new technologies, research and development are undoubtedly major drivers of progress, the realization of their potential to help feed the world relies squarely and uniquely on the human factor.

Within African agriculture, for example, more than 400 digital services and tools are currently available for smallholder farmers, all of which provide better access to information, networks, products and markets. Yet only around two in five farmers registered for these solutions actually use them with any frequency.

Such applications may be a vital piece of the food security puzzle but they are only effective when there is someone there at each step to convince farmers of the benefits, deliver the necessary training and then troubleshoot any problems.

For the more than 250 million smallholders in developing countries across Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific, who rely on agriculture to feed their families and earn an income, such in-person outreach helps them build the skills and capacity needed to generate economic growth – or “human capital”.

This support comes in a variety of different guises and over the past three decades, CTA has equipped and fostered many development actors, both individually and as a connected support network for smallholders.

From training the extension agents who share knowledge person to person, to hosting workshops, we have seen how investing in the abilities of experts and trainers can help smallholders develop their understanding of sustainable agricultural practices and how to implement them.

And over our 35-year history, CTA has shown how print, digital and virtual outreach is most successful when coupled with human delivery, strategic partnerships and a personal touch.

For instance, CTA’s Question and Answer Service was the precursor of online fora, in which farmers could write to experts for scientific and technical advice on issues like crop disease. For 26 years, the service provided individualised support for tens of thousands of farmers, including many not reached by extension services.

Similarly, our now discontinued flagship agriculture magazine, Spore, which had more than 60,000 subscribers at its peak, was available online, but, to ensure those without internet access were not left behind, print versions were often hand delivered by extension agents to the most remote.

Strengthening human capital in this way, then, makes it possible to develop the social capital needed to build local partnerships and regional collaborations, and reinforce food and economic security.

For example, as well as working in the field to develop the human capital of individual women farmers, CTA and partners launched Africa’s first online network for female agricultural entrepreneurs, VALUE4HER, which allows women to connect and share opportunities and knowledge.

And globally, our work to expand climate-smart agriculture in Ethiopia and Mali provided useful lessons and insights for other regions, which we applied in Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean.

A key learning was that developing new agricultural tools and services alone was not sufficient. In Jamaica, fewer than half of farmers actually used the digital solutions for which they registered, and uptake amongst women in particular remained relatively low.

What farmers needed was tailored, step-by-step, in-person guidance on how to download a new weather forecasting app, for example, and then successfully interpret it to take informed decisions about planting and tending crops.

Over the past four decades, digitalization has become both the medium and the means through which smallholder farmers can produce, earn and achieve more through the smarter use of resources.

From rural radio and CD-ROMs that provided guidance and practical tips to the verifiable digital profiles that unlock financial services including credit and insurance, technology has been the catalyst for sustainable smallholder farming.

But time and again, we have seen how it is human support that ensures farmers embrace and adopt them to their full potential.

Technology is and will continue to be a vital tool for improving global food security. But in the same way that the novel coronavirus outbreak has mobilized all sectors and industries in extraordinary ways, global hunger, poverty and inequality should also inspire the human connections and partnerships needed to improve food security.

Digitalization might be the future for agriculture, but positive transformation will continue to depend on humans working together.

This op-ed is solely the opinion of the author and is not endorsed by EU Reporter.


Agriculture: Commission publishes list of potential eco-schemes



The Commission published a list of potential agricultural practices that eco-schemes could support in the future Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Part of the CAP reform currently under negotiation between the European Parliament and the Council, eco-schemes are a new instrument designed to reward farmers who choose to go further in terms of environmental care and climate action. This list aims to contribute to the debate around the CAP reform and its role in reaching the Green Deal targets. This list also enhances transparency of the process for establishing the Strategic CAP Plans, and provides farmers, administrations, scientists and stakeholders a basis for further discussion on making the best use of this new instrument.

The future CAP will play a crucial role in managing the transition towards a sustainable food system and in supporting European farmers throughout. Eco-schemes will contribute significantly to this transition and to the Green Deal targets. The Commission published the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies in May 2020. The Commission presented its proposals for the CAP reform in 2018, introducing a more flexible, performance and results-based approach that takes into account local conditions and needs, while increasing EU level ambitions in terms of sustainability. The European Parliament and Council agreed on their negotiating positions on the reform of the CAP on 23 and 21 October 2020, respectively, enabling the start of the trilogues on 10 November 2020. The Commission is determined to play its full role in the CAP trilogue negotiations as an honest broker between the co-legislators and as a driving force for greater sustainability to deliver on the European Green Deal objectives. A factsheet is available online and more information can be found here.

Continue Reading


Farm to Fork: Commission takes action to further reduce the use of dangerous pesticides



As part of the EU's commitment to make food systems more sustainable and to protect citizens from harmful substances, the European Commission has today decided to withdraw Mancozeb from the EU market. Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: “The protection of citizens and the environment from dangerous chemicals is a priority for the European Commission. Reducing the dependency on chemical pesticides is a key pillar of the Farm to Fork strategy we presented last spring. We cannot accept that pesticides harmful to our health are used in the EU. Member states should now urgently withdraw all authorisations for plant protection products containing Mancozeb”.

Mancozeb is an active substance which is used in a number of pesticides in the EU. The proposal was supported by member states in the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed in October. It follows the scientific assessment by EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) which confirmed health concerns, in particular having a toxic effect on reproduction, and the protection of the environment. Mancozeb also has endocrine disrupting properties for humans and for animals. Member states will now have to withdraw authorizations for all plant protection products containing Mancozeb by June 2021.

Continue Reading


Commission approves €9.3 million Croatian scheme to support enterprises active in primary agricultural sector affected by coronavirus outbreak



The European Commission has approved an approximately €9.3 million (HRK 70m) Croatian scheme to support enterprises active in certain primary agricultural sectors affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The scheme was approved under the state aid Temporary Framework. The public support, which will take the form of direct grants, will be open to breeders of cattle and sow as well as producers of apples, mandarins and potatoes in Croatia. The measure is expected to support more than 6,500 enterprises.  The aim of the scheme is to address the liquidity needs of enterprises that suffered a decrease in sales and to help them to continue their activities during and after the outbreak.

The Commission found that the Croatian scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular, (i) the aid will not exceed €100,000 per beneficiary, as provided by the Temporary Framework for undertakings in the primary agricultural sector; and (ii) the aid under the scheme can be granted until 30 June 2021. The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework.

On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under the EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.59815 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

Continue Reading