(Jay Kaufman with coffee farmers in St. Catherine, Jamaica, applying a biological control mechanism for the Coffee Berry Borer pest.)
Jay Kaufman is Senior Vice President of Field Operations at Fintrac. He is an expert in market analysis and commercial distribution channels; smallholder and local partner grants administration; and agricultural sector rehabilitation post-disaster. He designs and evaluates field programs, is fluent in Spanish, and holds a master's degree in international business and law.
In your view, what are the most critical problems facing smallholder farmers in developing countries?
There are a range of diverse and complex challenges facing today’s farmers. Climate change is impacting farming communities across the globe and in many ways. At the same time, international food markets are increasingly sophisticated and marked by constantly evolving trends. This is in addition to the higher prices we are seeing for fuel and inputs. In many countries, problems are also compounded by limited access to technologies and markets due to poor physical infrastructure, storage and transportation services.
Perhaps the greatest problem, however, is the poor image that farmers have with governments, the private sector and donor organizations. Across the globe there is a failure to recognize the potential that smallholders in particular hold for unleashing the growth of agricultural industries. Smallholders are the key to economic growth, not the constraint.
What are the solutions to address those problems?
With respect to agricultural growth, many industries are constrained by limited access to high quality and consistent raw material supply. With training and technology transfer, it is possible to raise the production and marketing capacity of small-scale growers in order to upgrade the quality and consistency of their produce. Rather than simply focus on boosting production, training and technology packages should focus on empowering smallholders to meet the product specifications of the marketplace. For crops, this means tailoring production systems to meet requirements for variety, size, weight, coloration, maturity, etc. Postharvest systems are also critical to maintaining quality throughout the supply chain.
There are also opportunities to integrate “smallholder commercialization,” as we call it at Fintrac, with climate change adaptation. This is achieved with practices and technologies that improve resiliency at the farm level in addition to quality and consistency. These include sustainable land practices, low-cost drip irrigation, integrated pest management and a range of other measures that mitigate pressures from floods, droughts and pests and diseases.
You spent time in Jamaica to help farmers recover from major hurricanes. Based on your experiences, what are some immediate challenges that farmers and communities face in the aftermath of disasters?
Recovery programs are under pressure to quickly re-activate farming and other economic activities. Despite this urgency, the process of re-activation needs to incorporate elements of adaptation and resiliency so that communities are not left as vulnerable as before. The Jamaica Business Recovery Program promoted the theme of “building back better,” where integrating grants with technical assistance was aimed not just at re-activating crops and livelihoods, but ensuring that the farming systems and practices put into place were better suited to withstand future shocks.
Unfortunately, Hurricane Ivan was followed less than a year later by Dennis and Emily. Although their impact on Jamaica was not as devastating as Ivan, farmers who incorporated improved practices and technologies saw fewer crop losses following those lesser storms. It was a real eye-opener for many of the grower groups we worked with.
And what concrete steps are needed to minimize their losses and restore agriculture productivity?
There is admittedly little that can be done against the direct impact of a hurricane. However, there are a range of measures that provide protection against adverse climatic conditions. The Jamaica program integrated technical training with grants support for the cultivation of short-term crops with high demand to quickly re-activate cash flow and employment. Farmers were also taught to identify land and soil types that were prone to flooding and how to raise crops that were stronger and more resistant to drought and disease. Perhaps the major success story from the program was the introduction of a low-cost greenhouse system that allowed for highly productive cultivation, even on terrain that was ill-suited for farming. The greenhouse design offers extra protection against pests, diseases and the elements.
We are experiencing more frequent and extreme weather conditions. How would climate change affect smallholder farmers in developing countries?
One impact is through droughts, flooding and similar weather-related shocks that are dramatically impacting crops and livestock. Erratic rainfall patterns are complicating traditional planting practices. Another major threat is the increase in pest pressures resulting from gradually rising temperatures. Pests are a problem because of the direct damage they inflict as well as the diseases they carry. Consequently, farmers are experiencing an increase in the spread of vector-borne diseases as a result of climate change.
And what can the international community do to help farmers adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change?
There is already a growing recognition that climate change adaptation needs to be incorporated across the spectrum of agricultural activities. Technologies and practices should continue to be adapted and tailored to different environments. Unfortunately, many assistance efforts are lacking a strong focus on quality of implementation, and by extension, monitoring and evaluation systems that are rigorous, practical and capable of providing decision-makers with critical information. Monitoring the quality and performance of technical assistance is important for making assistance programs more effective and impactful.
Today, new technology and innovative techniques are helping farmers to increase yields. What are some examples of new tools or techniques that have successfully been implemented and used by farmers?
Fintrac has developed a technical assistance methodology that adapts commercial-scale practices and technologies to the smallholder setting in a sustainable manner that also promotes adaptation to climate change.
For instance, the use of raised beds and drainage canals reduces damage from flooding while maintaining good soil health. The use of live barrier crops such as corn, sorghum and other tall plants around the perimeter of a farm reduces erosion and offers protection against wind damage and the transmission of diseases. Low-cost drip irrigation conserves water resources and can be used to extend production into counter-season when farm gate price are typically higher. Drip systems can also be used for precision-based fertilizer application that provides nutrients at the plant root to strengthen disease-resistance and boost yields. The use of grassy mulch can preserve moisture, suppress weed growth and support healthy soils.
What’s more impactful than each than of these elements individually is the dramatic increase in productivity, marketability and sustainability that results when they are integrated as a package. This integrated approach to crop and livestock management has been successfully adapted and refined across three continents, and Fintrac has managed to integrate hundreds of thousands of smallholders into commercial supply operations with private agribusinesses as a result. What’s more rewarding is the sustainability aspect, since growers reaping the benefits of these improved practices seldom, if ever, return to subsistence methods.
How did you get involved in international development and food security work?
Through a strange twist of fate! I actually grew up in the produce industry, where my father was a wholesale distributor of fruits and vegetables in the New England area. Although I worked with my father in that business through college years, I actually wanted nothing to do with it as a career and chose to study international affairs. While finishing my studies, I landed a part-time job with a development contractor in Washington, DC, I wound up working for that organization full-time, supporting a USAID-funded export promotion program for the Philippines, which just happened to be focused on agriculture.
Get The Chicago Council’s FREE Global Food for Thought News Brief delivered to your inbox weekly! Sign up here.