August 2, 2018 | By Fally Masambuka

Next Generation 2018 - We Have to Listen to the Farmers

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is pleased to present the 2018 Next Generation Delegates blog series. This year’s Delegation was comprised of 27 outstanding students from universities across the United States and around the world studying agriculture, food, and related disciplines. We were thrilled to feature these emerging leaders at the Global Food Security Symposium 2018, and look forward to sharing the exciting work of this extraordinary group.

It was a beautiful, warm, and sunny day when I had just finished an interview with one of the farmers in a village in Salima district, Malawi. As we walked back to our car, I commended the farmer for the promising efforts that he and his family were taking to adopt new technology that promoted conservation agriculture. As I showered him with praise, the farmer’s face, which a moment ago wore a bright, jovial, and excited look, had faded and instead was filled with fury and disappointment.  Shocked and confused as to what I might have done, I asked myself, why would this simple compliment annoy someone that much? While I was pondering on this, the farmer broke his silence and asked me to switch off my recorder.

He proceeded to question me about the meaning and significance of the label on the shirt that I was wearing. I cordially explained that I worked for a company that promotes conservation agriculture and that I was proudly wearing the polo as a part of our efforts to promote the project. Without giving me a chance to respond and defend myself and the project, he questioned the integrity of my work by wondering who I was promoting the project to, who even sees my shirt when I’m sitting in an office, and even if I had a garden myself and practiced conservation agriculture. He continued by telling me that he really had not adopted conservation agriculture in his whole field. He only adopted the technology on the small piece of land that we had visited because he felt sorry for the extension agent and people like me who might lose our jobs if he doesn’t adopt the technology.

This experience dramatically impacted my thinking, and ever since that day it has made reflect on the following questions; Why did we start promoting the project  if we didn’t understand the incentives and desires of the farmers? What message was I sending with my recordings where this farmer had expressed satisfaction with the project on record, but held contradictory views off record? Who exactly am I working for?

My internal reflections were echoed during at the Global Food Security Symposium by a smallholder farmer from Tanzania who was among the panelists. She asked the audience to raise their hands if they were a smallholder farmer and to her apparent expectation, no one did. The absence of small holder farmers in the audience and the remarks from the Tanzanian farmer confirmed the concern that the farmer from Salima had voiced to me. There is a need to pay more attention to farmers’ voices.

These experiences have prompted me to move forward with my research where I focus on exploring how various communication media can be used not only for dissemination of improved technologies, but to empower the farmers to share with policy makers and scientists their true experiences and opinions about various technologies and programs. While small holder farmers make a majority of farers in most of the Sub-Saharan African countries, there have been a lot of technologies and policies that have been developed and pushed to these farmers with little or no adoption and productivity in the small farms still remains low. If we are to indeed achieve global food security, then we need to start giving small holder farmers the opportunity to express their true opinions, not the public voices that we pressure them into when we as outsiders interview them in the expectation of hearing positive experiences.. Therefore, our new agenda must prioritize listening over advising.

 

About

The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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1,000 Days Blog, 1,000 Days

Africa Can End Poverty, World Bank

Agrilinks Blog

Bread Blog, Bread for the World

Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

Concern Blogs, Concern Worldwide

Institute Insights, Bread for the World Institute

End Poverty in South Asia, World Bank

Global Development Blog, Center for Global Development

The Global Food Banking Network

Harvest 2050, Global Harvest Initiative

The Hunger and Undernutrition Blog, Humanitas Global Development

International Food Policy Research Institute News, IFPRI

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center Blog, CIMMYT

ONE Blog, ONE Campaign

One Acre Fund Blog, One Acre Fund

Overseas Development Institute Blog, Overseas Development Institute

Oxfam America Blog, Oxfam America

Preventing Postharvest Loss, ADM Institute

Sense & Sustainability Blog, Sense & Sustainability

WFP USA Blog, World Food Program USA

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| By Kat Sisler

You Should Know: Global Fragility Act of 2019

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is pleased to announce a new blog series, Policies for a Nourished Future, which reviews domestic and international policies meant to address issues of global food security. For the next eight weeks, we will discuss areas of importance to the future of food such as technology, waste, and resilience, and the policies meant to address them. Without robust and proactive policy frameworks, nourishing our growing world will become increasingly difficult and expensive. The first piece in this series explains the Global Fragility Act and how it relates to food security.