From L-R: Wolfgang Jamann, Secretary General of Welthungerhilfe; Bärbel Dieckmann, President of Welthungerhilfe; Gerd Müller, Germany’s Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development; Gerda Verburg, Chair of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS).
Photo: © Welthungerhilfe

“Berlin Memorandum” urges G7 to do more for smallholders

Experts from around the world are calling on governments to give more power to smallholders. In the “Berlin Memorandum”, they demand that the G7 countries step up their efforts to combat hunger and support smallholders.

Experts from several countries across the world have published a “Berlin Memorandum” calling on governments to give more power to smallholders. The document was discussed at the conference “Setting the Course for a World without Hunger”, organised by the POWA (“Building Public and Political Will for Agriculture ODA in Germany”) project of the German relief organisation Welthungerhilfe and held in Berlin, Germany, early in February.

The Memorandum was drawn up with a view to the G7 meeting of the world’s leading industrial nations, the USA, Japan, Germany, the UK, France, Italy and Canada, which is to be hosted by Germany, taking place at Schloss Elmau in Bavaria on June 7–8. “A world without hunger by 2030 is possible,” said Germany’s Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Gerd Müller, speaking at the meeting. “To achieve this, we want to commit all G7 states to the goal and introduce a monitoring system.”

Addressing global injustice

Smallholders play a key role in attaining such a goal, given that they provide 70 per cent of the world’s food supply. And yet around 80 per cent of them live below the poverty line. And among the more than 800 million people starving world-wide, the vast majority live in rural areas. The Berlin conference stressed the need to address global injustice as the root cause of hunger and poverty, and called on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to bring issues like global inequality and planetary boundaries to the fore at the G7 meeting.

The Memorandum states that the G7 have to considerably raise their political and financial commitment in the global fight against hunger. Smallholders’ interests and site-specific agriculture ought to figure prominently in Germany’s G7 agenda in 2015. Germany should take the lead of a new G7 initiative with ODA (Official Development Assistance) commitments that live up to their fair share, which according to calculations by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Welthungerhilfe amounts to 31.3 billion USD annually.

The implementation of the FAO Right to Food Guidelines and the Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure has to become binding in all G7 activities. The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (initiated by the G8 – the G7 plus Russia) needs to be assessed by a body outside the realm of corporate interests in terms of its potential to benefit smallholders, and it must accordingly be submitted to a radical reform.

Strengthening the position of smallholders at three key levels

The Memorandum argues that in order to achieve substantial results in the fight against hunger, the position of smallholders must be strengthened at three key levels, the first of them being their rights. The rule of law has to be established and legal certainty needs to be ensured for smallholders. The right to food, but also to productive resources, including land, is paramount, especially given large-scale undermining of people’s rights by agribusiness and the widespread practice of land grabbing. Further crucial aspects in this context include women’s rights and political rights such as the right to association. Smallholders must organise so that they have a say not only at local and regional but also at international level. At the conference, the imbalance between soft-law regulations for smallholder interests and hard-law regulations benefiting transnational corporations was repeatedly stressed.

Second, viable smallholder livelihoods and rural job opportunities must be promoted. Here, there were warnings in Berlin that market integration and the activities of transnational corporations could effectively wipe out rural community cultures, especially in combination with an aging of the farming population and increasing numbers of young people seeing no incentive in working the land. New jobs and incentives have to be created for youth. New technologies have to be developed in cooperation with smallholders, building on their traditional knowledge. And smallholders must play a more active role in developing markets. Other demands here include improving supply chains, investing in rural infrastructure and supporting initiatives promoting the sharing of machinery.

Third, the environmental pillar of sustainable development has to be strengthened for smallholders, the overall aim here being to achieve a climate-resilient, sustainable and bio-diverse agriculture based on local production and geared to the nutritional security of the locals. In particular, investment in agriculture has to support the nutrition security of the most vulnerable. Other demands include promoting organic farming and supporting certification of organic produce, integrating smallholder knowledge in coping with climate change, encouraging smallholders to develop more effective and ecologically friendly farming systems, promoting responsible provision of products for pharmaceuticals and supporting more research into the link between agro-ecology and soil fertility. Smallholders ought to be encouraged to look into their own resources and see where input and output can interact in order to create closed-loop systems, for example with regard to mutual impacts of livestock and climate.

The Memorandum argues that the three fields above have to be integrated in a coherent legal, policy and investment framework. Hunger and poverty must be combated with a land and food rights-based approach setting out from injustice, not scarcity, being the cause of hunger. Power structures have to be changed to help smallholders.

The Berlin Memorandum was prepared in a consultative process involving experts representing civil society, science and the private sector, and the five countries Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Germany and India. These five countries are taking part in the POWA project, which seeks to urge the G7 nations to step up their efforts to fight hunger.

Mike Gardner, journalist, Bonn/Germany