We’re excited to launch the Root Capital Roundup, a new blog series summarizing the latest news around issues important to us and our supporters.
We’re kicking off this series with a look at the latest trends and insights on a topic that underscores everything we do here at Root Capital: the increasing urgency of investing in smallholder farmers.
Food security. Preserving the environment. Women’s empowerment. If we want to make progress on any of these issues, we need to start with the world’s poorest and most vulnerable smallholder farmers.
Why are smallholder farmers so important?
“Meeting the goals of eradicating poverty and hunger by 2030 will require a profound transformation of food and agriculture systems worldwide,” states the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This makes sense. The world’s 450 million smallholder farmers grow 70% of the world’s food, but are also among those most likely to live below the international poverty line.
A recent ImpactAlpha piece on Medium highlights six myths that may be holding back this “profound transformation,” which may give you a fresh perspective on the importance of smallholder farmers. Another recent piece from ImpactAlpha makes the case that if we want to feed a growing population, we need to start viewing smallholder farmers as a critical piece of the solution to global hunger. We would take that argument even a step further. When we invest in agriculture, we’re not just promoting food security: well-supported agriculture can create opportunities for women and young people, mitigate the effects of climate change, and help post-conflict economies progress towards peace.
So if agriculture has so much potential, why are so many smallholders leaving their farms behind?
We’ve heard from our own clients that many in their communities view careers in agriculture as unproductive, unprofitable, or unfulfilling. That’s why many farmers like Ousmane Ba say that they wouldn’t have picked a career in agriculture as their first choice. And as the New York Times reports, a steady current of economic migrants from farming communities around the world is further proof that many people don’t see a future in farming. But the problem isn’t agriculture — it’s the fact that the market has chronically underserved the people the sector employs. From Honduras to Ghana, we’ve seen that when young people work for better-supported agricultural businesses, they can dive headfirst into careers in agriculture — careers that they see as sustainable, profitable, and fulfilling.
How is the development community thinking creatively about supporting smallholders?
In response to the question “can we end extreme poverty among coffee farmers by 2030?” GiveDirectly is giving coffee farmers in Uganda $1,000 each to test the impact of cash on the livelihoods of smallholders. Several studies presented in the Stanford Social Innovation Review offer us reason to be “cautiously optimistic” about this type of cash transfer. Meanwhile, our partners at Mastercard Foundation are working with ICCO to expand access to finance for women farmers in West Africa. And Skoll Foundation awardee Kola Masha of Babban Gona is working to create opportunities for youth in agriculture in Nigeria with the goal of depriving insurgent groups like Boko Haram “of the air that they need to breathe.”
How does Root Capital’s work fit into the bigger picture?
We’re playing our part by investing in the agricultural businesses that will create economic opportunities for these farmers for years to come.
These businesses raise incomes. They advance the rights of women. They promote sustainability. They strengthen local economies in post-conflict regions. And they create opportunities for the farmers of the future to lead. We like to refer to these businesses as “engines of impact” — impact that radiates outward and raises up entire rural communities. And thanks to you, we can continue to give these critically important businesses the support that they need to thrive.
What did you think about the first-ever Root Capital Roundup? If you have a suggestion for how to improve this series or an idea for an article you’d like us to include next time, let us know by tweeting your thoughts @RootCapital or leaving a comment below!