Food and (not vs.) Cash Crops

At the recent Borlaug Symposium in Ethiopia, ICRISAT researchers presented a paper examining the question of what the balance should be between food and cash crops.

The presentation used the examples of Ethiopia and Tanzania to show how crops have served both food and cash purposes, for the benefit of reducing poverty and hunger in developing countries.

In Ethiopia, chickpea production has been significantly boosted in recent years. Improved varieties and training programmes have resulted in a 40% increase in yields nationwide, with a 90% increase in yields in the East Shewa Zone in the Oromia region. With great increases in production by the tonne, earnings from exporting the crop have risen from $1 million in 2004 to $26 million in 2008. In Tanzania, similar impacts have been achieved with a key leguminous crop, the pigeonpea.The ICRISAT team stated,

As these examples illustrate […] the notion of a single, ideal balance point between food vs. cash crop may be too simplistic.

The presenter spoke of the insights they have gained in their Village Level Studies initiative, that have shown that poverty reduction is linked with improved connectivity between rural areas and urban markets.  ICRISAT refer to this concept, now the model for their Strategic Plan 2020, as ‘inclusive market-orientated development’ (IMOD).  In this plan, ‘markets’ are broadened to include the poor.

Their objective regarding food and cash crops is:

ensure food security first, then add income to the extent possible through cash crops.

The paper examines the need for a concept of ‘food and (not vs.) crops, whereby the balance between the two will depend on each farmers’ individual food security status.  The researchers say that stimulating staple food production, rather than growing high-value exotic products and export crops, will be the first trigger for IMOD, and will offer basic experience in supply chains before new crops are added to the mix.

The team also called for a comprehensive perspective on the entire value chain system, where farmers are supported by inputs, access to markets, infrastructure, credit and weather and market insurance, in a way that promotes equity and security.

The ICRISAT research emphasises the need for inclusion in market-access strategies, and also the need for full understanding of the context of each community, rather than blending all the poor into one bracket. They call for more information about the different categories of poor at local scales, to aid development work.

The presentation concluded:

The question should not be food vs. cash crops; it should be how to make food and cash crops work synergistically to propel farmers out of poverty. Ensure food security first, not in a way that creates aid dependency, but rather in a way that makes it a springboard towards market-orientated development.

One response to “Food and (not vs.) Cash Crops

  1. Ulul

    Farmers are at the heart of the solution – they’re the ones who grow our crops, look after the land, and protect our biodiversity systems. The pressure is on now, more than ever. Land and water resources are declining; by the year 2030 its expected we’ll have half the amount of arable land available that we do now.
    Plant science technologies have helped to massively increase productivity levels of crops, but a lot of farmers, particularly in developing countries, are having huge difficulties growing enough food for themselves and their community as well as getting it to market in order to sell for profit.
    What we need is a change in thinking to put the farmer at the core of reliable and sustainable agricultural practices. A new approach to agriculture is called for – delivering productivity and sustainability. By adopting this new approach we can help work towards achieving food security and cash for crops, in a sustainable and balanced way. Better functioning markets along with sustainable local and regional infrastructure will result in improved economic development providing food security and fair prices.

    Farmers need the know-how to make this happen. As the ICRISAT researchers stressed in their presentation, farmers need access to information technologies to receive weather, crop and market alerts to help them make the right decisions. By taking steps such as providing remote access to up-to-date market pricing information and improving smallholder farmers’ marketing skills through entrepreneurship training, farmers can receive fair price treatment when they do take their produce to market. On the wider scale, we need to see reduced market distortions to improve opportunities for all levels of agriculture globally. As is mentioned in the article, a better understanding of the context of each community will help food and cash crops work synergistically.
    However we still need to make sure that farmers can sustainably grow these crops. By making sure that they have access to the tools and resources they need, whether it be crop protection products, biotech seeds or better mechanical tools, productivity levels can be increased and farmers can continue to grow crops and breed livestock sustainably.

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