Without social protection a crop failure can ruin a poor farmer


FAO Representative for Sri Lanka and Maldives, Beth S. Crawford

In an interview with Sunday Island, Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO of United Nation’s) Representative for Sri Lanka and Maldives, Beth S. Crawford, elucidates on the importance of this year’s World Food Day- ‘Social Protection and Agriculture’ and the paradigm shift we should take as a country to realize it.

by Randima Attygalle

Q: How important is this year’s theme of World Food Day which is ‘Social Protection and Agriculture’?

A: Globally the theme is very important. Approximately 73% of the world population does not have access to adequate social protection measures and a majority of them live in rural areas of developing countries and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Without social protection, a farmer with an elderly sick parent and perhaps already in debt, could be ruined by a crop failure. Similarly, an extreme act of nature, could wipe out the assets of a fishing family. If the resources and networks that rural households rely on are insufficient to weather shocks, those households often choose livelihood strategies that forego income to ensure survival. Social protection is therefore necessary to end hunger and poverty in all its forms and can help accelerate social and economic progress.

Q: How important do you think social protection is in enabling increased access to food? How can Sri Lanka work towards enhancing social protection to achieve this?

A: In Sri Lanka, food security and nutrition are important focus areas. Since the launch of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, Sri Lanka has had very good results in reducing poverty from 22.7 percent in 2002 to 6.7 percent in 2012-2013, achieving the MDG 1 target prior to the 2015 deadline. But if we look at the food security aspect, we see that we still have challenges ahead; for example, 21.6 % of children below the age of five are underweight. So this is where social protection measures can play a key role. Nutritious school feeding programs, for example, such as those implemented by our sister agency - the World Food Program, can have excellent health, nutrition and educational outcomes which extend into adulthood. Furthermore, in current times where we are seeing changing weather patterns and other types of environmental shocks, social protection programs become even more important for food security. We need to incorporate social protection into strategies and investment plans to increase resilience and adaptation to shock.

We need innovative and coordinated approaches to give people in rural areas both the protection and the tools they need to build their capacity and improve their livelihoods. By helping households overcome credit and liquidity constraints, social protection strengthens livelihoods, and encourages farm and non-farm activities.

Q: How can Sri Lanka, being primarily an agricultural nation, capitalize on this year’s World Food Day theme?

A: In Sri Lanka, approximately 70% of the population lives in rural areas and a third of the population depends on agriculture for their livelihood. So this year’s World Food Day theme of social protection and agriculture is extremely relevant and the World Food Day is an excellent opportunity to raise awareness on the theme and to share knowledge. By raising awareness among all the different players, including government, civil society, farmers and the private sector, we can work together to ensure that the best policies and approaches are in place. For example, we can work with the government to highlight the importance of including social protection in national strategies. We can also raise awareness on the importance of ensuring that policies and systems are inclusive. Women play an important role in agriculture but often do not have the same access to resources as men enjoy. Furthermore, gender sensitive social protection programs or programs targeted at women have a positive impact on child and maternal welfare. This is especially important because maternal and child malnutrition tend to perpetuate poverty from generation to generation. So by raising awareness and all these issues, we can see how we can work together to implement the best policies and practices and build capacity

Q: FAO has observed, ‘agricultural production must increase by 60% globally to meet the food demand that will be required to feed the 9.2 billion people who will inhabit our planet in 2050’. How does FAO help countries to meet this demand?

A: To ensure that the world has enough food for its growing population, we need to take a number of aspects into account. To improve productivity, we need to make sure that we are using the most appropriate and latest science and technologies and that we are using sound adaptation measures, which is why it is important to invest in research and development and to disseminate that knowledge to the farmers. We need to make sure that farmers, for example, are using seed varieties that are most adapted to the current climate and are using the best irrigation techniques for good water management.

Another aspect in achieving food security is to ensure that we limit food loss and food waste which is a grave global issue. In Sri Lanka we see that food (perishables) which does not reach the consumer after harvesting (post-harvest loss), is approximately 30%. In many developed countries, we see high levels of food waste. So we need to both improve productivity in a sustainable manner and ensure that the food we produce is not lost or wasted.

Q: What is FAO’s global mandate and how does this global mandate impact on framing its country plan for Sri Lanka?

A: At the heart of FAO’s efforts is achieving food security for all – to make sure people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives. FAO’s three main global goals are: the eradication of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition; the elimination of poverty and the driving forward of economic and social progress for all and the sustainable management and utilization of natural resources. To achieve these goals, FAO in Sri Lanka works closely with the government in areas such as improved agricultural production systems, aquaculture development, nutrition and climate change adaptation. FAO also supports capacity development of technical officers in government departments through training, workshops and seminars.

Q: What are the government institutions FAO collaborates with?

A: We work with several government ministries. The Ministry of Agriculture is our main partner. Then we work with many technical departments and extension staff of the ministries, in the fields of crops, fisheries, forestry, environment, livestock, etc. At the local level we work with farmer societies and fisher groups and other stakeholders to improve livelihoods and to build capacity. We work with the government to help put policies, practices and incentives in place that create an enabling environment and with the farmers and extension staff to ensure they have access to the best knowledge, inputs and technologies.

Q: Especially in the wake of excessive fertilizer usage in local agriculture which has led to chronic kidney disease and many other diseases, has FAO taken any specific measures to promote organic cultivation?

A: FAO does not necessarily promote specific practices, like organic agriculture, but rather serves as a knowledge network. We put information within reach to support the transition to sustainable agriculture. We use the expertise of the FAO staff globally - agronomists, foresters, fisheries and livestock specialists, nutritionists, social scientists, economists, statisticians and other professionals to collect, analyze and disseminate data that aid development. This includes bringing information to the country level on areas like food safety and proper use of inputs, including irrigation techniques and fertilizers and codes of conduct for responsible fisheries.

Q: How important do you think it is to have a multi-sectoral approach in boosting local agriculture?

A: In today’s world, with the complex issues and problems we face, a multi-sectoral and multidimensional approach to boost rural agriculture is the key, involving government, farmers, private sector, civil society, research institutions, etc. By working together to provide more income security through social protection and by investing in rural livelihoods, we are likely to see improvements across a broad spectrum, including improved agricultural productivity, local economic development, increased resilience, sustainable use of natural resources and social inclusion.

Q: How important do you think it is to promote agriculture at school level? Does FAO have a mandate in this regard?

A; Promoting agriculture and nutrition at the school level is important. Introducing good nutritional practices at a young age through school feeding programs or instilling an interest in agriculture through school gardens will allow good habits to be learned young and carried into adulthood. Schools can also help in promoting the wide variety of interesting fields in agriculture, so that we continue to have young, dynamic, enthusiastic people moving into agriculture. Young people are often more technologically savvy, more environmentally aware, and more open to new ideas and approaches. So, we need the younger generation to bring their enthusiasm and ideas into the field of agriculture, for example introducing web-based approaches to getting information on markets or weather patterns

(e-agriculture), engaging in research and development, or trying new agribusiness approaches. Changing mindsets and broadening ideas in today’s fast-changing world is important.

(Pix by Nimal Dayaratne)

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