As an African, few things ruffle my feathers more than the fact that Africans get reduced so often to a bunch of statistics. African farmers, specifically, who are the people I most often come across in my work, are victims of this phenomenon. Worse still, the statistics are dire, ominous, and dismal.
In envisioning The State of the African Farmer report, I wanted us to talk about not just farming but about farmers. I wanted to go beyond the statistics and talk about the people and to tell their experiences beyond just one dimension. I am proud of this publication because it does that; it brings together perspectives from a number of different viewpoints and experiences.
One of my first and most enduring experiences with smallholder producers was of a meeting of a women’s savings and loan group that I attended many years ago in a small village in Burkina Faso. I recall watching the rigorous planning process that they were going through, which they initiated, led and drove themselves. During the meeting, the women exchanged ideas very passionately about what decisions the group should take, what investments they could make, at what risk, with what potential return. The scale may have been different, but the elements were no different than those being taken in some large multinational corporations in the world. And for them, the stakes were high; these decisions affected the futures of their families. Fundamentally, it was about their dreams and aspirations being manifested.
The reason this experience stands out in my mind is that months after visiting the group, I received a report on the progress of the project. It was a good report, by most accounts. It tallied up the milestones of the project and the achievements so far. However, it did not tell the stories of the women I met that day. It could not convey their aspirations, their dreams and their motivations. The report said a lot about what they were doing, but nothing about why. It did not capture their hopes for the future, and for the futures of their families.
Smallholder farmers in Africa, most of whom are women, have lots of dreams. We cannot and should not reduce them to a collection of data. We cannot just see them as the engines that produce the food that feeds the continent. We have to see them first as people. Only then can we fully begin to tackle the opportunities and challenges they face.
That’s what this publication is about. It about the challenges that the farmers face with basic needs such as water, to communal needs like social capital. But it is also about the opportunities that exist, and the successes that are being made every day to move the needle in not just agriculture but also in agricultural livelihoods.
There is a great interconnectedness that exists between producers and ourselves, whether it is because they produce the foods that go into agricultural supply chains, of because we are all stakeholders in the evolving global climate. But ultimately, it is our futures that are linked together, and will remain inextricable until the end of poverty and until Africa is fed.
The report can be downloaded for free by clicking the image above, right.