Many millions of people in poor countries will go hungry when future global food crises strike unless the world's half a billion small-scale farms receive urgent funding and support from the UK and other governments, says development agency Progressio on the first day of a crucial global food security summit in Rome (Nov 16-18).
In a new report, Fertile Ground, Progressio warns that decades of neglect by governments of small scale farmers who feed 2 billion people worldwide [ref 1] - a third of humanity - have stretched poor farming communities to breaking point, requiring urgent action. The report notes that last year's global food crisis:
* Added 44 million people to those already undernourished 
* Drove 110 million more people into poverty 
* Pushed up the price of some commodities by 200 per cent 
States Fertile Ground: "Our global food system is in crisis. The number of hungry people on our planet is rising steadily and for the first time in history has now passed the 1 billion mark ... Governments must face the facts and take action now in order to be confident of feeding the estimated 9.2 billion people who will share our planet by 2050."
Fertile Ground reports a dramatic decline in the amount of aid spent on agriculture, which has fallen by 83% in the past 30 years,  as governments and other donors favoured intensive, large-scale solutions to the modern challenges of food production. In the process, small-scale farmers have been left behind. The report cites many threats and trials facing small-scale farmers:
* Climate change will leave 40 per cent of sub-Saharan African countries facing the risk of significant declines in crop and pasture production 
* 2.6 billion people are already affected by significant levels of land degradation 
* 80% of farmers in Africa and 40% in Latin America and Asia still rely on their own labour and hand tools. Many lack access to technical expertise which could help boost production. 
Says Petra Kjell, Progressio's Environment Policy Officer: "The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) suggests that governments spend $44 billion per year  in support of agriculture, which is less than 1 per cent of what they spent to prop up the global financial system . If a significant proportion of that investment went towards assisting small-scale farmers around the world, then a vital step will have been taken to cushion the impact of future food crises."
The report, which is informed by Progressio's work with small-scale farmers in countries like Malawi and Ecuador, states that for centuries small-scale farmers have provided a food security buffer against outside shocks, supplying poor communities with local food at local prices. By growing produce in harmony with the environment - or 'agroecologically' - farmers are also able to better protect their land and crops from erratic weather linked to climate change, the report notes. It calls for urgent action by governments and policy-makers to ensure these practices continue, through:
* More investment and support for small-scale farmers through international aid and national budgets
* A greater voice for small-scale farmers in national and global decision-making processes which affect the way they live and work
The Rome Food Summit  - which is being hosted by the FAO - will bring together leaders and high-ranking officials from around the world. Its main purpose is to address mechanisms to tackle the rising threat of global hunger.
Petra Kjell concludes: "Small-scale farmers make a huge contribution to our planet. Yet they have been hopelessly under-supported for decades. Unless they are now prioritised by governments, future food crises will be much worse, with dire consequences for millions of people. We must act now to make sure small-scale farmers receive the support they so desperately need."
1 International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) (2009) President issues wake up call
2 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (2009) The environmental food crisis: the environment's role in averting future food crises
3 As above
4 As above
5 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) (2009) The state of food insecurity in the world: economic crises - impacts and lessons learned, p11
6 IFAD (2009) [Båge, Lennart] Guest column: supporting smallholders is crucial to food security
7 Shah et al (2008) Food security and sustainable agriculture, Laxenburg: IIASA
8 International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) (2008) Summary for decision-makers of the global report
9 UK Food Group (2007) Feeding this generation: agroecological approaches to food production, London.
10 FAO, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf calls for rapid elimination of hunger and $44bn annually for aid to agriculture
11 BBC, Crisis costs us $10,000 each
12 FAO (2009) Why a world food summit in 2009?
Notes to Editors
To request a copy of the report or to arrange an interview with Petra Kjell, contact Jo Barrett, Media Officer, Progressio, +44 (0)7940 703911, +44 (0)207 288 8619 or firstname.lastname@example.org