Last month I was privileged to attend an international conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Climate Justice that took place in Dublin from April 15-16th. The two-day conference was conducted in a unique way: farmers spoke, policy makers listened.

Policy makers, politicians and researchers acted as listeners, while farmers shared their experiences, ideas, successes and challenges. These farmers were from Malawi, Cameroon, Kenya, Ethiopia, Nepal, Tanzania, Lesotho and the Caribbean. During the two-day conference, the process involved breaking away in smaller groups for in-depth discussions, which resulted in plenary presentations by selected champions.

Farmers set out the way forward

The key points made by farmers included:

  • Local solutions to local problems faced by farmers lie in their ideas, daily experiences and knowledge.
  • The very poor and marginalised communities, like women, youth and fishing communities, should be empowered using the right approaches.
  • Famers’ institutions, farmer movements, local NGOs and CBOs (community-based organisations) need re-building and strengthening to respond accordingly to farmers’ needs.
  • Farmers and policy-makers should have platforms for engagement on policy issues at the local, national and international level.
  • An enabling environment is needed for effective and efficient operation of civil society actors.
  • Indigenous knowledge systems should be combined with scientific knowledge to generate new technologies contextualised in rural communities.
  • Organisations should work together in consortiums – joint approaches as evidenced in the case study from Lesotho.

Put the farmer at the centre of policy-making and development

These outcomes are very relevant to Zimbabwe and Malawi where Progressio and Environment Africa are implementing food security projects. It is therefore recommended that development practitioners, local and international organisations should be mindful of the following recommendations in addition to the list above:

  • Put the farmer at the centre in prioritising of needs and issues, designing of strategies, implementation and evaluation.
  • Prioritise the inclusion of the very poor and marginalised communities, the women, disabled persons and youth. These should be the centre of action, and the action must be done today not tomorrow.
  • Scale-up re-building and strengthening institutions and national NGOs which work with small-holder farmers' associations/movements, women and youth movements and community-based organisations with technical skills, knowledge and financial support.
  • Create policy dialogue where policy-makers listen to farmers’ experiences, ideas and challenges. The ideas should inform policy formulation, implementation and evaluation.
  • Empower farmers to demand accountability from policy-makers by using rights-based approaches.

We farmers are the owners of the work

A farmer from Malawi gave the closing remarks. She highlighted that often, conferences are dominated by people who know nothing about farming. She said: Their advantage is that they can read and write, but we farmers are the owners of the work and knowledge even though it’s not contained in papers – we have it in our minds.

What a unique conferences it was – rich, dynamic and relational both to farmers and policy-makers.

Watch a short video of Chris reflecting on the 2015 Millennium Development Goals and the Post-2015 development framework:

Christopher Mweembe is a Progressio development worker supporting our partner organisation Environment Africa in Zimbabwe and Malawi.

His visit to the conference in Dublin was hosted by Progressio Ireland and a version of this blog was first published on the Progressio Ireland website.

Photo: Farmers in Amendlethu Community Garden in Lupane, Zimbabwe, a project of Environment Africa supported by Progressio development worker Chris Mweembe. (Photo © Lis Martin/Progressio)