At the beginning of the webinar, moderator Andrea Kucera defined the thematic framework of the webinar: Many people in the South suffer from hunger and malnutrition. Local markets are thus essential for them. However, those markets are increasingly threatened by wholesale and cheap imported products. The aim of the webinar was to shed light on this problem and to discuss solutions towards agroecology and new structures for fairer access to food.

The recording of the webinar

The view from the countryside

The first speaker was Diamnda Merci Memhodjim, program officer for SWISSAID in Chad, who spoke about the situation of farmers in rural areas. Most people there live from agriculture. They depend on markets for income, so they have to produce for themselves and for sale. But transport into town are often too expensive. The Covid 19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation. In addition, there are climatic conditions, competition from wholesalers and corruption.

Ms. Memhodjim particularly highlighted the crucial role of women in rural life. In addition to housework, they also have to take care of the work in the fields and the selling, as well as the education and health of the children. However, they do not receive the necessary resources, remuneration and recognition for their work. Women in Chad are denied land ownership, which makes them dependent on their husbands.

Memhodjim therefore demanded that women and men farmers receive government support for sustainable agriculture that is profitable for them. All men and women working in farming should have equal and sufficient access to the necessary knowledge, resources, production factors like machines, and markets. SWISSAID supports farmers with expertise in agroecology for sustainable, efficient cultivation and also particularly supports women.

The eye of science

Mathias Binswanger, Professor of Economics at the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW), then took a closer look at export-oriented agriculture in developing countries. For him, the statement that it is positive for developing countries to export their products is a myth. Rather, he says, products from developing countries are at a disadvantage with local tariffs.

With the aim of making profits, many farmers in the South are converting their production: They reduce cultivation for self-sufficiency and instead increasingly produce fewer commodities on a large scale, which they then sell. However, their income from this depends heavily on the price on the world market. The big money, however, is earned by those who process their products, not by the farmers themselves. In addition, local farmers in the South are dependent on imports of seeds, fertilizers and pest control to grow their commodities.

As a result of these dynamics, he said, imports have increased more than exports in the South in recent years. With a few exceptions, such as Côte d’Ivoire and cocoa exports, this shift has had a negative impact on local farmers.

What needs to be done

The final speaker, Dino J. Martins, executive director of the Mpala Research Centres in Kenya, illustrated the conflict between old and new ways of life for farmers in the South. He also addressed the dangers of cash crops for biodiversity. In a second step, he outlined possible solutions to the problem.

Martins pleaded for inclusive cultivation in favor of biodiversity and for government support in this regard. But the state prescribes cash crops. Some farmers are illegally trying to diversify their crops. They would need more empowerment to change the power structure, to preserve their food systems. To do this, they should be given a platform where they can be listened to, involved in decisions, and supported. To be less dependent on traders, local farmers should be able to market directly – without middlemen – in the city, according to Binswanger. Minimum prices for farmers and redistribution to farmers are needed, Binswanger said.

Focus on transport routes and dialogue

In the discussion, some questions revolved around the possibilities that exist to help farmers market their products. For example, there was the question of why traders do not help to transport the farmers’ goods to the city. Most farmers do not have the money to do this. The municipalities also lack the money for such aid campaigns. In addition, the transport routes to the city are often long and arduous.

The question of the lack of state aid to farmers also arose. The biggest problem is the power structure. Binswanger explains that the pattern is the same everywhere: the demand side has the say, which leads to margins eroding in agriculture. Local farmers are underrepresented, and their voice does not carry weight in decisions based on cultivation and market prices. As all three speakers agreed, there needs to be a counterweight to balance the balance of power. There needs to be more representation of farmers and more communication with trade and political players. All stakeholders should participate equally in the process, and for that, farmers also need a platform, Memhodjim and Martins explained.

As SWISSAID announced, the organization is realizing a report together with women farmers from various countries – mainly from the South – with a view to the United Nations Summit on Food Systems in New York on September 23, 2021. In this report, the local women farmers tell about their life and work situation, about the difficulties they encounter trying to produce sustainably and about their goals.