Could the Famous French ‘Salon de l’Agriculture’ Promote Rural Innovation in the South?

By Jerome Bossuet

Jerome Bossuet is a Marketing Communication and Multi-media Specialist with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). Bossuet is a specialist in international agriculture development and development communications with 15 years experience in Europe, Asia, and Africa. He is interested in agricultural innovations to help smallholder farmers in the South. Click here to read more articles in his blog “Innovation contre la faim (Innovation against hunger).

The CGIAR Consortium, representing the world’s largest global agriculture research partnership aimed at reducing rural poverty and hunger in developing countries, was officially granted International Organization status today, Friday 2nd of March 2012, in Paris.

Ethiopian farmer Temegnush Dabi with the oxen she bought with income from improved chickpea harvests. (Photo credit: ICRISAT)

Coincidentally, the ‘Salon de l’Agriculture’ is also taking place in Paris this week with over 650,000 people visiting this major annual agricultural fair. This is the week when French people hear the most about their farmers—the week where the candidates of the presidential elections (to be held in May) are mingling among cows, pigs, and sheep claiming their attachment to a strong French agricultural sector. French farmers represent only 2 percent of the active population but, given that the majority of France’s 36,000 communes are rural, and the economic and social importance of the agribusiness sector and the gastronomic culture, they have a strong political weight.

This is a stark contrast to sub-Saharan Africa and other developing countries, where over 70 percent of the population relies on smallholder agriculture, yet this sector is underdeveloped and underfunded and smallholder farmers are in dire need of support. Since the Maputo Declaration in 2003 where the African Union asked African governments to invest at least 10 percent of their budget in agriculture, many are still below this target.  Over one billion people are hungry and most live on smallholdings of less than one hectare. And the situation may worsen in the coming years as there will be 2.4 billion more people to feed by 2050, half of whom will be living in Africa.

Could the French example of supporting a model of ‘agriculture familiale’ convince the governments of developing countries to invest more in their smallholder farmers? Everyone talks about the economic crisis, but the global food security crisis could also be an important field of agricultural innovation and agroecological development especially in the South.

In his annual letter this year Bill Gates highlighted the need to do more in this area and spoke fervently about the importance of technology in his speech in Rome last week. But to do make a difference, leaders of the developed and developing countries have to invest in agricultural research to drive innovation adapted to the needs of millions of smallholders farmers. And the new CGIAR has a strong role to coordinate this global research effort and ensure true impact on the ground.

Over the past four decades, CGIAR has proven that investing in agricultural research has a cost-effective impact on the fight against hunger and malnutrition. In the late eighties, CGIAR’s research on how to biologically control the cassava mealy bug, a pest which was destroying harvests in sub-Saharan Africa, saved at least 20 million lives for a total cost of only US$20 million. In other words, for every dollar invested, a life was saved.

Since 2010, the CGIAR has been undergoing a major reform to ensure that their research delivers clear impacts like this. With the Consortium becoming an International Organization from today, this not only endorses the strategic reform, but by facilitating fundraising and co-ordination it will catalyze the impact-oriented research essential to the lives of millions of smallholder farmers.

“Achieving International Organization status and recognition is a major step towards enabling the reformed CGIAR to deliver research resulting in real impact—improved food security, health and nutrition alongside sustainable management of natural resources,”  said Mr. Carlos Perez del Castillo, CGIAR Consortium Board Chair, who was present at the signature in Paris.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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