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Small farmers make big differences

Tanner Roark

By Tanner Roark, 2016 Noble-Watoto Fellow

Posted Apr. 5, 2016

This week has been a nice change of pace and a chance to see some familiar faces. I tagged along with Steve Swigert and Mike Hafner on a trip to northern Uganda. This has been my favorite week since coming to Uganda. This trip was interesting in that the days were spent in vastly different ways. From city to village, GPS-directed tractors to hand hoes, the last week has put agriculture into a new perspective.

exampleMy visit to Omer Farm showed me a side of agriculture I am not use to.

It's important to note that northern Uganda is quite different than the bustling city of Kampala. Country borders in this region are scoffed at considering the myriad of tribes, clans and people groups. Northern Uganda has also had numerous armed conflicts that have left their impressions on the people in the region. Despite the many trials, smiling faces are not hard to find.

My favorite activity of the week was helping with a farmer field school in Apac District. The trainings covered proper land preparation, planting techniques, disease and pest control, and post-harvest handling. The farmers that attended, about 95 percent of them women, soaked up every detail of the training that was appropriately delivered in their native tongue.

exampleThe Farmer Field School was held underneath the biggest tree in the village.

The importance of smallholder farmers cannot be overstated. One of the most terrible ironies out there is the fact that the majority of the world's poorest, most marginalized, neglected and food-insecure people are in fact smallholder farmers. A disproportionate number of these poverty-stricken people are women and children. In the case of northern Uganda, food insecurity is exasperated by influxes of refugees fleeing South Sudan, drought and the vicious cycle of poverty.

Places like northern Uganda can easily and understandably become dependent on food aid from donor countries. However, giving a man a fish is no way to solve food insecurity. Instead we should be providing these farmers with the resources they need to feed themselves. However, smallholder farmers face obstacles including political bias; inadequate access to land, credit and investment; trade policies designed for industrial agriculture; and a disproportionate amount of research funding going to conventional agriculture.

Not only can smallholder farmers feed the world, but they are already doing so. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, around 80 percent of the food consumed in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa is produced by smallholder farmers. These farmers need adequate support from their respective governments.

By investing in smallholder farmers, we are also investing in gender equality. Women are the backbone of African agriculture and all too often are excluded from policy formulation, formal training, and access to land and credit. If women farmers are granted the justice they deserve, the world would be more food secure and better place altogether.

exampleWomen farmers in Apac District enjoyed the farmer training.

Empowering and investing in smallholder farmers isn't some romanticized ideal that is suggested to fulfill a distorted fairytale; it is a reality that must be understood to ensure that the growing population is fed. Investing in smallholder farmers is a practical solution to promote human rights, dignity and food security.

exampleMike Hafner and #Bluecow at the Sasakawa Stakeholders' Workshop in Lira.

About the Author

Tanner Roark is a 2016 Noble-Watoto Fellow working at Watoto Child Care Ministries in Uganda. Roark is from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and has one semester left in the master of international agriculture program at Oklahoma State University, where he focuses on international agriculture development.

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