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IFAP at Davos: President Ajay Vashee puts farmers on the agenda

The President of the International Federation of Agricultural Producers Ajay Vashee addressed key agricultural issues at the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting 2009 in Davos. He spoke at the event Unlocking the Food Chain, where he addressed global supply chains, most of which are not global in scope nor can they supply the world's needs. He pushed for investment in local supply chains through a regional approach to develop economies and reach the critical mass required to warrant investment decisions and achieve sustainable supply chains in which farm gate prices are above the cost of production. Vashee met with global leaders, including Bill Gates, Ban Ki-moon, Jacques Diouf, Josette Sheeran and Ministers of Agriculture from around the world, stressing that agriculture is a business and farmers are the entrepreneurs who can translate good ideas and innovations into mutual benefit to achieve global food security.

"To move forward in many developing countries, critical investments need to be made to build basic infrastructure, such as roads, ports, railways and communications," IFAP President Ajay Vashee said. "Farmers also need secure land tenure and modern equipment for production and processing. To generate these investments that get the quickest results, national political commitments to agricultural development need to be backed up by quantifiable benchmarks, not just political rhetoric, as is often the case. This will facilitate a stable, predictable and conducive public policy environment. Moreover, unnecessary tariff and non tariff barriers need to be eliminated to enable food to move from surplus to deficient areas, supported by the establishment of market information systems that support this, such as tax incentives to multinational companies to source from smallholder farmers.

"Yet, all of these commitments are in firmly in the public domain and beyond the sphere of implementation by the private sector.

"In order to reduce post harvest losses in developing countries, which are as high as 40 percent for some crops, massive investments need to be made in steel silos, crop dryers, cold storage and processing facilities and distribution centers, preferably through farmer-owned ventures. Malawi's fertilizer and seed subsidy program was successful because it was linked to the prevention of post harvest losses through developing better processing facilities and distribution and storage centers, to accompany the availability of subsidized inputs.

"The market must work for the producer; farmers are not a factor of production or commodity, but a key partner in the value chain. It is critical that commodity supply chains integrate small-scale agriculture entrepreneurs through cooperatives or farmer commodity organizations. Farmers need capacity to work together to group supplies, meet food safety and quality standards and share price information, ultimately developing complex local and regional markets.

"In the face of weather, disease and market volatility, risk management tools are essential for farmers to be able to manage loan repayments. Excessive speculation on the international commodity markets has created high price volatility, which has slowed investment in agriculture, in particular smallholder agriculture. Better governance and increased transparency throughout the entire supply chain is a prerequisite, including government monitoring, regulation and enforcement of competitive behavior and the development of well regulated futures and options markets.

"In my own country Zambia, we had a major drought in 1991 that resulted in short production of staple maize. The Zambian National Farmers' Union worked with the Food Reserve Agency to ensure the performance of the market by having them hedge supply with options on SAFEX (the Southern African Futures Market), which allowed processors and commodity brokers to import the shortfall without government intervention, as everyone had confidence in measures. It also averted donations of food aid, which invariably distort local production.

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