The people feeding the world should get their due

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The people feeding the world should get their due

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
© IFAD/Giancarlo Shibayama/Factstory

An uncomfortable truth: small-scale rural farmers, the people who produce most of the food we eat, are those most likely to be hungry and poor. In fact, two thirds of the world’s hungry and four out of five people below the poverty line live in rural areas.

Despite their gruelling work, rural people all over the world aren’t getting a fair return. They work long and physically demanding hours, in difficult conditions, with limited access to social or labour protections, like unemployment benefits, training, fair wages or employment practices. They’re often the poorest of the poor, struggling to stay afloat in a multi-crisis context.

IFAD is empowering small-scale farmers, fishers and herders, helping them earn and produce more, while improving their working conditions.

Greater than the sum of their parts

In isolation, small-scale farmers often lack political and economic clout. But when they come together as members of farmers’ organizations, they can work with large buyers to secure more reliable orders and get better prices for their produce.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, small-scale farmers pooled their resources for a promotional campaign that put local blueberries on the gastronomical map.

In Türkiye, young strawberry growers are forming collectives to market strawberries from the district of Sarıveliler and sell them in in nearby towns. While in southern Guatemala, 60 schools are taking part in a programme that encourages schools to buy the food they provide to their students directly from 300 local farmers, which in turn supports the producers.

Having the right tools matters

Farmers can reduce their daily workload by simply changing their practices or introducing basic machinery. This not only frees up time and energy to focus on other things that matter—like taking care of themselves and their family—it makes it possible to earn and produce more food and to do so at a faster rate.

It once took hours of backbreaking work for the women of Brejo Dois Irmãos in the Brazilian Amazon to process burití – a nutritious fruit with great marketing potential, but which was labour-intensive to prepare for sale. With simple processing machines provided through IFAD funding, what once took days can now be completed in hours. The machines peel the fruit, squeeze the juice and seeds, and turn the flesh into a dense paste to sell or use in jams and sweets.

Now, the women of Brejo have time for other tasks, like running a producers’ association and marketing their products. While their days are less busy, their incomes have risen by up to 40 per cent.

High-value products get more bang for their buck

Sometimes a small change can make all the difference. By taking primary products and processing them—like taking fresh mangoes and drying them so they last longer—small-scale producers can move up the value chain and get a better price for their products.

When fishers in Indonesia gained access to refrigeration, they were able to reduce wastage and keep more fish for themselves, helping to decrease child malnutrition by 40 per cent. And when women started processing fish into high-value snacks, like fish crackers, they added 5 million rupiah (US$ 340) to the group's monthly income—making a world of difference for themselves and their families.

Improved packaging helped turn dried oysters into a premium product in Senegal. “A tub of dried oysters does not make you much profit,” says Marianne Ngong, an oyster farmer. “Now we see that, by jarring them, you earn a lot more.”

New opportunities for young people

Faced with the economic challenges of rural areas, many young people have little option but to move to other cities or even other countries.

But with the right skills, investment and opportunities, young people can find work along the value chain within their hometowns and break this vicious cycle.

In Bangladesh, people from Dhaka retreat to the beautiful and peaceful Mohamaya Lake, where young people have established a booming ecotourism business, renting kayaks and organising hiking tours.

Time for solidarity

The people who feed the world need our support and solidarity. We cannot have sustainable food systems without upholding workers’ rights.

That’s why the Decent Work for Equitable Food Systems Coalition—led by IFAD, CARE and the International Labour Organization—brings together governments, employers, workers, business, civil society and international organizations to ensure economic and social justice, as well as the right to adequate and nutritious food, for all food systems workers.

It's time we stand with the rural workers in our food systems and demand the protection of their labour and human rights, decent jobs and adequate livelihoods.  

Find out more about the Decent Work for Equitable Food Systems Coalition