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BRAZIL: Family Farming Matters in South-South Cooperation

Fabiana Frayssinet*

RIO DE JANEIRO, Nov 22 2010 (IPS) - Cooperation between countries of the developing South took another step forward with the recent signing of international agreements in Brazil aimed at stimulating public policies to support small farmers.

The agreements were signed at two parallel meetings, which shared the same venue: the MERCOSUR (Southern Common Market) 14th Specialised Meeting on Family Agriculture (REAF), and the High Level Conference on Public Policies for Family Agriculture, Rural Development and Food Security between Middle Income Countries, a meeting of delegates from Brazil, China, India and South Africa.

The Conference on Public Policies for Family Agriculture was hosted by the United Nations rural poverty agency — the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) — and the Brazilian Ministry of Agrarian Development.

In an interview with IPS, Josefina Stubbs, the head of IFAD’s Latin America and Caribbean division, said that “by working with the REAF, MERCOSUR and government officials in emerging economies like Brazil, China, India and South Africa, we are hoping to promote the exchange of experiences and formulas for reducing poverty through public policies and cooperation among countries.

“It is a paradox that these middle income countries (with per capita incomes of over 1,200 dollars, should have the greatest number of poor people on the planet,” she said.

IFAD head of operations Ivan Cossio told IPS that these are “four emerging countries that are global players, with increasing influence and political power, but at the same time they are still developing, and have high levels of rural poverty.”

One of the first steps towards jointly addressing rural poverty was the creation of a common MERCOSUR fund to finance projects for small farmers.

A protocol was also signed by Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, under which those countries will adopt Brazil’s Food Acquisition Programme through which the government purchases food produced by family farms. The four countries are the founders and full members of MERCOSUR.

Brazilian Minister of Agrarian Development Guilherme Cassel said “We are trying to create a network for one country to work together with another in an emergency situation, to overcome food insecurity problems, through public purchases from family farmers.

“Private enterprise cannot reach all the places that the state is able to,” said Cassel, who stressed that direct purchase of family farm produce leads to higher food quality and more income for producers, while stimulating the local economy and reducing regional inequalities.

Argentina’s Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Julián Domínguez stressed that it is the state that must guarantee opportunities for all small scale producers, especially family farmers.

“Direct purchasing programmes are a part of filling this need. Where markets cannot reach, the state must be present, promoting competitiveness and development, and reducing asymmetry and inequality,” he said.

According to calculations by REAF, whose meeting ended Friday Nov. 19, there are about 4.9 million farms in MERCOSUR, covering 120 million hectares. Eighty-three percent of them are typical family farms, which provide 70 percent of the basic foods for the population of the region.

Domínguez said these families were not on the MERCOSUR agenda during the first years of the bloc, created in the 1990s. Attention was only turned to them when left-wing and centre-left governments came to power in the four countries of the bloc, after 2000.

The process of South-South cooperation also kicked off when Brazil and African countries signed agreements for supporting policies in the African countries for public purchases of family agriculture produce.

Cassel said “As socialists, international solidarity is one of our values,” and that is why “we share the progress we make with our neighbours and with African countries,” in order to “build a different kind of power, based on South-South cooperation.”

The agreements include technology and knowledge transfer, as well as financial aid, to Ghana, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast and Rwanda.

Brazil is to provide an initial credit line of 240 million dollars to finance farm machinery and equipment for small rural producers in those countries.

Stubbs stressed the need for this kind of cooperation, and told IPS that “one change in those countries can trigger an overall change.”

She said small farmers in Asia and Africa have similar problems to farmers in Latin America, as well as specific challenges of their own arising from ethnic divisions, castes and multiple languages, which hinder communication.

IFAD finances projects in over 100 countries, including China. In Latin America it is funding 32 active projects in 22 countries, with loans and grants amounting to 700 million dollars a year.

At the meeting, the second phase of a project to fortify school meals was announced, part of the Hunger-Free Latin America and the Caribbean (HFLAC) initiative which is supported by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The original participants were Bolivia, Colombia, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador, and later the project was extended to include Honduras, Paraguay and Peru.

The initiative, again based on a Brazilian programme, supports the purchase of family farm produce for meals provided in public schools.

“The integration of school meals and family agriculture promotes food security on two important fronts,” said the regional FAO representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, José Graziano da Silva.

“It guarantees quality nutrition for the children, and it taps into the enormous potential of the region’s small farmers,” he added.

Pedro Ceviño, a farmer and adviser to the Rural Development and Family Agriculture Secretariat in Argentina, estimated there were at least 250,000 small producers fitting the definition of family farms in his country, equivalent to 70 percent of the total farm units.

He told IPS that the concept of family agriculture, imported from Brazil, had been important in bringing about the “cohesion” of rural producers, who had previously been “fragmented into small farmers, indigenous farmers and settlers on the Pampas (plains).”

“The Brazilian experience is certainly a valuable point of reference to be taken into account,” said Paraguay’s Deputy Minister of Agriculture Andrés Wehrle.

* With reporting from Mario Osava.

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