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Q&A: ‘Farmers Can Gain From Crisis’

Sabina Zaccaro interviews JOSEFINA STUBBS from IFAD

ROME, Jul 16 2009 (IPS) - The financial crisis could actually boost agriculture in Latin America, Josefina Stubbs, director of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) division for Latin America and the Caribbean tells IPS in an interview.

Josefina Stubbs Credit:

Josefina Stubbs Credit:

Excerpts from the interview:

IPS: What are the effects of the economic crisis on agriculture in Latin America? Is there a risk it could increase rural poverty? Josefina Stubbs: I think the current financial crisis is an opportunity for the rural sector, even if this sounds a little bit strange. It does present an opportunity because the countries, the governments, the populations, the producers are realising more and more that in Latin America about 60 percent of the food that is consumed is by small producers.

In a country like Brazil, with a population of 189 million, family agriculture – which is the small-scale sort of plot, managed normally by very poor people – produces 70 percent of the food. We are talking about a huge force; the potential of this people is just extraordinary.

The case of Brazil is really interesting. The ministry of agrarian development developed a system for supporting small producers, creating new access to finance, but at the same time guaranteeing a market for them. But even more, they buy the food from some of these producers to be distributed in schools and hospitals. That’s what Brazil demonstrates, that they can have some market in the country that can get and acquire the products of small producers to feed the rest of the country, and generate incomes for the rural sectors.

IPS: Is Brazil an exception? JS: We are seeing another example in Guatemala. Here international trade agreements and international trade opportunities are also offering new opportunities for the producers to put their products in the market. In the last 10-15 years, based on very small producers, Guatemala has become the largest exporter of vegetables to the U.S. market.

IPS: What is the relation between this and the financial crisis? JS: It was explained to me in very simple mathematics in Haiti, in Guatemala and in other countries. They say ‘we have been importing an important amount of food to feed our people’. Buying the food in the international markets means we have to dispense our currency, which in Latin America means U.S. dollars. And they say every dollar they use to buy food outside of the country cannot be used for all the services in the country.

What I hope is that the discussions about the crisis include the issue of rural development, and the issue of investing in small-scale agriculture as a way of capitalising the country in terms of foreign currency but also in terms of generating employment and food security.

Now the challenge for us is how to stimulate agriculture as away of boosting the economy of the countries, generating employment, but also as a way of closing the gap. The progress I mentioned before have to be combined with production; that’s the great challenge we have in front of us in the region.

IPS: Is there any concern about food insecurity in Latin America? In what countries or areas? JS: So far as you become dependent on others to feed your people, that’s what insecurity is. I think the region is recognising that food security is important and that we cannot be completely and fully dependent on import of food because of the fluctuation of the international market.

Central America and the Caribbean are the regions that have suffered most in this crisis. When you have shortage of maize, in the case of Mexico that means the diet is not there, but also you cannot feed the chickens, and you have to import a lot of wheat in order to do bread.

What is really amazing for me is how small farmers all across Latin America just need the basics. People are not sitting and waiting for the governments to give to them, they just need the basic inputs in order for them to produce, be organised and access the market. People are not necessarily dependent.

IPS: Are opportunities equally distributed among male and female rural populations? Do women farmers have equal access to land, credit, salaries and incomes? JS: In the case of Latin America almost all countries have changed the laws for women to have equal access to land. In Guatemala, in Honduras, in Colombia and many other countries those laws have already put in place. Also thanks to the pressure of the social movements, and women’s movements, Latin America has been revisiting the land property regime in terms of giving equal access to men and women.

It is clear that the problem is not only about having access to land. The issue is women do have more problems in getting a loan from the banks. They do not have equal access to credit and to agricultural inputs – seeds, fertilisers – this is where the problem lies at the moment.

We’re making sure that the community organisations that we work with include women, and we work directly with women’s organisations to monitor if our project is really helping women’s access to inputs.

IPS: Where is monitoring needed particularly? JS: One area where I feel we are still really behind is women’s access to market. Once they go to producers organisations, once they want to link the products with the companies that buy the products, then there is a gap. Because they do not have the information, the technology, the contacts, they normally don’t go to the meetings with foreign buyers.

Whenever you see a tour to present a product you see mostly men. That is partially because the domestic burden hasn’t been redistributed, so when there’s a trip to Italy to present the chocolate that this association is producing it is normally the men who come. And that goes against the women in the sense that they do not have the exposure opportunity that men are having.

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