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DFID's new agricultural policy paper - "Growth and Poverty Reduction: The Role of Agriculture"

Time (GMT +00) 14:00 15:00


Rt. Hon. Hilary Benn, MP


John Battle, MP

The Chair welcomed those in attendance and noted that the past five APGOOD meetings were driving the momentum up to this day. They have looked at the different dimensions of agriculture, ensuring that it is kept in the frame, including for the upcoming trade and development negotiations. He then introduced Hilary Benn and gave him the floor.

Mr. Benn started by thanking John Battle for keeping the focus of APGOOD so pertinently on agriculture. DFID has paid particular attention to the topic as well due to the overwhelming importance of agriculture for economic progress and development in Africa. As agriculture develops and food becomes more plentiful, it creates jobs, raises incomes, and propels the rest of the economy towards growth. Agriculture does this three times more effectively than other sectors, as Kenya has shown us. Ultimately, it is the economy outside of agriculture that will foster rapid growth, but the initiation must come from agriculture.

But we also know that agriculture has been slow to grow in many countries in Africa and this has likewise hindered development. For instance, a farmer in Malawi will need to travel eight miles on average to buy fertilizer and better seeds meaning she will most likely settle for less productive resources around her, leading to less efficient yields, perpetuating poverty. When combined with the current drought, it is no surprise that half of Malawi's children are malnourished.

This is not just the story in Malawi. Across Africa, the agriculture sector employs 70% of the population. Stagflation and declining commodity prices on the world market have led to scepticism about focusing on agriculture as a means out of poverty. But we know that increasing agricultural yields has a high return for poverty reduction. Despite this, governments and donors alike have regrettably decreased their aid and interest in agriculture in the past few years, leading to further problems.

What needs to be done? We need to see a vibrant agricultural sector as a means of reducing poverty and providing a foundation of donor work in other areas. All types of farms will need to be more productive, but work will need to begin with the small scale farmers. This also means working to remove the barriers currently in place that hinder small scale farmers from flourishing. There are examples, though, of successful enterprises including those farmers in western Kenya who have removed the middle-man from their maize supply chain to increase their returns as well as the shop owners in Malawi who have been trained to work as agricultural dealers creating a more local network and establishing greater access to these goods.

To create this environment, we need to work with governments to support agriculture. Another issue is lack of access to finance and land. Incentives need to be put in place to attract those men and women willing to do so. He gave the example of success in Ethiopia following problems with land distribution. There also needs to be more private and public infrastructure, including access to mobile phones for greater efficiency in trade. Public investments can have very high pay-offs. For instance, financing public roads in Uganda has helped connect markets and grow the agricultural sector.

2005 has been a year for real progress in development with the G8 promises, increases in ODA, and the UK's commitment to set up the infrastructure consortium. The AU and NEPAD suggested the establishment of a funding mechanism which the UK has promised to co-sponsor. Agriculture has now become a priority area. We should not be under the illusion that making agricultural development happen will be easy; there are many challenges to be overcome. The hope of the new policy paper is to assure others that DFID is renewing its commitment to agriculture and hoping to inspire donors to play a greater role in this project. There is a real opportunity for us to help Africa bring itself out of poverty.

The Chair opened the floor up to questions and comments.

John Madeley (The Observer News Service) noted that there was no mention of subsistence farming in the paper and wondered why this was the case. Mr. Benn was puzzled by this comment, as the focus of the paper was on agriculture as a whole.

Tony Baldry MP (former Chair of the Select Committee on International Development and current Vice-Chair of APGOOD) was delighted at the revival of interest in agriculture in this paper. He noted that Adrian Hewitt had convinced APGOOD MPs many years ago to consider how the decline in donor support to African agriculture could be addressed, and the first APGOOD book, "UK Aid to African Agriculture," was the result, making a persuasive case. He also noted two priorities in agricultural strategies: filling the agricultural finance gap and securing access to property rights (Hernando de Soto). He wondered as to his opinion on both issues. Mr. Benn noted this was a fairly complicated topic to tackle. Money is going into research and infrastructure currently, but DFID is committed to providing money for the crisis that partner countries identify themselves.

Patrick Mulvany (chair of the UK Food Group) also welcomed the paper and noted that his group has had an interest in the two year progress of the policy since its consultation was launched at an APGOOD meeting on 6 January 2004. He asked for clarification on how implementation will change and what indicators will be used to measure success. Mr. Benn responded that the paper was not about promoting GM, as it is about allowing developing countries to choose their own paths. In terms of indicators, there will be a stocktaking in three years looking at how agriculture has changed, but everyone is responsible for ensuring that progress is being made.

At this point, the Chair interjected to read a statement in support of today's launch from the NEPAD Secretariat as part of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP):

"NEPAD welcomes the rare opportunity to make a statement before this well respected institution. On behalf of NEPAD, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Her Majesty's Government for recognizing agriculture development as a major source of economic growth in Africa and allocating significant DFID resources to support the development of sector under the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP).

"…the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme is the framework for development of agriculture in Africa (CAADP). CAADP consists of four pillars: extending the area under sustainable land management and reliable water control systems; improving rural infrastructure and trade related capacities for market access; increasing food supply and reducing hunger; and agricultural research, technology dissemination, and adoption.

"NEPAD recognizes the critical role of agricultural research (S&T) and dissemination in achieving the CAADP vision and we are working with African and international research institutions and other knowledge centres to facilitate farmer and agribusiness access to research and technologies to enhance productivity.

"NEPAD believes that the fastest way to achieve the MDGs is through out/up scaling agricultural successes, including the technologies that have been generated through DFID funded research and technology generation. In order to quickly realize the productivity gains embodied in these technologies, rigorous programmes for capacity-building are needed to strengthen Africa's research and farmer's organisations as an integral part of pubic-goods." (Professor Richard Mkandawire, NEPAD Agricultural Advisor)

Chris Stevens (IDS) welcomed the Paper as well, especially as China and India are dominating export manufacturing, making this a less feasible option for African countries, and the demand for food, agriculture, and services even more important. He was, though, disappointed by the last point (paragraph 144) made in the paper about developing countries necessarily having to follow the standards of the EU, noting how impossible keeping up with that paper-chain can be. The Chair commented that he with the rest of the Select Committee met with the European Commissioner the day before about the issue of standards in agriculture noting that the debate was alive and informed. Mr. Benn responded to Stevens' first comment by pointing out that the second to last bullet (paragraph 144) and the second bullet of the last page (paragraph 143) secured a greater commitment to bringing developing countries into the debate and negotiations on standards. He said that he is very conscious of this topic and the possible asymmetries involved.

Michael Lipton (Poverty Research Professor at Sussex) also welcomed the paper but worried that we will look back in three years and wonder how much extra effective aid will be deployed by both the UK and World Bank. He worried about the continuing current trend to slash funding to agriculture by multilateral organisations. He wondered what made this commitment different from other commitments made by the UK and how it was matching those by USAID. He also wanted to ensure that extra aid to agriculture does not come at the expense of other domestic aid. To do this, we need more reliable farm and household statistics to monitor progress. Mr. Benn responded that he was absolutely correct to point out those trends, noting that this is a failure of both governments and donors, similar to the case with water. It is obvious that both agriculture and water are necessary for development. In terms of diverting funds from current domestic aid, Mr. Benn said that it is up to the partner governments where the aid money will go. He noted the importance of using regional frameworks, as African countries do not have to wait on WTO negotiations before changes can be made. He handed the statistics question to Richard Moberly, Head of Natural Resources and Agriculture, who had more of a background in statistics, in case the FAO was part of the problem. Moberly said that a strategy is needed to differentiate agricultural aid from domestic aid and that the paper presented today is not a blueprint but a launching pad for those discussions.

Deryke Belshaw (Professor of Development Studies, UEA) was very glad to hear a breakdown in the monolithic rhetoric of agriculture as Mr. Benn referred to regions instead of Africa as a whole. He wondered if this was a planned path. Moberly also interjected here and said it is very necessary to find the nuances that distinguish these different regions to realize what development in agriculture means to them.

Christie Peacock (FARM Africa) thanked Mr. Benn for the positive statement of intent but was sceptical about the pathway forward. She wondered whether it was an implicit assumption that the public sector would undertake these changes and noted that there is no mention of public sector reform in the policy to accompany this. Mr. Benn said that everyone needs to be involved in the implementation and reform of these efforts and apologised if she thought they were making the plan appear "state-ist."

John Vidal (The Guardian) commented that the paper made biotechnology seem like a very important component and wondered what evidence there is that it does aid development. Also, how much money do they plan to spend on biotechnology? And what is Mr. Benn's relationship with the Syngenta Foundation and GM? Benn said that GM plays a very small part in DFID's research. In terms of his own relationship to Syngenta, Mr. Benn denied the claims Vidal made in that morning's Guardian about his attendance at the Syngenta meeting at No 11 Downing Street last week. Mr. Benn asserted that he supported good research, from wherever it came.

Trevor Nickles (Chief Executive, Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux) wondered about the balance of the policy. What about other areas of the world? He also mentioned that sometimes there is a trade-off between agricultural productivity and environmental sustainability. How does this play into the plan? He also asked whether there were particular historic investments that could make a particular impact for further recommendations. Mr. Benn said that DFID placed particular emphasis on Africa in the paper, but would apply the framework of the paper to other areas of the world where they have partners. In terms of research, aid has been untied. Many of the research grants are given to UK establishments as they have so much to offer.

Samia Khan (Head of Programmes, Minority Rights Group International) was concerned about how this document will translate into assistance for the typical African farmer. These farmers are not formally connected to the Government, making it impossible for them to receive what DFID is offering. Mr. Benn said that DFID inevitably works with the governments of partner countries and that one part of the development equation is ensuring the governments are accountable to the people of their country. DFID then assess this before delivering aid packages. At the same time, DFID works with the community and volunteer organisation to ensure that they have a voice in the politics of development.

Neil Bird (ODI) brought attention to the very first footnote in the text of the Policy Paper:

"Our discussion of agriculture in this paper focuses on crops and livestock. Other areas of natural resource use, including fisheries and forestry, bring in a wider set of issues not dealt with in this paper."

Bird asked when DFID would address these issues so that they could support the broader rural economy. Mr. Benn said they these issues are not only dealt with in the paper[1], but are also being dealt with thoroughly elsewhere in DFID. He referred to the FLIP programme and how it deals with illegal forestry and fishing, linking it back to yet another issue of governance. Mr. Benn said two things need to happen: (1) countries that produce need to put in place a mechanism for determining what actually is illegal logging and (2) then a certification system can be put in place to assure purchasers that they are receiving legally traded logs.

The next and final meeting in this APGOOD series (14 December 2005) is in fact on forestry and fishing.

Barbara Dinham (Pesticide Action Network UK) welcomed the new paper but pointed out the massive problems with pesticide use in Africa. She worries that an increase in agriculture will lead to an unsustainable increase in pesticide use that will be harmful to these farmers in the future. She asked Mr. Benn to comment on this issue. Mr Benn said that one of the main challenges is ensuring that research results do trickle down to the farmers, mainly on this issue of pesticide use.

The Chair had his own comment to conclude. He took paragraph 75, dealing with transport. He wondered whether there was any connectivity between this bill dealing with agriculture and the climate change initiative attempting to cut down on transport. Mr. Benn tackled this question by bringing up the Kenyan flower industry that has allowed them to reap great gains from exporting flowers to Europe through the use of air transport. The question remains as to how to increase this sort of programme but not harm the environment at the same time. We also need to be sure not to prematurely enforce environmental rules on these developing countries, not just for fear of sounding neo-colonial. The debate about climate change must include all major emitters of the world, and no doubt soon would.

The Chair thanked everyone for their contributions and especially the Secretary of State for his appreciation of APGOOD and for the presentation of his paper.


In this event Hilary Benn, MP, Secretary of State for International Development presented the new UK Government agricultural policy paper. Attendees looked at the different dimensions of agriculture, ensuring that it is kept in the frame, including for the upcoming trade and development negotiations.

Boothroyd Room