Turn Southern Hemisphere farmers into entrepreneurs

Lander Paesen
04 August 2017
Entrepreneurship is a central theme of the most recent strategy paper from Development Cooperation on sustainable agriculture and food security.

The previous paper on agriculture and food security dates from 2010, when Prime Minister Charles Michel was still Minister for Development Cooperation. However, a lot has changed in the period between the previous paper and the current paper. For example, the United Nations have replaced the Millennium Goals, on which the previous paper was based, with a series of new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs: 'no poverty', 'zero hunger', 'good health and well-being', etc.). The new strategy paper, entitled 'From subsistence to entrepreneurship', intends to meet these goals.

A significant difference with the previous paper is that it no longer focuses on small-scale subsistence farming, with little or no commercial chances of survival. Particularly in partner countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, agriculture is still highly concentrated in unproductive subsistence farming by small-scale family farmers, who struggle to make ends meet. Instead, the new strategy paper intends to give local farmers in Africa the chance to develop into sustainable entrepreneurs.

In order to achieve this aim, the paper has outlined a number of ambitious guidelines:

  • Belgium will now fully focus on agricultural entrepreneurs with access, in the first instance, to regional/local markets, and subsequently also to international markets. By focusing on commercially sustainable farming, our country will encourage the creation of a local network of suppliers, food processing companies and transporters. In turn, this should result in a boost for job creation in the regions. As such, Belgium intends to pursue a bigger role for the private sector.
  • The Belgian Development Cooperation will no longer focus on subsistence farming with little or no commercial chance of survival. Belgium strongly believes that the food security of these farmers and their families can benefit by increasing agricultural production in their own countries, and by creating jobs as contract workers or labourers in the food sector.
  • This new paper shifts the focus from 'family' farming to 'productive' farming. Moreover, it is obvious that small-scale farmers need more support than large-scale companies to be productive. As such, the Belgian Development Cooperation intends to give 'productivity' significance in its new SDG. This means that it is no longer a question of just increasing production, but also better production: more nutritious, more diversified, better protected against external shocks, etc.. In short, more resilient and sustainable.
  • From a rights-based approach, Belgium will focus on Good Governance in all its aspects: strengthening civil society (farmers' organisations), improving an enabling environment for entrepreneurship, working towards stronger government, etc.
  • The Belgian Development Cooperation also intends to highlight Belgian expertise and experience in the field much more effectively. In the field, Belgium tries to strengthen the ties between Belgian knowledge institutions (universities, institutes, but also NGOs) and institutions in the South.

Ultimately, all of these actions need to result in an agricultural revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is the only way that a sustainable solution can be provided to the many challenges facing the region: a population increase of 125 million inhabitants by 2030, massive rural depopulation by 2050, the destructive consequences of climate change, etc.

Although up until now reactions to the new paper have been overwhelmingly positive, Coalitie tegen de Honger (Coalition against Hunger) – a group of Belgian NGOs - has emphasized the importance of not overlooking the human aspect. Male and female farmers suffer from hunger in particular. The emphasis on entrepreneurship must not forget small-scale farmers who remain loyal to family farming.


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