"Recently, I was on a road in the Southern Choma District of Zambia to meet with Rosemary Pisani, a smallholder farmer and mother of eight who struggled to feed her children prior to joining a farmer's cooperative to raise goats. Thanks to the cooperative and support from other farmers, she now has a thriving business and all of her children are in school.
On the way to meet her, I passed women walking through mud to the market with large loads of fruit and vegetables stacked on their heads. I imagined how I might be on my way to a very different rural community if the road we were on was paved and well maintained.
Often in Africa, the few paved roads that do exist are littered with potholes and lead to unpaved ones that are nearly impossible to navigate without a proper vehicle. Closer to farming communities, roads disappear entirely. This leaves rural areas, which have the potential to feed the more than one billion hungry people, cut off and isolated. In sub-Saharan Africa, almost 70% of all people living in rural areas live more than a 30-minute walk from the nearest maintained road.
Kofi Annan, chairperson of the board of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), has acknowledged this isolation: 'The average African smallholding farmer swims alone. She has no insurance against erratic weather patterns, gets no subsidies, and has no access to credit. I say 'she' because the majority of small-scale farmers in Africa are women.'
Indeed, half of the world's smallholders are women, and we must keep in mind their punishing task of walking long lengths to get their produce to market.
At the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), we believe that farming, regardless of size or scale, must be seen as a business, and smallholder farmers as small-scale business owners rather than poor people who need handouts. There is growing recognition that these smallholder farmers and their rural communities are a major part of the solution to food insecurity and poverty – but only if they have what they need to do their jobs.
The Green Revolution of the last century had a tremendous impact on agricultural yields and food production, transforming the lives of millions of people. Much of this success stemmed from infrastructure that was already in place. India's road density at the start of its Green Revolution in the 1970s was 388 kilometres per 1,000 square kilometres. This compares with 39 kilometres per 1,000 square kilometres in Ethiopia today and 71 per 1,000 in Senegal."
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(Published in partnership with Project Syndicate.)