Leveling the Playing Field for Smallholder Farmers

9 Nov

By Brianna Besch, CTI Intern-

Last month the Food and Agricultural Organization estimated that 850 million people on the planet are chronically hungry. The problem isn’t necessary lack of food—the world is growing more food than ever before—it’s that this food can’t be accessed by those most at risk of hunger: the rural poor, in particular, landless and smallholder farmers, who are not producing enough food to subsist. These farmers can’t compete in a global agricultural system stacked against them.

This is why CTI develops simple technologies that help farmers in the developing world overcome food insecurity. Our devices are designed specifically for the daily challenges small farmers face. They are efficient, affordable and culturally appropriate. Instead of encouraging farmers to grow more food, we help them keep the food they already have by reducing post-harvest processing losses.

Small developing world farmers are at a huge disadvantage in the global agricultural market. It started with the Green Revolution; the period in the 1960’s that promoted extensive deployment of chemical fertilizers, farm machinery and high-yielding varieties of grain. While many view this era as a great triumph (food production skyrocketed,) growing more food did not help feed the world’s poorest population—smallholder rural farmers. As production exploded and cheap, subsidized imports flooded developing world markets, grain prices plummeted. Smallholder farmers were unable to afford expensive inputs associated with high-yielding varieties, and using traditional production methods could not compete against large international agribusinesses. As a result, many farmers lost their land while others switched to cash crops, leaving them food insecure and deeper in poverty.

Increasing yields isn’t the only way increase food availability. Each year Sub-Saharan farmers lose $4 billion worth of grain in post-harvest processing. CTI works at a village level to harness this waste with simple, efficient, labor saving technologies.

One example is our newest set of grain processors. Farmers lose 15-50% of their grain in traditional processing methods:a mortar and pestle to remove grain from the stalk and separating grain from chaff in the wind. We created a stripper, thresher and winnower system for pearl millet, a highly nutritious traditional crop. These devices process grain ten-times faster than traditional methods, with less than 10% losses. During the testing phase, Oumar Sarr, from Senegal, described the system’s impact:

“I like the lack of yields lost in the process, the clean unbroken grain, but most importantly, what would take 10 women to do in an hour now takes 1 woman 10 minutes.”

Through a collaboration with the National Cooperative Business Association, we sent six of these systems to Senegal, and held trainings on them with rural villages last month.

While the problems of the world agricultural system are out of our hands, our work is one piece of a global solution to eradicating hunger. By focusing on post-harvest food capture, rather than highly technical yield increases, we are helping smallholder developing-world farmers compete when the deck is stacked against them.

Brianna is a senior Environmental Studies and Geography major at Macalester College, currently interning at CTI.

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