Idris Elba and Sabrina Dhowre Elba were honored with the 2023 Crystal Award at the World Economic Forum in Davos for their leadership in advocating for poor small-scale farmers worldwide. The Crystal Award recognizes exceptional artists and cultural leaders whose contributions to society have made a tangible impact on improving the state of the world.
As Goodwill Ambassadors for the United Nations’ International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) since 2020, the Elbas have been vocal supporters of greater investment in agriculture and rural development, particularly in Africa, where severe weather events and conflicts have further impacted farmers’ ability to produce food for their families, communities, and countries. Despite the vital role these farmers play in ensuring global food security, 75 percent of the world’s hungry and poorest people live in rural areas of developing countries.
The Importance of Small-Scale Farmers in Africa
Small-scale farmers play a vital role in feeding the world. They are responsible for producing one-third of the world’s food, and more than 70 percent of the food produced in Africa and Asia. These farmers often work on small plots of land, using traditional methods and minimal resources. Despite facing numerous challenges, including limited access to markets, finance and technology, small-scale farmers are essential for global and local food security. They help to ensure that communities have access to a reliable and diverse source of food, which is crucial for maintaining a healthy diet and preventing malnutrition.
In addition to providing food security, small-scale farmers also play an important role in maintaining social and political stability. They help to keep rural communities alive and vibrant, which can prevent migration and urbanisation. They also help to promote economic development, as they provide jobs and income for millions of people.
Small-scale farmers are also at the forefront of climate change adaptation and mitigation. They help to protect biodiversity and natural resources, and they can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They are also often the first to be impacted by climate change, and they need support to adapt to changing weather patterns and to increase their resilience.
The Elbas’ involvement in Agriculture and Rural Development
Idris Elba and Sabrina Dhowre Elba have been vocal advocates for greater investment in agriculture and rural development since becoming UN Goodwill Ambassadors for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in 2020. As ambassadors, they have been working to raise awareness about the importance of small-scale farmers and the challenges they face in feeding the world.
Their advocacy has been particularly focused on Africa, where small-scale farmers are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of severe weather events and conflicts. These challenges have further impacted farmers’ ability to produce food for their families, communities and countries, despite their essential role in global food security.
The Elbas have been making strong pleas for greater investment in agriculture and rural development in Africa, highlighting the importance of providing small-scale farmers with access to finance, markets, resources, technology, and knowledge to unlock a different future. They have also emphasized the role of the private sector in supporting and sourcing from small farmers and ensuring that world leaders continue to invest in holistic ways to combat environmental degradation and rising hunger.
In their role as UN Goodwill Ambassadors, the Elbas have also been calling on governments, development partners and the private sector to step up now with long-term investments in small-scale agriculture, which is necessary to meet the needs for a healthy global population and a healthy planet. They have also been highlighting that failure to invest in agriculture and rural development will lead to increased hunger and poverty, which in turn could fuel social unrest, conflict, and migration.
The plea for investment in Small-Scale Agriculture
In a room filled with many of the most powerful global leaders in government and industry, Idris Elba made a strong plea for greater investment in small-scale agriculture. He stated, “The poor of the world are not just looking for aid and handouts, they are looking for investment – investment in people, in nature, in innovation.” This statement highlights the importance of providing small-scale farmers with access to finance, markets, resources, technology, and knowledge to unlock a different future.
This plea was echoed by IFAD’s President, Alvaro Lario, who called on governments, development partners and the private sector to step up now with long-term investments in small-scale agriculture. He emphasized that it is only by investing in how we grow, process, and distribute food, that our food systems can begin to meet the needs for a healthy global population and a healthy planet – now and in the future.
Investing in small-scale agriculture is crucial for ensuring food security, promoting economic development, and maintaining social and political stability. Small-scale farmers play a vital role in feeding the world and their contributions to global food security cannot be overstated. Additionally, small-scale farmers are often the first to be impacted by climate change and they need support to adapt to changing weather patterns and to increase their resilience.
The unprecedented food crisis
The world is currently experiencing an unprecedented food crisis triggered by high food, energy, and fertilizer prices linked to the war in Ukraine and several climate shocks in 2022. This crisis comes on top of prior conflicts, climate change, and the economic slowdown brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, which have all contributed to rising hunger and poverty.
Read: Russia-Ukraine war: the connection to food security in Africa
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), extreme weather events are likely to increase in frequency and magnitude in the future. This means that global and local food systems are at increased risk of disruption, with potential supply shortages and price hikes. This exacerbates the current food crisis and makes it even more critical to invest in small-scale agriculture, which can increase the resilience of food systems and help small-scale farmers adapt to changing weather patterns.
The food crisis also highlights the importance of investing in rural development and providing small-scale farmers with access to finance, markets, resources, technology, and knowledge. This will help them to produce more food and increase their resilience in the face of extreme weather events and other challenges.
It’s important to note that the current food crisis disproportionately affects the poor and vulnerable populations, particularly those living in rural areas of developing countries. It is therefore crucial that world leaders take action to invest in small-scale agriculture, rural development, and food security to ensure that everyone has access to nutritious food and to prevent further exacerbation of poverty and hunger.
The important role of the private sector in Africa’s food security
In her statement, Sabrina Dhowre Elba emphasized the important role of the private sector in supporting and sourcing from small farmers and in ensuring world leaders continue to invest in holistic ways to combat environmental degradation and rising hunger. She stated, “Rural communities are filled with talented, youthful populations and enormous potential for new and vibrant markets. The private sector can play a massive role in supporting and sourcing from small farmers and in ensuring world leaders continue to invest in holistic ways to combat environmental degradation and rising hunger.”
The private sector plays a critical role in supporting small-scale farmers by providing them with access to markets and resources, such as credit, technology, and knowledge. This can help small-scale farmers to increase their productivity and income, which in turn can improve their livelihoods and contribute to global food security.
However, despite global commitments to end hunger by 2030, donor support for agriculture has been stagnant at just 4 percent of total Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) for at least two decades. This lack of support for agriculture has hindered the ability of small-scale farmers to adapt to changing weather patterns, access new markets, and increase their productivity. The private sector can play a critical role in filling this gap and supporting small-scale farmers in their important role of feeding the world.
Read: Africa’s “perfect storm”: Addressing food security in light of conflict