3 June 2105 – With over 7,000 participants from across sectors, EU Development Days 2015 is one of the largest annual fora on the international development calendar. This year, the Brussels summit, which took place from 3-4 June, focused on health, migration and food security, including the evolving issues and innovations in the fight to eradicate global hunger.

The CABI-led project lab ‘Smallholders powering global development’ encouraged dialog between more than 40 participants on the critical role of smallholder farmers in food security, and more specifically, how smallholders struggle to find the trusted and sustainable advice they need to protect their crops and livelihoods from new and emerging threats. Key speakers on the subject of food security and smallholder empowerment included CABI’s Janny Vos, who moderated the session, Jean Pierre Halkin, Head of Unit Rural Development, Food & Nutrition Security at European Commission DG Development and Cooperation, Paulus Verschuren, CABI Non-Executive Director and Founder of WorldFed, and Martin Busobozi of the Rwandan Agricultural Board.

“They come with problems and they leave with knowledge” shared Busobuzi, one of over 2,500 plant doctors trained to provide farmers with locally-relevant plant health advice. CABI’s Plantwise food security initiative, presented at a side event, works with countries to bridge the gap between crop knowledge and smallholder farmers through plant clinic networks run by plant doctors like Busobuzi. The European Commission through DG DEVCO-EuropeAid has been an instrumental financial and strategic partner in supporting Plantwise, reaching nearly two million farmers across 34 countries to date, with the goal of reaching 30 million farmers by 2020.

“We need new techniques of enabling access to seed, access to land, restoring the productivity of ecosystems. Access to information is key, but innovation even more so,” commented Halkin. “CABI does an exemplary job in making sure that research goes up to the last mile.” Innovative resources like the Plantwise Factsheets Library app and SMS agro-advisory service from CABI are working to empower farmers with the knowledge they need to combat new and unpredictable challenges.

As pests cross borders due to trade and climate change, and become increasingly invasive, solutions for national and community response will be a key priority, especially for countries where agriculture is the backbone of local economies. Likewise, strengthening farmer advice at the community level, and a more systemic response to outbreaks of invasive species at the national and regional level should be an area of focus for public and private sector development support.

Looking ahead, countries will need increasingly adaptive and resilient plant health systems, which not only support farmers, but also identify and address the diverse needs of farmers of all individual backgrounds. “We need to be able to communicate the role of women in the food value chain, and ensure that gender is included in funding proposals,” said Verschuren.

Innovative and tailored farmer services are not as prevalent as they could be. “We need to grow the number of plant clinics so that we can reach as many farmers as possible,” shared Busobuzi from his daily experience advising smallholder farmers on plant health issues in Rwanda. With continued support, and dialogue through high-profile fora like the European Development Days 2015, the zero hunger world where farmers of all backgrounds find the resources they need could become a reality.

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