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Empowering farmers for market advocacy

Raising the voice of smallholders will help to re-balance policies and interventions (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
Raising the voice of smallholders will help to re-balance policies and interventions
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

Institutions and policy matter. They determine to what extent smallholders are able to benefit from markets and gain a reasonable living. But decision-making surrounding these policies is often biased towards the interests of consumers or agribusiness companies, as they are able to better articulate their demands and reconcile interests in national and regional political arenas. Even when producers have influence, smallholder interests have little weight compared to the interests of larger and often more vocal commercial farmers. Raising the voice of smallholders will help to re-balance these policies and interventions: more enabling policies and better functioning institutions in markets can provide incentives for smallholders to invest in their farms and value-adding activities, and, by doing so, structurally improve mid-term food security and contribute to rural economic development and the reduction of poverty.

Research gap

Discussion at the Second Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD2) addressed the need for smallholder friendly policies. Issues discussed included the importance of institutional arrangements to reduce risks in market chain transactions, the skills and capacities needed by smallholders and their supporting institutions, reducing administrative and tax barriers to market access, and reducing inequalities in power and policy voice on investment priorities and relevant research agendas.

GCARD2 addressed the need for smallholder friendly policies (© Giel Ton)
GCARD2 addressed the need for smallholder friendly policies
© Giel Ton

Research has a central role to play but there is a gap between the research community and farmer organisations. Within research organisations, there are strong incentives to focus on methods instead of problems, and on publication of research in peer-reviewed articles instead of accessible, easy-to-read material. Farmer organisations need research findings that can be easily used to influence policy makers or inform their members, and, as farmer organisations tend to function in an extremely dynamic and demanding policy environment, their priorities for research tend to change quite rapidly. In spite of the good intentions of many researchers and research organisations and a willingness on both sides to join forces, work that bridges the gap between the research community and farmer organisations is rare.

Empowering farmers

One example of where this does occur is the Empowering Smallholder Farmers in Markets (ESFIM) programme that is working across ten countries in Africa, South America and the Philippines to strengthen collaborative, farmer organisation-led research for advocacy. ESFIM facilitates demand-driven research that is supportive of the policy priorities and advocacy capacities of national farmers' organisations.

Implemented by the European research platform AGRINATURA, and led by Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands, ESFIM has recently completed its second phase (2009-2012) and at GCARD2, several farmer organisation representatives explained how they have developed collective action and used evidence-based advocacy to call for change in policies and institutional arrangements.

Cooperatives: speaking with a louder voice

Farmer organisations have developed collective action to call for policy change (© Giel Ton)
Farmer organisations have developed collective action to call for policy change
© Giel Ton

For example, the Junta Nacional de Café (JNC), in Peru, managed to refocus the lobby agenda of the multistakeholder platform CONVEAGRO (La Convención Nacional del Agro Peruano) in favour of key issues that affect smallholder's access to markets, including: the problem of taxing smallholder cooperatives; administrative hurdles that prevent access to government procurement for school feeding programmes; access of farmer organisations to regional investment funds; and policies that define how 'quality' is measured for agricultural produce.

In Uruguay the Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives (CAF) has focused their research on the constraints in innovation capacity within the cooperative sector. While having an important role within a vibrant agricultural scene, the cooperative sector is decreasing in influence, as traditional economic services (input supply, storage and marketing) are increasingly delivered through contract farming arrangements by corporate food companies. Contracted researchers and specialists in agriculture, livestock and dairy helped CAF to focus on the strategic innovation challenges in each sector and areas where cooperatives need to upgrade their capacities in order to catch up with competitors. Building on this work, an advocacy event was held within the Parliament that increased the visibility of CAF as a representative organisation of smallholder farmers.

ESFIM will facilitate the exchange of experiences between more and less experienced national farmer organisations (© IFAD/David Rose)
ESFIM will facilitate the exchange of experiences between more and less experienced national farmer organisations
© IFAD/David Rose

Costa Rica faces increasing competition with other countries due to regional and international economic integration. Small farmers, in particular are confronted by constraints in marketing their produce and farmer organisations are struggling to define a common agenda and negotiate with the Government to create a conducive environment for small farmers' access to markets. Organised by the rural women organisation, CMC, an ESFIM national workshop enabled various stakeholders (national and regional farmer organisations and technical departments from Government ministries) to analyse the current situation and identify issues relating to production costs, extension, legislation regarding (inter)national trade, and market regulation and finance.

Better enabling policies and institutions that provide incentives for smallholders to invest enhance livelihoods, improve food security in rural and urban areas, and contribute to rural economic development. National farmer organisations remain one of the best institutional structures to enable the inclusion of the most marginalised farmers into national and regional policy dialogue. In its third phase (2013-2017), therefore, ESFIM - linking also with partners brought together through GCARD2 - will facilitate the exchange of country-specific experiences between more and less experienced national farmer organisations to generate mutual learning.

Written by: Giel Ton, AGRINATURA and LEI Wageningen UR

Date published: January 2013

 

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