The UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) hosted on June 25 a High-Level Forum on Connecting Smallholders to Markets, moderated by the international broadcaster, Zeinab Badawi. The purpose of the meeting was to bring together a wide range of stakeholders to discuss policy implications, challenges, and lessons learned from concrete examples of how smallholders have been able participate in markets in a more beneficial and sustainable manner. The discussion allowed the identification of broad recommendations on priority areas for action to strengthen smallholder access to markets. The keynote speaker was Pierre-Marie Bosc, Agro-Economist at the Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) in France. Dr Bosc’s presentation focused on “Smallholders, Markets and Food Security: Towards a New Deal”. He noted that 85% of farms around the world represent less than 2 hectares and recommended to investing in smallholders as the most effective strategy to improve food security. Shi Yan, Vice-President of Urgenci and President of Chinese network of over 500 community supported agriculture organizations was the keynote’s discussant. Ms Shi noted that smallholders face the challenges of rural to urban migration and changing consumption patterns. She recommended to engage youth in farming and pointed that current large-scale agriculture is unsustainable.
The first panel then focused on the presentation of five case-studies. Mamadou Goita, farmer from Mali and representative of the West African Peasants and Farmers Network (ROPPA), presented a successful government-led system in Mali, in which public money was allocated to buy products to ensure that smallholder farmers would be able to sell their produce for a viable price. Andrea Polo Galante from the Nutrition Education and Consumer Awareness Group at the FAO, presented a public school feeding program in Brazil in which 30% of products must be sourced locally. Prince Camara, Director of Smallholder Commercialization Programme at the Ministry of Agriculture of Sierra Leone, presented a project establishing agricultural business centers that provide training and post-harvest technical support. It highlighted the fact that poor infrastructure is often a major barrier preventing smallholders from accessing markets. Ester Olivas Cacere, Geographic Indication Senior Legal Specialist at Strengthening Smallholders’ Access to Markets for Certified Sustainable Products project in Sao Tome and Principe (SAMCERT), presented a project to secure a geographical indication for cocoa from Sao Tome and Principe. It demonstrated the importance of smallholder organizations and of multi-stakeholder approaches. Finally, Penny Studholme, Vice-President of Corporate Affairs at Cargill, presented a rural development program launched in collaboration with CARE. It demonstrated that public-private partnerships are successful when they play to the strengths of each organization.
The second part of the day was a high-level panel that was initiated by Shenggen Fan, Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Dr Fan insisted that smallholders must be moved out of agriculture or their situation must be improved. They must organize, and should be compensated for social and environmental objectives, such as environmental services and mitigating climate change. He also emphasized the importance of social protection and access to global markets. Chukki Nanjundaswamy, representative of La Via Campesina in India, responded that moving smallholders off the farm would not be a solution. She pointed that neoliberal reforms have made agriculture unviable and that cities do not provide smallholders with options to live in dignity or have an identity. Cesarie Kantarama, Regional Vice-President of the Eastern Africa Farmers Federation (EAFF) noted that smallholders need access to better infrastructure and that current policies favour large producers over smallholders. She insisted on the need to transfer skills, knowledge and technology. Ms Kantarama emphasized that farmers are private sector actors, whose final aim is to sell products. Dessislava Dimitrova, President of the Association of Slow Food in Bulgaria, pointed that smallholders are our link to nature, and are important for preserving the character of rural areas. Christian Adams, Chairperson at Coastal Links South Africa, representing fishermen, added that greater efforts need to be directed towards policy implementation, rather than policy development. He also shared that a coordinated approach is needed, since many of the challenges facing smallholders are interconnected.
A series of interventions were made from the floor noting the often missing political will to fully address smallholders’ needs and future capacity to connect with global markets, in particular the decisive need for adapted infrastructure to facilitate market access.
The High-Level Forum represented an opportunity to discuss policy implications based on the realities faced by smallholders as market actors in a globalized food system as well as lessons from concrete examples of how farmers and farm groups have found opportunities to link to markets. A set of policy recommendations and practices will be developed with an Open-Ended Working Group on Smallholders and will be presented for endorsement at CFS 43 in October 2006. These will aim at being broadly disseminated with a view to informing future policy and be the basis for future stocktaking and sharing of lessons.