FAO´s Strategic Framework for 2000-2015 identifies market imperfections, weaknesses in support institutions and an unfavourable policy environment as key factors that hamper the mobilization of resources for agriculture and rural development. They discourage investment in productive assets and services, and impede the adoption of appropriate technology and practices. Needed is to create a policy and institutional environment that encourages resource mobilization, more efficient support institutions adapted to changing conditions and more accessible to users, and greater responsiveness to the market on the part of farm, fisheries and other production units, agribusinesses and marketing enterprises.
For FAO, the challenge is generally not to optimize the production of one commodity in isolation, but to promote comprehensive system approaches and to recognize the econo mic and social - including gender - dimensions of appropriate technology transfer and adoption. In particular, FAO´s contribution is oriented towards the production of normative tools and guidelines on strengthening agriculture and rural development support institutions and facilitating their adaptation to changing conditions, and structural adaptations in production, processing and marketing systems so as to respond to evolving consumption patterns.
Regarding poverty and food security, FAO addresses key factors that contribute to worrying trends in the external environment - the persistence of poverty, the widening of the gap between the affluent and the poor, the inequality in access to the benefits of economic and technological progress, and the continued risk of disaster-related and complex emergencies. In this respect, FAO´s strategy is oriented towards:
As part of this far-reaching strategy, FAO actively promotes small farmer group associations (SFGAs) as a means of delivering services and strengthening small producers' capacity to help themselves. SFGAs are built by networking informal small groups, which have proven to be reliable vehicles for participatory, sustainable rural development. In the mid-1970s, FAO pioneered the use of the small group approach in Asia through its Small Farmer Development Programme (SFDP) and later in Africa and Latin America under the People's Participation Programme (PPP). In both these programmes, formation of small groups was seen as the first step in a longer process of building more viable and sustainable organizations serving the needs of small-scale rural producers.
The second step is the forging of cooperation links among the small groups to strengthen their economies-of-scale and marketing power. Seen in this light, SFGAs are regarded as an important intermediate step towards the development of more participatory, member-controlled and financed farmer cooperatives and producer associations. In the early 1990s, FAO carried out a series of case studies on emerging group associations in Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Nepal, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka and Zambia. In 1998, the Rural Development Division held a global e-mail conference on the topic in which more than 400 specialists participated. Drawing on the studies and the e-mail conference, FAO prepared a draft outline of the present Resource Book and circulated it to a team of international contributors for final comments.
In short, cooperation in developing this publication has spanned the globe. Based on more than two decades of FAO experience, it provides detailed advice for inter-group promoters on fostering more effective small farmer organizations that are financially sustainable.
Rural Development Division
Food and Agriculture Organization
of the United Nations