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Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition • FSN Forum

Re: HLPE consultation on the V0 draft of the Report: Investing in smallholder agriculture for food and nutrition security

Céline Bignebat
Céline BignebatINRA - French National Institute for Agricultural ResearchFrance

I really enjoyed reading the report and found many very interesting sections and proposals in it. Here are a few comments.

Sections 1 & 2 - smallholders:

  1. General comment: I have the impression that the report largely overlooks the family nature and structure of smallholder agriculture. The internal heterogeneity is not mentioned much, but it could be determining to understand investment behaviours, as well as impact of investments in terms of productivity. Property rights over assets, use rights and control rights may be interesting to highlight, especially when considering men/women relationships and behaviour (I think about land issue in particular, and access to property); but we may think about resource pooling as well, and/or decision making in the household. For enlarged families, intergenerational issues may be at stake as well when trying to understand investment. In particular microcredit is often directed to women. This may lead to considerations about a gendered division of productive activities.
  2. General comment: the approach you have at the beginning of the report, namely that smallholder investment mostly consists in labour, is interesting, even though not referred much to in the rest of the text. It raises a question: should not human capital be considered as one of the point where investment is crucial? Even though the literature does not find a clear relationship between educational level and productivity, literacy may help accessing credit or information so as to invest profitably.
  3. Graphs are often representing the number of holdings, which may sometimes be misleading for the reader, especially when the text is referring to a concentration process. Perhaps proportions can sometimes be easier to read.
  4. p. 25: they are numerous studies about the relationship between farm size and productivity, however, to my knowledge, with no clear-cut conclusions. The Brazil example (p. 25) seems relatively anecdotic and somewhat not convincing, because (i) the conclusions the report draws are categorical: “These data show that the inverse relationship between farm size and land productivity, is still omnipresent today” (ii) we don’t know much about the study: are that Net or gross revenues? Margins? When were the data collected? (iii) the observations about the size/productivity relationship may change across countries or years.
  5. Smallholder in food processing is an interesting section, that perhaps could be developed (p. 27). We have some further details p. 39. It seems to me that it tackles in a way the question of the difference between non-agricultural and off-farm activities, and thus the question of the boundaries of agricultural investment. In programs like “progresa” in Mexico, a large part of the amount of the subsidies is dedicated to the development of small business in connection with sales of the household agricultural production. Peri-agriculture value-adding activities may as well be defined as “agricultural” investment: ie, transformation of cassava for urban consumers in Ivory Coast. The question of the diversification of activities into non-agricultural sectors is as well not far away in the sense that it contributes to agricultural production.
  6. I was wondering (p. 30) about the role of intermediaries other than producer organizations. This is perhaps to take into account, especially when considering interlinked contracts, like credit for production – this kind of contracts most of the time concern credit for variable costs (input purchase), but sometimes it can include for up-front investments as well, in particular in high-value global chains that require the upgrading of the production process.


Section 3 & 4 - investment:

  1. Public-Private partnerships for investment in agriculture are studied by an emerging scientific literature that may be interesting. Partly it refers to large or risky investments, like R&D in new technologies (Spielman et al., 2010). However, it includes as well the role of NGOs in alleviating the credit/liquidity constraint faced by small producers (Narrod et al., 2009; Poulton and Macartney, 2012).
  2. Section 4.5. I can’t understand why the typology is not in the section 1 or 2 of the report, or perhaps only the framework – assets, markets, institutions (I understood sections 1 and 2 as setting the definition of smallholder agriculture and the constraint/opportunities smallholders face) it could be useful to define the unit of analysis of the report, and analyze its diversity. This could enable clarifying more rapidly in the report that the category “small producers” is not homogenous and provide a key in understanding the diversity.
  3. In the typology:
  • (i) The categorization: from the column “characterization.illustration”, I have difficulties to understand what type of difference you make between combination --+ and ---, especially in terms of investment.
  • (ii) As assets are endogenous (and the main point of the study – investment), it may be interesting to figure out different types of transition patterns from one category to the other. It may help for the recommendation part.

Minor comments:

Section 4.1.: Why beginning by constraint in terms of recognition? Perhaps financial constraints/missing markets are more important? (see figure 13)

Section 4.4.: Why policy, and not just environment?

The expression “ownership of policies” (P. 40) is not very clear to me.


Narrod C., D. Roy, J. Okello, B. Avendaño, Rich and A. Thorat, 2009, “Public-private partnerships and collective action in high-value fruit and vegetable supply chain”, Food Policy, 34: 8-15

Poulton C. and J. Macartney, 2012, “Can public-private partnerships leverage private investment in agricultural value chains in Africa?”, World Development, 40(1): 96-109.

Spielman D., F. Hartwich and K. Greber, 2010, “Public–private partnerships and developing-country agriculture: Evidence from the international agricultural research system”, Public Administration and Development, 30(4): 261-276