Font size:

Contact us:

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

CISDE (international alliance of Catholic development agencies), Belgium
FSN Forum

Comments on the Zero Draft of the HLPE Study

“Investing in smallholder agriculture for food security and nutrition”


We thank you for the opportunity to feed into the development of this important report. The draft provides a concise and multidimensional overview to the often simplified issue of small scale food producer`s investment realities. Clearly the issue of agricultural investments is a matter of high priority for the CFS this year and this report will bring valuable insights, in particular into the process of the development of rai principles. The report confirms the vital importance of smallholders and their production systems to food security, as well as employment, poverty reduction and stewardship of natural resources. Given the multiplier effect that small holder investment can have to the social, economic and ecological spheres, adequate support to their production systems should be a key message of the report.

In way of a general comment we would urge the HLPE to highlight the mandate of the reformed CFS towards the progressive realization of the right to food and frame the report in that light. For instance, when mentioning the rights of smallholders (e.g. at p.58), the draft should make clear that governments have the obligation to protect, respect and fulfill certain rights, such as the right to food, which are non-negotiable[1]. We also stress the need for the report to highlight the importance of policy coherence and their cross-sectoral implications on the right to food. Thereby further encouraging governments to align their trade, energy, investment and environmental policies to meet this end.

Besides our overall positive assessment of the Zero-Draft, there are several aspects we would like to highlight as particularly important contributions:

  • The draft deals with the challenge of feeding a growing world population by 2050 exactly in the right way: It differentiates between development paths, agricultural realities and challenges among different regions, it underlines at several points that smallholder agriculture will have to play a central role in required increases in overall production. It points out one of the key insights of agricultural economics, the fact of the inverse farm size – productivity relationship, which is often ignored at policy fora. On a related note, the report stands to gain from reminding readers that production alone is not the panacea for the challenge of feeding a growing global population and that there are 4 pillars to food security, among them access which is a major issue not addressed by increases in consumption alone.
  • The draft takes into account power asymmetries within value chains and within markets. It points out the multidimensional market dependence of smallholders and identifies key areas of public support and intervention for traditional wholesale markets. At the same time it could explore further the realities of smallholders as price takers and the implications that has for their investment options. Furthermore, there is little on middlemen and their role in favoring and hindering smallholders’ position in value chains. Under what conditions can these favor smallholder investments or not?
  • The draft correctly puts farmer´s rights, recognition and voice at the center of the debate. In this context, we consider important that the Study of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee on the Advancement of the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas” be cited (p.44).
  • We appreciate the recognition of the importance of farmer’s organizations[2]. These, whether formal or informal, are the backbone of food security in many countries. Recognizing the importance of these organizations as economic actors in their own right and valuing and strengthening these will certainly facilitate better investments and increased food security.


1) Definition and significance of Smallholder agriculture: is the approach in the report adequate?

Generally yes. In fact providing definitions with which to base the debate is one of the major contributions of the report. For instance, the draft gains a lot from using a broad concept of “investment”, which we consider as key for an appropriate understanding of small scale food producers realities and contributions (p.38). The report stands to gain from providing early on its definition for investment and productivity.

Even though the document contain a reference to the resilient aspect of the smallholder agriculture and to its multidimensionality (including environmental implications such as biodiversity, climate change mitigation, water conservation etc.) little is said about the model which supports these characteristic, most notably, agroecology and low external input sustainable agriculture technologies (LEISA)[3]  The profitability and efficiency of agro-ecological and LEISA technologies has proven to provide the best solution for “weakly” endowed farmers in many regions of the world. A general exploration of the constraints to undertaking these proven approaches could be useful, as well as, some reference to investments which could be detrimental. These should then be integrated into the recommendations section to ensure they are avoided.

As far as significance, it would be useful for the report to outline the importance of small holder innovation and knowledge, what conditions support innovation and favor technology adaptation by small holders. There are numerous examples of how smallholders have been adapting and innovating in their production models. For instance, the case of the Zai technique in the Sahel or seed saving and selection, which through thousands of years has been invaluable in ensuring food security. This priceless human heritage is now at risk of loss (GMOs for instance) and the right investments are not being made to protect it. Also, on section 2.3 barter economies are completely omitted and these often have an important function for the poorest.

Finally, smallholders waste and pollute less and contribute to closing cycles in the production process. They contribute to positive externalities such as stewardship of the natural resources and the management of the commons. These factors should be noted in the significance section.


2) Framework for Smallholder agriculture and related investments: is the typology useful, adequate and accessible for the problem at hand?

Indeed the typology is very useful and provides evidence as to the importance of integrated and coherent policies. However, the National Smallholder Vision and Strategic Framework doesn’t outline clear enough its objective. We urge the HLPE to clearly state that the aim of such politics is the realization of the right to food for the population of a particular country (national level). This is important because different countries have different realities and will need to tailor their responses accordingly.

The Framework, as well as the Code of Investment, should clearly exclude any type of investment that could offset or compete with this aim or have negative impacts on the smallholders investment conditions which would disadvantage their access to resources. This is especially important for countries facing severe hunger problems. The report should thus recall that the promotion of certain investments can undermine the capabilities of small scale farmers to invest in their own exploitation.  Outlining these would be a great contribution to the debate.


3) Constraints to smallholder investment: are all main constraints presented in the draft? Have important constraints been omitted?

Generally yes but the importance of access to the means of production, particularly secure land tenure could be further strengthened in the report.

Also, we urge the HLPE to explore beyond the problem of access to markets when discussing the (so-called) “modern” retail markets or globalized markets. Concentration and competition between corporate actors and smallholders represent a strong constraint. There’s no recommendation (nor analysis) on the need to address the failure of the market in allowing cohabitation and development of different viable agricultural systems and model. In this regard, dumping, market concentration, deregulation and unfair prices could be seen as good examples. Mechanisms to bypass these should be explored, as well as the need for policy coherence at the different political levels.

Another constraint could be the general lack of understanding by policy makers about the role, value and constraints faced by smallholders. Also, the lack of coherence in policies and regulations, at local, national, regional and international level is a severe constraint to investment in smallholder agriculture. The varieties of political arenas where agriculture is being discussed (and where decisions are taken) represent a severe constraint to governance, implementation, and financing of strong coherent policies. In the field, this translates into the non-alignment of actions by various stakeholders such as philanthropic organizations, international donors, international and local NGOs and the State.

4) Are the main areas for recommendations and the priority domains for action adequate? Does the draft include sufficient information at the adequate level to support the policy messages?

The recommendations section could be improved. Contract farming should be discussed more in detail. Sometimes this can be done successfully, as noted “there is plenty of evidence that smallholders that participate in contract agriculture gain different types of benefits”. But sometimes this is not the case and there is also plenty of evidence on how this can go wrong and result in the abuse of workers and misuse of local resources. It is important for the report to reflect the different sides of this kind of investment. See, for example, the work of the special rapporteur on the right to food, on this specific topic, stating that contract farming “rarely encourages farmers to climb up the value chain and move into the packaging, processing or marketing of their produce”[1]. Moreover, to be in line with the “resilient” and multidimensional aspect of the smallholder models, such investment/contract, must respect certain guidelines. Therefore, we feel contract farming should not be presented as a top priority in the recommendations.

At several places within the text, as well as within the recommendations, a reference to price  volatility as major constraint to investment by smallholders is made. But neither regulatory stocks nor regulation of finance, as part of the solutions, are cited. This “gap” should be filled. For example, the recommendation 10.b, page 9 should include an explicit reference to those means of reducing price volatility.

We are concerned about the absence of discussion of the burden of debt among the recommendations on “innovative” financing. The trend of farmer suicide as a result of increasing debt has unfortunately become a common phenomenon, especially in countries like India which have pursued a green revolution “high external input” model. This is extremely serious and in no way should the discussion of investments in the CFS lead to further indebtness of smallholders. The question of smallholder financing should be a subject of further study by the CFS.

Finally, the recommendations section could be further strengthened by providing more best practices from certain countries.


What is missing from the report?

Additionally we offer the following points for your consideration:

  • Although we appreciate the point in section 2.2 on emancipation the report does not elaborate more on this. Here, the concept of Food Sovereignty can provide some important insights. This concept is most appropriate when trying to gain an understanding for small-scale food producers’ needs and objectives. CSOs have time and again put forward this concept in the CFS and it is high time that this gets its due attention.
  • The report lacks an analysis of the climate change / peak oil implications on small holder investment. In light of these what would support or hinder small holder investment?
  • The importance of knowledge sharing and of participatory research is so far largely missing in the draft. As is the significance intergenerational knowledge to smallholder production systems.
  • An analysis of what is blocking states from pursuing more favorable policies towards smallholders and investments in their production systems is generally lacking. This could be an important contribution to the debate.
  • The draft is generally weak on gender and the constraints specifically faced by women farmers.
  • The wording of “access to rights” (p.58) is confusing, rights either exist or not, and can be violated or fulfilled, but not accessed.
  • Surprising there is nothing on the role of animals as investments. For many smallholders a goat or a cow can be a huge asset with investment implications.
  • The draft could provide more detail when it comes to domestic forms of trading and food processing (p.27 / 67). On the one hand, impressive success stories are presented on sugar, palm oil and cassava processing by farmers themselves. What however, about other subsectors? And between traditional wholesale, contract and “modern retail”: what about other domestic forms of processing by domestic SMEs? Are these markets relevant?
  • There is a general lack of consideration for young farmers and some of the constraints that are facing them. Whilst we understand that the report cannot get into details on this issue, we believe that given the importance of this group to the future of food security, their current absence from the debate is worrying.


Handed in: January 30th 2013

[1] As laid down in key documents such as the international Covenant on economic, social and cultural rights (ICESCR) or the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on the Right to Food.

[2] Here we also include small holder collectives in general whether farmer, pastoralists, fisherfolk or harvesters. 

[3] These models have been referenced time and again in various other works, such as the IAATD report, but also CFS documentation, such as the GSF.


Switzerland ,
FSN Forum

HLPE Draft V0 on Smallholder Investments

We thank the HLPE team for a rich and enlightening document as well as for giving the possibility to development practitioners to bring inputs into V0 draft of the HLPE-Report “Investing in smallholder agriculture for food and nutrition security”.

From SDC’s perspective, we would be interested to know whether the available literature can figure out how many smallholder farmers live in fragile contexts, respectively in conflict areas. Evidence of how such smallholder farmers/pastoralists/small-scale fisher communities can be best supported would also be an additional value added of the expected report.

As requested, please find below some SDC-supported project data, which could be taken in the preparation of the final report.

  1. For the section Contract agriculture of the HLPE Draft V0

Rural Livelihood Development Company - Annual Report 2011

The company Rural Livelihood Development Company (RLDC) is the implementer of SDC’s programme Rural Livelihood Development Programme RLDP in Tanzania. The project’s annual report 2011 provides information and figures on contract agriculture: “The number of producers having established farming contracts / agreements with buyers and producers in different sectors is 18,700 (target 15,000) producers in cumulative terms, Out of these 13,600 male and 5,100 female. Sunflower sector has 65% of all producers in contract farming. The produces in contract farming benefits from various services ranging from access to inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, tractor services, canvases for post harvest management, they also benefit on advisory and extension services.”

More information on contract farming related to different crops can be found in the report on the following pages:

  • Contract farming system in cotton (page 16)
  • Contract farming system in rice (page 23ff)
  • Contract farming system in sunflower (page 26).
  1. For the section 5.3.1 Finance and banking system of the HLPE Draft V0

Please consider also the following figures extracted from a SDC-supported microfinance project in Bolivia. There is no official data published on this project for the time being, but do not hesitate to contact SDC Head Office in a couple of months’ time, if you need further information.

Servicios financieros y no financieros rurales

Entre 2008 y 2012, aproximadamente 72’000 clientes (de una clientela potencial de casi 700’000 personas que viven en áreas rurales del país) accedieron a microfinanzas rura-les con el apoyo de la cooperación suiza a través de dife-rentes instrumentos y alianzas:

Alianza con el BID / FOMIN beneficiando a 70’000 nuevos clientes, fomentando novedosas alianzas entre entidades reguladas y no reguladas. De esta manera se logró colocar una cartera de aprox. CHF 90 millones. 2.000 nuevos clientes accedieron a servicios inno-vativos de financiamiento desarrollados por PRO-FIN (Ej: garantía de animales para acceso a crédito, fondos de garantía).

Aproximadamente 3’000 productores rurales accedieron a servicios no financieros (capacitación, asistencia técnica y articulación comercial) a través de plataformas para la iden-tificación de oferentes y demandantes.


  1. For the section 5.2.2 Improving productivity and resilience of the HLPE Draft V0

In Bolivia, SDC has been supporting the registration of agricultural products.

Innovación agropecuaria

Hasta el 2012, con el apoyo de la cooperación suiza se han registrado los siguientes productos:

- 12 nuevas variedades de cereales y frutas.

- 3 bancos de semilla con 86 variedades de frutas en proceso de validación.

- 2 tubérculos andinos han sido transformados para añadir valor y se ha transferido la tecnología a los productores.

- 32 nuevas tecnologías de producción se validaron y utilizaron bioinsumos.

This example on providing technical trainings in Bolivia can also be used for 5.2.2 Improving productivity and resilience of the HLPE Draft V0.


Formación técnica

En los últimos 3 años, se ha implementado un proceso de formación de formadores para carreras técnicas, con capa-citación permanente en áreas técnicas y temas transversa-les (género, ciudadanía, planes de negocios, emprendedu-rismo). Hasta junio 2012, se cuenta con aproximadamente 200 hombres y mujeres docentes que han accedido a la capacitación ofrecida por el programa.

70 centros públicos de educación en 50 municipios del país han sido equipados con recursos pedagógicos para imple-mentar la formación técnica y capacitación laboral. Cuentan con infraestructura adecuada que depende del municipio.

Se contribuyó a crear condiciones óptimas de equipamiento en 178 especialidades técnicas de formación (materiales e infraestructura).

World Rural Forum

Nuestro más sincero agradecimiento por este primer documento Borrador sobre las Inversiones en Pequeña Agricultura para la Alimentación y la Seguridad Alimentaria. El documento está muy bien estructurado en su  reflexión sobre la situación de los pequeños agricultores y los principales obstáculos que enfrentan en materia de inversiones. Por nuestra parte no tenemos más que agradecer el gran trabajo del equipo responsable.

No obstante y dada esta oportunidad quisiéramos remarcar la importancia que tiene fomentar la producción local de alimentos, cercana a los puntos de consumo, para erradicar el hambre y la malnutrición, para desarrollar un tejido socio-económico sólido y para reducir los impactos derivados del transporte. Unido a esto nos gustaría recalcar una serie de puntos que consideramos clave a desarrollar en profundidad en informes posteriores.


Como ya sabemos, casi media humanidad vive en zonas rurales. De esta población rural, aproximadamente 2.500 millones pertenecen a hogares que desarrollan actividades agrícolas y 1.500 millones, a hogares de pequeños agricultores. Diferentes mensajes apuntan de forma clara el vínculo directo que existe entre desarrollo agrícola y desarrollo general. El informe del Banco Mundial 2008 establece que el crecimiento del PIB originado en la agricultura es al menos el doble de eficaz en reducir la pobreza que el crecimiento del PIB generado en otros sectores. Dado que los hogares de pequeños agricultores familiares superan en número los 1500 millones, la inversión en este modelo de producción parece más que necesaria si en verdad se quiere erradicar el hambre y la pobreza en el mundo.

En este sentido el Documento V0 establece las que a priori son las líneas clave en las que favorecer la inversión de los pequeños agricultores a fin de mejorar su potencial productivo, mejorar su capacidad negociadora y así mejorar el bienestar de los hombres y mujeres que se dedican a la actividad.

Analizando el documento

Desde nuestro punto de vista y de acuerdo a las demandas identificadas por las organizaciones agrarias, de desarrollo, centros de investigación, y otras organizaciones presentes en la Conferencia Mundial de Agricultura Familiar “Alimentar al Mundo, Cuidar el Planeta” (Bilbao, España 2011) nos gustaría que el documento recogiera en mayor profundidad una serie de puntos clave.

  • Acceso a mercados. El documento recoge que el problema no es tanto su exclusión de los mercados sino su situación vulnerable o poco ventajosa en los mismos. En nuestra opinión los agricultores familiares han de contar con un apoyo social suficiente que garantice un nivel suficiente de seguridad para acceder a los mercados con garantía. Este acceso es crucial para mejorar y avanzar en la consecución de la seguridad alimentaria. También es clave que los alimentos se produzcan próximos a las zonas donde se van a consumir. En este sentido nos gustaría que el documento reflejara las ventajas de crear una red de mercados locales sustentados en las producciones locales vs mercados en los que las mercancías tienen orígenes remotos. (incluyendo estudios de caso).
  • Mujer. El documento en nuestra opinión no recoge suficientemente el papel de la mujer. Si bien el informe dice que son la mayoría (page 27: Women, who form a majority in smallholder agriculture), y que se trata de un colectivo vulnerable al que hay que atender, no identifica acciones concretas. Por ejemplo, cómo favorecer su acceso al mercado; métodos formativos; etc. Consideramos clave desarrollar en el siguiente informe un capítulo específico sobre las mujeres agriculturas, que analice su papel productivo y su potencial aportación a la lucha contra el hambre y la pobreza. Indicando en lo posible acciones concretas en materia de inversión que fomenten su inclusión en las cadenas de valor, la toma de decisiones y sobre todo tiendan a mejorar su bienestar. (page 14: improving the well-being of smallholders (especially women and children) is a crucial prerequisite for investments in smallholder agriculture.)
  • Jóvenes. Como destaca el informe (page 63: Invest in forward thinking for tomorrow agriculture would help to shape new perspectives for youth to invest into this professional perspective) la inversión y el apoyo a los jóvenes es clave para garantizar una agricultura sostenible a medio largo plazo. Pero tampoco vemos un desarrollo específico de la situación de los jóvenes en la agricultura y su especial dificultad para acceder a inputs clave como recurso tierra, crédito, formación, etc. En el caso de la inversión hay que tratar de poner especial énfasis en favorecer la incorporación de los jóvenes en la actividad agraria. No hay futuro posible de la pequeña actividad si no se prestan los medios adecuados para que los jóvenes vean en esta actividad una verdadera opción de futuro.
  • Gestión y amortiguación de riesgos. Toda inversión tal y como apunta el informe requiere de un clima propicio, que garantice algo de certidumbre. Este tema es muy complicado, no suelen hacerse informes de fácil comprensión. Nos gustaría sugerir ahondar más en este tema y sobre todo, tratar de analizarlo con casos concretos a fin de facilitar la comprensión de las implicaciones de los riesgos sobre los pequeños productores.
  • Fortalecimiento de organizaciones agrarias. No por mencionarlo el último es el menos importante. En efecto, si los agentes productores no están agrupados y si estas agrupaciones no cuentan con el reconocimiento necesario en los niveles de toma de decisiones cualquier acción que se pretenda para mejorar la situación de la agricultura de pequeña escala será incompleta. Como apunta el informe se precisa aumentar el nivel de reconocimiento de las organizaciones agrarias en los grupos de toma de decisión, implicándoles a todos los niveles. En caso contrario se correría el peligro de caer de nuevo en propuestas poco adaptadas a las realidades y capacidades de los grupos interesados.

Durante el 2014 se celebra el Año Internacional de la Agricultura Familiar, una gran oportunidad para proponer medidas y políticas concretas que redunden en mejoras sustanciales para ese multitudinario colectivo y, en definitiva, para el bienestar de toda la humanidad. En este sentido la estrecha colaboración entre los expertos agrarios, responsables políticos y los agricultores/as directamente es crucial si de verdad queremos cambios significativos y positivos. La Agricultura Familiar no es algo del pasado, es una apuesta de futuro, mejor dicho, una realidad incuestionable. El conocimiento de los expertos, junto con el de las organizaciones agrarias, debe formar un tamdem que pedalee en pro de una Agricultura Familiar competitiva, inclusiva y sostenible. Desde el FRM os animamos a continuar en este importante trabajo.

Transnational Institute TNI Transnational Institute, Netherlands
Transnational Institute


This report offers an extremely timely and valuable contribution to the critical issue of smallholder agriculture and investment. The following comments are presented with an eye towards strengthening those areas where improvements could be made:

1. Definition of smallholders and smallholder agriculture. Section 1.1 of the report offers a definition of smallholders and smallholder agriculture that is not entirely self-evident and somewhat problematic. Smallholders are defined in the report by a resource base that is small and is “… as yet, not or barely able to render an acceptable livelihood” (p.19). Tied to this definition, as stated in the report, is a constant endeavour by smallholders to expand their agricultural production in order to go “beyond precariousness”.

Yet this definition does not account for the high degree of heterogeneity among smallholders that the report correctly insists on. The varying levels of capitalisation, technology use, asset ownership, etc. which denote different classes of smallholders are rendered invisible by the current definition of smallholder livelihoods as inherently sub-marginal. Are we to assume that once smallholders go ‘beyond precariousness’ they have transitioned out of their smallholder status?

Most damagingly, the current definition risks constructing a narrative of smallholders as non-investors when in fact that, as the CFS 37 report on smallholder sensitive investment in agriculture concluded, smallholders and their organisations responsible for the bulk of the investment in agriculture and produce most of the food consumed in the developing world.

2. Markets and the terms of inclusion. There are many cogent remarks in the report on the different types of markets, their institutional arrangements, and their relevance to smallholders. Promisingly, the report comments that pro-poor outcomes are not simply guaranteed by providing for market ‘access’ without further specifying what kinds of markets one is referring to or the terms under which smallholders are to be included in these markets.

Yet all this appears to be forgotten in section on contract farming; the further expansion of which the report appears to endorse. This is all the more surprising given that in other sections of the report (3.3.5, 3.4), it is rightly noted that global value chains are structurally biased against smallholders. It is also recognised that for the majority of smallholders, improving traditional wholesale and retail markets offers the best opportunities (section Against this backdrop, the enthusiasm for contract farming can not be reconciled.  

It is also a mystery as to why contract farming is equated in the report solely with integration into global agri-food chains when there are a host of other types of contracting arrangements that imply a different logic. A prominent example is community supported agriculture (CSA) in which producers and consumers sign forward contracts for the provision of agricultural produce. The diversity of contracting models and alternative arrangements deserves greater consideration in the report.

3. Smallholders’ rights to land and natural resources. Securing smallholders’ rights to land and other productive resources needs to be given greater attention in the report than it currently has, given that it is often a pre-requisite for smallholders’ investment in agriculture.

The report is rather inconsistent in its discussion of smallholders’ access to land, which is alternatively treated as a right (section 3.2, 4.5, 5.3.3) or, more worryingly, as part of a market transaction (2.3.1, 4.4). Especially in the current context concerning large-scale land appropriations, securing smallholders’ rights to land and natural resources is a matter of urgent attention – an issue which is given only a cursory examination in a few paragraphs in section 3.4. It would be good here to build on the recommendations of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries, and Forests as well as link to the ongoing CFS consultations on responsible agricultural investment (rai).

4. Public investment in agriculture beyond public goods provision. The report’s recognition of the important role of public investment in agriculture is welcomed. The emphasis in the report is however on public goods provision, which, while undoubtedly important, should not be the only focus of public investment in agriculture. It would be more opportune in this regard to speak of targeted public investment in agriculture that explicitly prioritises smallholders through for example price supports, food reserves, credit policies, extension services, etc. 

5. Natural resource management, environmental stewardship, and agro-ecology. It is a shame to see the ecological question receiving so little attention in the report when this is one of the main cases to support smallholder agriculture and mixed farming systems. The singular reference to agro-ecology in the report under section is alarming in this regard, given that it is one of the key strategies, practised widely and successfully by smallholders all around the world, to improve their resource base in an ecologically sustainable fashion.

6. Farming futures and rural youth. Investment should be about ensuring the conditions for social reproduction. Against the backdrop of massive rural flight and endemic poverty, securing livelihoods and farming futures for the next generation of rural youth must be considered as matters of utmost important. This is an imperative that deserves greater attention in this report. 

“Food for the Cities” multidisciplinary initiative FAO, Italy
FSN Forum

Contribution to the FSN Forum on:

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

from the “Food for the Cities” multidisciplinary initiative:

Matthias Radek (intern), Makiko Taguchi (co-secretary Food for the Cities/Growing Greener Cities), Julien Custot (facilitator Food for the Cities)


We want to acknowledge the comprehensive and extensive work for the zero draft.

With the continuous growth of cities, urbanization challenges will affect smallholders’ activities in urban and peri-urban areas and will have an impact on food, agriculture and management of natural resources in these spaces. Not surprisingly, urban issues are often mentioned in the document (for instance in the introduction chapter, in chapter 2.1.2, 3.4).

We would like to support this focus and bring in some short remarks and additions regarding the specific issue of smallholders, farmers and processors, in urban- and peri-urban areas as it could be better reflected in the publication. The zero-draft consultation paper “Investing in smallholder agriculture for food and nutrition security” could explicitly take into account the specificities and particular importance of urban and peri-urban smallholders, which differs from rural smallholders in many ways. Furthermore, smallholder farmers in urban and peri-urban contexts continue to be largely absent from urban policy tables. Their importance therefore needs to be highlighted.

By now, food produced from urban and peri- urban agriculture (UPA) is making a significant contribution to urban food consumption and supply. UPA is on the rise in many regions of the world. In the context of rapid urbanization, urban and peri-urban smallholder producers and processors will play an increasingly important role with regard to production, processing and delivery of sustainable, affordable and safe food for growing urban populations. Through the supply of fresh food, smallholders in urban and peri-urbain areas directly contribute to better nutrition and sustainable diets. In this context, also the importance of rural-urban linkages for sustainable food and nutrition security in urbanizing spaces should be mentioned.

Further assets of UPA are, among others, the creation of jobs, especially for the youth. UPA also contributes to sustainable management of urban open spaces, which can impact urban micro-climate and which will be crucial for climate change adaptation measures in urban areas (e.g. landslide prevention through terracing, watershed management through urban forestry etc.). Smallholders involved in UPA can thereby, contribute to reducing risks evolving from natural hazards, by, at the same time making cities more resilient to climate change.

Various interventions on how to strengthen urban smallholders are proposed in the “The urban producer’s resource book. A practical guide for working with Low Income Urban and Peri-Urban Producers Organizations” FAO, Rome (2007):. The document is available online:

Below are presenting some options for additional inclusions to the VO 0 Draft document:

Smallholder agriculture: the way ahead (page 10)

12. At global level, rural and urban smallholder agriculture contributes in a massive, indispensable and strategic way to food and nutrition security.

14. However, the actual and potential contributions of smallholders are generally poorly understood and they have been too frequently neglected in policy and public investment. Hence, there is an urgent need for greater attention to investment in rural and urban smallholder agriculture.

X. Political support has to consider the different specificities and dimensions of smallholders activities, bridging the gap between:

- rural and urban and peri-urban agriculture,

- food production and food processing

It should then be reflected at policy level and action reflect in their programs.

Recommendation framework (page 11)

18. At the national level, a National Smallholder Vision and Strategic Framework is to be elaborated that is country specific, comprehensive, and broadly owned. Smallholders and their organizations are to have an important role and voice in the elaboration of such a program. The program proposes how to tackle the specific and diverse constraints that smallholder agriculture is suffering.

19. The National Vision and Strategic Framework has to consider the different ways agriculture is structured and the different types of holdings ranging from smallholder agriculture to more structured and consolidated family farming structures up to corporations and agro-industries. This may result in bimodal structure like in countries like Brazil, or in unimodal type like Viet-Nam or Mali for instance. Even, in case of a unimodal structure type, diversity is to be accounted for, since smallholder agriculture present a high level of heterogeneity taking into account the rural and peri-urban dimension of smallholder agriculture and food processing and vending.

Specific recommendations (page 14)

32. The further improvement of productivity and resilience remains to be of utmost importance. Here it is strategic that agricultural research and technology development are far more oriented at the real situation (and the possibilities and limitations it entails) of smallholders considering its diverse characteristics for rural and urban and peri-urban areas. It also requires strengthened and adapted extension services. Access to inputs has to be facilitated when necessary while avoiding excessive external dependency. Policies and tools are needed to monitor, prevent and manage technical risks (climatic, plant pests and animal diseases). Far more attention is to be given to transport facilities that fit in the smallholder situation, as well as to processing technologies that might be connected to, or integrated in, smallholder agriculture.

ActionAid and the International Food Security Network ,
FSN Forum

Dear all,

please find below the contribution prepared by ActionAid and the International Food Security Network on the zero draft of the HLPE report “ Investing in smallholder agriculture for food and nutrition security”. Please don’t hesitate to contact us for any further clarification.

Best regards,

Alberta Guerra


Overall remarks

The draft zero is an excellent start. The importance of agriculture and of smallholders is widely recognized, and building on the analysis of their constraints to develop policy options to foster investments for and by smallholders themselves is crucial to advance food security and ensure the realization of the right to food. ActionAid and IFSN particularly welcome some innovative thoughts that finally find a space in this paper. The issue of the political participation of smallholders with the logic need to get them politically recognized “as a business and social sector of the society opening rights and duties, both for individuals and their organizations” is a dramatic step ahead. The recognition of a variety of markets and food systems, although not adequately developed, at least challenges the unique narrative of having one single global market that farmers need to access to improve their livelihoods. The information gap that is rightly recognized by the authors encourages further research in order to come up with better targeted solution to address the challenges of smallholders. However, there are some areas that need to be addressed with more emphasis such as the role of states, donors and international organizations in enhancing investment for smallholder sustainable agriculture. The responsibility of the states to invest for smallholders should go beyond the provision of pubic goods and directly target research and extension service to ri-orient them in favor of smallholders. Furthermore, the paper doesn’t sufficiently acknowledge the potential of agroecology and the conditions required for the smallholders practicing agroecology to fully express their potential. We also recommend to adopt a human rights based approach in building the analysis and to further expand on the specific needs and constraints that women farmers face in agriculture.


Aspects that need to be strengthened

Some contradictions about the description of the smallholders

First of all, we got the impression that the paper is a bit contradictory when describing the smallholders. In the first part of the paper they are described as productive, highly resilient, and part of the solution to the problem of hunger and poverty. They are clearly identified as the right way ahead. In the second part of the paper, they seem to become a marginalized category that is able to produce just for their subsistence and need urgent help and support to get out of poverty.  This is also in contradiction with the purpose of the paper, which is to assess the constraints of smallholders investment in agriculture in different contexts with policy options for addressing these constraints. In this regard, taking into account the heterogeneity of the group, it would be good to better clarify under which conditions smallholders are able to gain more, and which conditions affect them mostly, reducing them to the subsistence level. Some smallholders are marginalized as a result of specific policies, market conditions, and disregard of their basic needs. Everything should not be treated as a social problem and a clear distinction between the social and the economic constraints should be made.


The human rights approach should be applied in the analysis

The assessment of the social and economic constraints should be made following a human rights approach. The situation of rural poverty, and the fact that majority of poor live in rural areas, is the result of the violation of their human rights as human being first, than as farmers in their right to farm. The paper points out that often smallholders lack access of basic services such as education and health, and this is pertinent to every human being. States have the obligation to provide these services in rural areas as they do in the urban areas.  But smallholders suffer also from lack of secure access to natural resources, and this is in violation of their right to access food by their own means.


Secure access to land and natural resources

There is some tendency in the paper to describe some obvious things as happening to smallholders just because they are smallholders, while the same things would have probably the same effects to corporate or large firms with the only difference that the latter are by far much more protected by laws and policies while farmers are not. Secure property rights, access to resources, food prices stability, are the necessary conditions for all to be successful, but if smallholders cannot enjoy these conditions just because they are the weakest in the system, this should be addressed by ad hoc policy provisions which have to remove obstacles and create more favorable conditions. In this regard, secure access to land and water is absolutely overlooked in the paper, while it represents the first and foremost condition for smallholders to farm their land and gain livelihood from it. The access to resources should be also better addressed when dealing with contract farming, as this usually implies transfer of tenure rights and loss of farmers’ control over production decision. Contract farming is often a second best for the smallholders, or the only possible choice in the absence of alternatives. Furthermore, land grabbing is another major constrain for smallholders as they are literally taken away from their land for the benefit of large companies or national elites. Being dispossessed, they lose their capacity to farm and invest in their land.


Stressing more the multifunctionality of agriculture and the positive role of agroecology

In the paper it would be good to stress more the multifunctionality of agriculture and the major contribution smallholders give to that. Food security, poverty reduction, job creation, care of natural resources are mentioned in the paper. But the issue of quality and nutritious food, social stability (less pressure on urban areas), maintenance of ecosystems are aspects that would need further attention. In addition to that, it is completely missing in the paper the link between the smallholders and the agroecological practices, which adds further more to the positive and multiple roles agriculture can play. Smallholder sustainable agriculture contribute to empowerment of smallholders and especially of women farmers, it’s better resilient to climate shocks events and mitigates climate change.  


An holistic approach to the productivity concept

Also, the paper highlights very well how smallholders are very productive if certain conditions are in place, but doesn’t mention the fact that when talking about productivity of large scale agriculture or larger firms, often externalities are not entered in the calculation. So even when large farms may appear more productive, this is just a partial calculation that needs to take into account negative externalities, while when it comes to smallholders,  productivity should be complemented with the multiple positive externalities that are often not accounted in monetary terms.


An holistic approach to the investment concept

We also recommend a more holistic approach to the concept of investment. As stated in a contribution developed by civil society organized within the CSM to input into the CFS led discussion on responsible agriculture investments, “When we speak about investment, it must be understood in a broader context than just capital investment. Other forms of investment include labor, knowledge and ecosystem regeneration and community development

(  as well human capital and preservation of traditional knowledge.  Also it would be important to address the destination of profits gained by investments, as “Returns generated by farmers’ own investment are most often re-invested by the farmer, while a large scale model is often accountable to shareholders first”.


Linkages with global policies

The dramatic impact of food prices volatility induced by financial speculation, massive investments in biofuel and declining in stocks (as well as other well documented causes), are lightly touched upon in the paper but they represent some of the most triggering constraints for the smallholders to successful invest. The decline in global public investment in agriculture, the “verticalization” of the global retail system, the trade rules favoring export-oriented agriculture are other aspects that need to be addressed. It is important that the report connects agriculture related policies with other polices that influence smallholder investment and productivity. For instance trade policies, land policies and laws, investment policies,  biofuel policies etc, if not sensitized in favor of smallholders can constrain them through multiple ways. 


Domestic causes of food price volatility

We highly appreciate at least the mention to the domestic volatility (Domestic volatility in developing countries is more troublesome for smallholders than international volatility, which is partially transferred to local prices and mainly affects urban consumers (HLPE, 2011), p. 49. However there would be much more to say about it, and a better analysis would reveal further constraints that need to be addressed. Monetary policies, supply constraints, taxes , energy prices and unequal market power are some aspects that should find a space into the paper. (for further reference please refer to Cobwebbed - International Food Price Crisis and National Food Prices. Some Experiences from Africa.


Major emphasis to smallholders self organized alternative markets and food systems

There are plenty of examples on how smallholders have been able to organize themselves and build alternative food systems and local markets. These innovative experiences  proved to save them from the overwhelming pressure of integration in the global value chain while offering them an alternative to sell their products and gain satisfactory returns. The paper should look at these good experiences that, whether successful or more challenging, may reveal several constraints that if adequately addresses, could lead to better performance and successful replication in others contexts.


Role of states, donors and international organisations

The papers need to focus separately on the roles of states, donors ad international institutions in enhancing investment for stallholder sustainable agriculture.  The states have the basic responsibility to invest for smallholder farmers who constitute – in most of the countries - majority of the population. Their investment should go beyond public goods ( as discussed in the paper) to re-orient the research, extension systems in favor of smallholder needs and in supporting farmers associations. The paper identifies pertinent risks faced by smallholder farmers however it should go beyond to identify how the state should support them to face those risks. Besides states, International institutions including UN bodies and CGIAR system needs to allocate a majority of their budget for the researches and programs that benefit smallholder farmers.   The same applies to donor countries and foundations. In this regard, we expect that the HLPE goes beyond general recommendations for some specific recommendations. For instance how much should states’ budget on agriculture should focus on smallholder famers?  There is a possibility to generate a proportion based on number of smallholder farmers, acreage of land they cultivate, level of poverty in the areas where they live etc. ActionAid and IFSN would be willing to work on this with the HLPE.


Post harvest losses

The report should explore more in depth the constraints of smallholders in reducing post harvest losses. This is linked to lack of infrastructure storage facility which should be one of the priorities of public investments in agriculture.  


Aspects that are missing and need to be addressed by the paper

Food security strategies as a mean to achieve the right to food  

The national smallholder Vision and Strategic framework should be absolutely anchored and embedded into the national food security strategy as recommended by the Voluntary Guidelines on the right to food. The obligation of the states to defend, protect and fulfill the right to food for peasants should represent the foundation of the national proposed framework.


The Women’s farmers perspective

The fact that women represent the majority of farmers cannot be overlooked. This has strong implications for this study, as the constraints women farmers face are even greater and complicated compared to male farmers. Women suffer from multiple forms of discrimination, and their condition can be exacerbated by gender blind agricultural policies. Governments and other duty bearers should ensure policies and practices that facilitate women farmers for a better life and greater contribution in the fight against hunger and malnutrition. ActionAid experience (  underscores the following measures be given adequate attention: women farmers’ participation in gender specific policies on food, hunger and agriculture, access to and control over land, access to financial services including social transfers, gender appropriate farming inputs, access to clean water, appropriate extension services and trainings, appropriate research and technological development, appropriate marketing facilities.  We highly recommend to make use of the wide documentation and literature that is available and accessible and allocate adequate space to the particular constraints faced by women in agriculture. Links to some ActionAid publications are provided below.


Agroecology and the constraints in traditional seed saving

As stated before, the issue of smallholders cannot be disconnected from agroecology. The paper does not sufficiently acknowledge the potential of agro-ecology in production, building resilience, climate change adaptation, greater food production, and income generation. A much wider literature needs to be consulted that highlight success  of agro-ecological practices at wider scale. Some of the literature has been summarized in AA report and papers

At the same time, specific constraints of smallholders in practicing agroecology should be part of this work. The difficulties smallholders encounter in exchanging traditional seeds with neighbours due to lack of infrastructure is an example (on-farm seed saving and exchange with neighbours are very good sources of planting material, but have weaknesses when it comes to the introduction of new varieties. It is always useful to widen the genetic pool wherever possible. Informal distribution systems do extend beyond the boundaries of immediate neighbours, but access may sometimes be an issue as distance increases and there are distribution delays/Almekinders and Louwaars 2002, in Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa/African Centre for Biosafety ). The support to community seed banks as well as the provision of adequate extension services, training and agricultural research for development should be part of the recommendations. Agricultural research should aim at improving low-input innovations by integrating high-technologies with indigenous knowledge.


Missing Trade Linkages

We suggest that the aspects of markets be categorized into two headings: a) national markets, with the emphasis outlined above about the potential of local and traditional markets, which include a number of national specific issues and b) the connection of national markets with global, regional and bilateral markets through trade rules and polices. A plethora of literature  highlights how trade can impact the agricultural production by smallholder farmers. 

We’d like to express our thanks to the authors and our best wishes for their further work on this valuable  report.

Some references:

Jean Francois Bélières CIRAD - UMR ART, France
FSN Forum

Félicitations à l’équipe HLPE pour la production de cet excellent rapport. Je partage les analyses présentées et j’espère que ce rapport alimentera les débats sur le développement agricole et rural. Quelques commentaires cependant.

La définition donnée des smallholders met bien en évidence le peu de pertinence de cette notion de « small » et de « holder » pour discuter des options de politiques agricoles et d’investissement agricoles au niveau global. La définition se rabat sur celle de l’agriculture familiale, des exploitations agricoles qui appartiennent à la sphère des ménages par opposition à celles qui appartiennent à la sphère des entreprises. Il me semble que cela fait avancer le débat. Et pourquoi ne pas changer le titre du rapport ?

Il est clairement mis en évidence l’importance des investissements réalisés à partir du travail familial. Parmi ces investissements, en relation avec la productivité, il faudrait un peu plus insister sur l’aménagement foncier, qui va bien au-delà de l’aménagement pour l’irrigation. Dans les zones sèches ou de savanes d’Afrique, les aménagements fonciers pour les cultures pluviales avec les techniques de conservation des eaux et du sol devraient faire l’objet de vastes programmes avec des financements pour les exploitations agricoles. Il en est de même pour l’aménagement en utilisant les plantations (agro-foresterie, haies vives, parc, champs de case). Ainsi, en plus des aménagements pour l’irrigation (périmètres irrigués, aménagements de bas fonds), ce sont ces types d’aménagement (à réaliser en grande partie à partir de travail) qui peuvent amener des améliorations durables de la productivité agricole. Pour mener ces programmes, il existe de nombreuses contraintes qu’il faut lever, et parmi elles figurent souvent des règles traditionnelles de gestion  des ressources naturelles  (droit foncier, droit sur l’eau, droit sur les arbres, droit de pacage, etc.), ces programmes doivent donc intégrer des actions d’accompagnement pour faire évoluer ces règles sur la base de négociations entre les acteurs impliqués (communautés, chefferies traditionnelles, collectivités loclaes, etc.).

Le soutien à l’investissement direct par les smallholders (les exploitations agricoles familiales)  a été le parent pauvre des programmes de développement en Afrique de l’Ouest au cours des deux dernières décennies. Dans certains pays (Mali, Sénégal, etc.) les bailleurs de fonds ont « monté » et financé de grands programmes de renforcement des capacités. Les organisations paysannes pouvaient avoir accès à ces financements pour des formations et/ou l’élaboration d’un « business plan » pour mener une activité productive. Mais il n’y avait pas de système de financement où ces organisations pouvaient emprunter sur moyen ou long terme à des taux corrects pour réaliser les investissements nécessaires pour mener les activités. Les bailleurs de fonds s’opposent à la bonification des taux d’intérêt et en final les taux d’intérêt pratiqués par les banques ou les organisations de micro finance sont prohibitifs. Et je n’évoque pas ici les problèmes de garanties qui en final limitent l’accès au crédit à quelques grandes exploitations et aux producteurs agricoles qui disposent de revenus conséquents hors de l’agriculture. Rien pour le financement à moyen et long terme de l’agriculture que cela soit pour les exploitations ou pour les organisations paysannes. En conclusion il faudrait développer les points Increasing access to investments and capacity to invest 5.2.4 Reducing economic risks and improving the investment environment  et être plus innovant et provocateur, notamment en étant très clair sur la nécessité de mettre des financements pour le long et moyen terme à taux très bas.

Enfin, le document n’insiste pas assez sur la nécessité d’organisation des « petits producteurs » ces derniers doivent se regrouper pour s’approvisionner et/ou commercialiser, récupérer de la valeur ajouter, réduire ou partager les risques, etc.. L’action collective doit occuper une place plus importante dans les recommandations. « Petits » les producteurs ne peuvent pas peser sur le marché et les « signaux » du marché ne leur arrivent pas. L’appui aux investissements des smallholder passent aussi par le financement des coopératives ou autres formes d’organisation. Sans oublier les autres acteurs des filières qui ont tous leur rôle à jouer aux différents maillons et qui doivent eux aussi avoir accès à des financements pour investir sur le long terme, y compris pour que s’installe une saine concurrence entre coopératives et privés

Enfin, on peut regretter qu’il n’y ait pas une version V0 en français et/ou espagnol, ce qui faciliterait la participation aux discussions des représentants des « smallholders » de par le monde (responsables des organisations paysannes) tout en sachant que c’est insuffisant pour une véritable participation/contribution des principaux intéressés.

Jean-François Bélières le 30/01/2013

Crocevia , Italy
FSN Forum

Please find a further more extensive contribution by Crocevia (in french).


See the attachment:Investing CROCEVIA 1.pdf
Crocevia , Italy
FSN Forum

Please find attached Crocevia's contribution.


See the attachment:Investing CROCEVIA TWO.pdf
J. Voegele World Bank , United States of America
FSN Forum

Dear High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition,

 Thanks very much for the opportunity to comment on the zero draft version of “Investing in smallholder agriculture for food and nutrition security.”  This paper is an important step in addressing the constraints to  food and nutrition insecurity for the increasing population. The paper is well structured with very relevant policy implications.

Please find below some comments from our team that could add more value to the already excellent report.

1) There is a need to include a section on the threats posed by climate change and the urgent need to build smallholders’ resilience for lasting poverty reduction. Our recent “4 degree report” ( highlights the impacts of climate change on agriculture and other sectors, and the need to build adaptive capacity and design agricultural production systems that are more resilient to climate change.

2) The report needs a stronger emphasis on scaling up of climate-smart technologies, practices and policies. The 3 principal climate-smart agriculture investment areas include 1) Sustainable land and water management practices, 2) Climate risk management, and 3) Transformation of production systems.  Global warming requires that adaptation strategies should cover a broad spectrum of change beginning with incremental adaptation (e.g. Varieties, change planting time, improved water management, etc) and extending through system adaptation (e.g. Climate-ready crops, climate-sensitive precision agriculture, adoption of no-tillage farming, agridiversification, etc) to more radical changes in land use and ecosystem services management (e.g. agroforestry for increased productivity and carbon sequestration).

3) There is a need to sharpen the discussions on land degradation for the following reasons: 1) Most smallholder agricultural practices are inherently based on traditional practices. 2) Traditional agricultural systems mostly rely on the carrying capacity of ecosystems, and are highly vulnerable to increased pressures such as population growth, economic cycles and climate change. 3) Poor land management under traditional farming systems (e.g. cultivating steep slopes, repetitive cropping leading to nutrient mining, overgrazing etc) accentuates land degradation and/or suboptimal yields. 4) It is estimated that 24% of world’s total land area and 20% of its croplands are losing productivity (Bai et al. 2008).

4) Furthermore, the report needs to draw on the important findings of a recent UNEP report ( launched at Rio 20+ There is a need to discuss the following drivers of change (backed with empirical data if available) that are crucial to success of smallholder farming: 1) Pressure on water needed for agriculture, 2) Pressure on land available for agriculture, and 3) Pressure on key ecosystem services to agriculture (e.g. deforestation, habitat loss/reduction, etc).

5) The study team may also find it necessary to include specifically the role of science and innovations. New knowledge, technologies and practices are required to increase nutritional security, boost agricultural productivity, and conserve ecosystems. There are a number of areas that science can contribute to sustainable agricultural intensification and climate smart agriculture. These include the development of 1) improved breeds for higher nutritional quality that are also adapted to climate change, 2) Technologies that increase nutrient and water use efficiency in agricultural production systems, 3) Improved soil management techniques that preserve ecosystem functions and sequester carbon, 4) Agro-ecological approaches that complement the biological and ecosystem services that inherently support agriculture and that better manage risks; and 5) Better nutrition for livestock and aquaculture that increase productivity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions .

6) For science and innovation to better serve smallholder farmers, it is critical to 1) Better link public and private Research and Development (R & D) systems to ensure that high-priority science and technology gaps are filled 2) Develop governance mechanisms for effective public–private partnerships in R & D characterized by shared risk and return on investment, and clarity on open access, and 3)Ensure researchers work directly with smallholder farmers for effective transfer of technology adapted to local conditions.

7) Lastly, policy recommendations need to realize the role of demand and supply side interventions. An example of demand and supply policies to stimulate increased agricultural input use (World Bank, 2007) is presented in the Table below

Demand-Side Interventions

Supply-Side Interventions

Strengthen soil-crop research and extension

 Support to public agencies

 Public-private partnership

 On-farm trials and demonstrations

Reduce input sourcing costs

 Lowering trade barriers to increase national and regional market size

Improve farmers’ ability to purchase inputs

 Improve access to credits

 Phased and incremental use (e.g., small bags for fertilizers)

 Implement laws that enables farmers to use risk-free collaterals for loans


Reduce distribution costs

 Improve road and rail infrastructure to lower transport costs

Provide farmers with risk management tools

 Improved weather forecasting, weather-indexed crop insurance

Strengthen business finance and risk management

 Use credit guarantee and innovative insurance schemes

Improved quality and dissemination of market information

 Public and private sector information systems easily accessible to farmers

Improve supply chain coordination mechanisms

 Product grades and standards

 Market information systems to reduce information costs

Protecting farmers against low and volatile output prices

 Investment in measures to reduce production variability such as drought-tolerant crops, deep-rooted crops, irrigation, and storage systems


Empowering farmers by supporting producer organizations

 Investment in rural education

 Training farmers in organizational management


Improving the resource base so that input use is more profitable

 Investment in soil and water management and irrigation infrastructure


 Thanks very much for the opportunity to comment on this report. If you have further questions, please do not hesitate to contact our Senior Natural Resources Management Specialist at Ademola Braimoh at