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

Oxfam International ,
FSN Forum

Oxfam inputs on the CFS HLPE Zero draft report ‘Investing in smallholder agriculture for food and nutrition security’

The theme covered by this HLPE report is absolutely crucial to achieve food and nutrition security. In fact, small scale food producers are a key actor to ensure that everybody has enough to eat today and in the future. Adopting adequate policies and provide necessary public investments should be a top priority for both national governments and international organizations.
The report includes very useful analysis and recommendations. However, there are a number of very significant issues and gaps that need to be addressed in order to ensure that the final version of the report will provide comprehensive analysis and evidence-based recommendations to policy makers.

Positive aspects to the report

We welcome that the report covers some very important points in supporting sustainable, equitable, and resilient small-scale food production:

  • Smallholders have been too frequently neglected in policy and public investment despite the opportunity to invest in them for poverty reduction, food security, and sustainability.
  • Investment in smallholders requires development of a national program that is country specific, comprehensive, broadly owned, and backed up by political support.
  • Smallholders’ own investments dwarf other investments in agriculture and public investment is critical for leveraging them.
  • Political voice of smallholders is often lacking yet absolutely critical to ensure that they are represented in decision-making processes at all levels that affect them.
  • Producer organisations are incredibly important for reducing smallholder risks while increasing their power in markets and should therefore be supported by policy and investment.
  • It is critical for public investments to help smallholders overcome constraints to accessing resources and services.
  • The report highlights the importance of the complementarity of non-agricultural rural services (education, healthcare, water and sanitation, and social protection) for poverty reduction and improving productivity of smallholders.
  • The need for support to informal markets is discussed as a priority for smallholders.
  • The importance of diversification of production to improve nutritional status.
  • Research and extension must prioritize smallholders.

Critical areas missing or inadequately represented
We are disappointed that the current version falls very far short in some incredibly critical areas for sustainable, equitable, and resilient smallholder development. The following elements should be addressed in the final version of the report.

  • Gender – Women are literally mentioned only once on page 47 as bearing much of the workload. This is a very serious gap that risks undermining dramatically the value of the entire report. Women are often not seen as ‘productive’ farmers, and do not receive recognition for their unpaid farm work. This, among other factors (including unequal land rights), has led them to have less access to natural resources, extension services, information, markets, and financial services than men. For example, women account for only 10–20% of land owners. Women also bear a disproportionate burden of care and reproductive roles, and are disproportionately impacted by poverty and hunger. Empowering women means increasing their participation and leadership, for example in producer organisations. It also requires that more women benefit from access to productive resources – for example, through appropriate training methods and equal property
  • rights. It also includes tailoring interventions to account for the multiple roles they play and specific barriers they face. Ring-fenced funding for women smallholders, collecting sex disaggregated data to track progress, and removing existing policies that unintentionally reinforce gender discrimination are also critical. Food security cannot be reached without addressing the specific constraints that women face.
  • Environmental sustainability/building resilience – Although it is mentioned in passing a few times, it is not really addressed by the report, which is a huge failing considering the threats of soil degradation, water pollution, biodiversity loss, and climate change to smallholders. None of these issues are addressed, yet they represent absolutely critical investment needs, largely by the public sector, but increasingly by the private sector as well. Agroecology is only mentioned once on page 59, although support for agroecological approaches is widely seen as the most critical way to move forward on ensuring both increased production, environmental sustainability of production systems, and reduction of input costs for smallholders. The need for support of adaptation to climate change and practices/techniques that can be promoted to build resilience is completely missing. While diversification is mentioned for nutrition, the report fails to recognize the critical role diversification plays in building resilience to climate and economic shocks and thereby reducing risk for smallholders. In the recommendation section, subsidies for fertilizer are supported yet there are no recommendations for support to sustainable approaches like agroecology. Rebuilding innovative extension services and reforming R&D to achieve wide-scale uptake of agroecological practices is a good place to start.
  • Governance – There is not enough on regulation of investments that severely disadvantage or harm smallholders and the environment. For example, regulations on corporate concentration, environmental pollution, taxing corporate actors, etc. The policy environment can either drive negative or positive investment. Therefore, policymakers have a critical challenge: develop policy that supports small-scale producers and draws in private investors to inclusive and sustainable investments. This can be done in three ways: 1) Supporting smallholders’ access to land/water/natural resources, infrastructure, services like finance/extension, and oversight of contracts; 2) Setting the rights climate for positive investment, for example regulations to protect the environment and incentives to encourage sustainable agriculture like reforming extension services and R&D; and 3) Once investments are made, markets must be governed so they work better for smallholders.
  • Power in markets – The report seems to see producer organisations as largely useful in contract farming. This misses the point. Power imbalances mean that large investments in land, agriculture and food processing often marginalise or displace smallholders rather than work with them. However, even where smallholders are included, the reality is that the most powerful in the supply chain usually extract the majority of profits while pushing a disproportionate share of the risks onto the least powerful – the smallholders. Interventions that address power imbalances include supporting producer organisations, investing in training and access to resources, and supporting the development of local wholesale and wet markets, for example through investment in storage infrastructure and hygiene facilities. Evidence shows that smallholders are better able to access these markets, and that these markets act as effective intermediaries, in linking smallholders to more formal markets.
  • Access issues – While financial services are important, they are overemphasised in the report to the detriment of other critical access issues for smallholders - natural resources, services like extension and R&D, information/knowledge on sustainable approaches, market information, targeting access of women, etc. These other access issues are scattered throughout the document, but are left out of the conclusions. .
  • Support for local markets, staple food crops and diversified cropping – Although support for informal markets is discussed, the section falls short of including diversified markets for a variety of crops most important to poor people, particularly women. Dependence on international markets can be risky for small-scale farmers. At the same time, local and regional markets are growingi, so small-scale producers can improve incomes by focusing on food crops. And, diversifying crops makes smallholders less vulnerable to economic and climatic shocks. For instance, in Ethiopia, studies have shown that focusing on improving productivity of food staples has a greater impact on poverty than increasing the production of high-value products.
  • Public investment – Socially-oriented investments in the report are seen only as those of healthcare, education, and social safety nets. However, services such as innovative extension services and R&D focusing on crops most important to poor people/women/biodiversity and promoting agroecological practices are also providing incredibly important ‘social goods’. Further, the ‘public goods provision’ section misses several key pieces: extension, R&D, storage, and market information. Massive public investment in agriculture is desperately needed to help fix the broken food system. The FAO estimates that $42.7bn annual additional public investment in agriculture is needed to Zero Hunger by 2025.
  • Private investment - Private sector investment in agriculture can play a positive role in delivering inclusive economic growth and poverty reduction if 1) ‘do no harm’ criteria is fulfilled by companies; and 2) a good regulatory environment is in place. ‘Do no harm’ criteria include ensuring workers’ rights and respecting the rights of local communities. Focusing investment on small-scale farmers, particularly women, can have even greater outcomes for poverty reduction. However, in order to do so, it requires 1) business models that adhere to some key principles; 2) government regulation; and 3) government investment. Key principles include: focusing on staple food crops and diversified cropping; investing in local and regional markets; working with producer organisations; investing in processing; investing in access to services and focusing R&D on what is appropriate for small-scale producers; investing in sustainable agriculture; and empowering women.
  • CFS rai - There is no mention of the CFS principles of responsible agriculture investment process and how this paper links to that process. Yet, it is an incredibly important multi-stakeholder process to develop principles that can guide better investments in agriculture, including smallholder agriculture.
  • Country investment plans - It is unclear how the ‘National Smallholder Vision and Strategic Framework’ links with many already-developed Country Agricultural Investment Plans (CIPs), including CAADP plans in Africa. Is the new framework meant to be a smallholder-focused addendum to those plans? Further, there is too much emphasis that these national plans should focus on all types of holdings including corporations and agro-industries. Government plans should focus policy and resources on supporting the poorest and most marginalized farmers – the poorest of women and men small-scale producers. It would be more desirable to build on already existing processes and propose what elements should be included in CIPs that are existing or under development.
  • Making the case for smallholders – The first part of the paper appears to be making the case for the importance of smallholder production. Yet, it does not mention a critical argument for smallholders, which is the economic multiplier effect of investing in them. In fact, growth in small-scale agriculture has twice the effect on the poorest as growth in other sectors. It also fails to discuss the gender equity and resilience-building opportunities that smallholder agriculture can provide.
  • Land appropriation – Land appropriation is mentioned in a small paragraph on page 51, but is an increasing and incredibly critical problem facing smallholders, particularly considering that the report promotes contract farming, which when done badly can be a tool used to push smallholders off of their land. There is no mention of the CFS Voluntary Guidelines on Tenure Governance and the need to invest in their implementation. Further, all investments must ensure the rights of workers and communities are supported, notably through the implementation of the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent for all communities.
  • Public Private Partnerships are increasingly being implemented. It would be very useful for decision-makers if the report provide some analysis on this trend and provide recommendations on how to ensure that PPPs do not undermine and in fact support the progressive realization of the right to food.

i Nigerian farmers, for instance, can produce and deliver soybeans to Ibadan, a local city, at 62% of the cost of imported soybeans.