Summary and Recommendations
Chapters 1 and 2
p.36 – last two dot points – the importance of hope and security is rarely recognized – the fact that the authors have included it is greatly appreciated.
p.37 first dot point. Relative stability in upstream (input) markets could also be important in some situations. While smallholders typically do not use a large amount of purchased inputs, strategies that encourage increased use of such inputs – e.g. commercial fertilizers or purchased higher quality seeds – risk failure if there is either considerable price volatility or sustained real price increases.
p.37 paragraph following the first dot point – there is mention of the importance of collective action and crafting appropriate governance rules. This is very important and more discussion of the subject would be very helpful.
p.37 section on Social Capital under 3.2 – where customary ties that influence access to natural resources are mentioned, it would be good to also include the management of those same natural resources. In addition to this, it would be good to mention the importance of understanding and influencing cultural norms and values that influence the management of natural resources and both the household and community levels.
p.38 first paragraph under 3.3.2 Farm level. This paragraph is rather confused. It mixes a few issues including productivity measurement, adoption of particular combinations of technology, and complementary investment to improve output per unit of inputs used by farmers. This paragraph and the following one also mix static and dynamic elements of productivity. It would help to consider each of these issues separately. So, for example
p.38 last paragraph (extending to the top of p.39 – It would seem appropriate to also mention here the impact on productivity and resilience of improving the quality of land resources through the adoption of various soil and water conservation practices (SWC), forms of Conservation Agriculture and Agroforestry practices (including FMNR – Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration) – see for example ICRAF’s work on Evergreen Agriculture.
p.39 first two paragraphs. Collective action is also a way of reducing risk.
second paragraph under 3.3.3. Collective action can also increase human capital through knowledge sharing.
p.39 last 4 paragraphs – these are excellent – it would also be worth noting that farmer organizations and collaborative networks also help to counter-balance power relationships in markets with few buyers – a not uncommon situation in rural areas in many developing countries
p.40 second paragraph under 3.3.4. While social safety nets can impact productivity through their impact on health and nutrition, there are other positive impacts as well. They can also stop productivity actually falling due to the farmers having to sell assets in extreme situations. In addition to this they can also contribute to increased productivity through other channels. Hoddinot et al (http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1661284) provide evidence that safety nets are growth/productivity supporting (i.e. they don’t just reduce asset reduction, both indirectly (by promoting visits to health centers thereby reducing disease, by increasing educational attainment) and directly (through helping poor families to purchase agricultural inputs after a drought). An evaluation of WVI safety nets programmes in Lesotho also showed that safety net programmes (particularly cash and/or cash-food mix) also promoted greater investments in agricultural productivity (http://www.ids.ac.uk/files/cashtransfers-lesothoWVI-evaluation.pdf).
p.42 line 7 ‘and in regions like Africa market access is far more expansive ...’ Is Africa in a meaningful sense a region, and should it be ‘expensive’?
Section 3.3.6 Not all of the areas of investment discussed in this section need necessarily be public. Indeed, the fiscal position of some developing countries may mean that provision of improved communications and other infrastructure will need to be done by the private sector. A key issue in this case will be transparency of arrangements between governments and private suppliers. Also, should there be some discussion of government agricultural extensions services in this section?
p.43 line 14 ‘disjoint’? Should this be ‘separate’?
In general, the categories of investment in Chapter Three need to be made clearer. Productivity improvement is the thread that runs through them, so a clearer statement at the start of the chapter about what productivity is and how it is measured would be useful. This would make clearer the range of variables that can influence productivity, which could then be discussed. There also should be consideration of the fact that increasing investment without increasing productivity may also be desirable, and many of the things that can influence productivity will also influence investment decisions more generally. For example, improving security of land tenure may encourage smallholders to make productivity enhancing investments in their existing holding, or increase the size of their holding, or some combination of the two.
p.45 Box 5 The contents of this box is not particularly useful without further explanation.
Para 2. ‘there is an obvious need to enlarge total agricultural production’. The report places a lot of emphasis on increased production and increased productivity , and both are extremely important. But there is little attention given to reducing waste at the farm gate or in the distribution change. Given the recent report on global food waste (by the British Institution of Mechanical Engineers http://www.imeche.org/knowledge /themes/environment/global-food?WT.mc_id=HP_130007) reinforces the general view that 30-50% of all food is wasted, this issue deserves more attention as a response to current and medium-term food security pressures.
p.46, last paragraph – this discussion of the close forward and backward linkages between agriculture, poverty and nutrition (of both children as well as the household adult labour resources) is very important and greatly appreciated. A systems approach that recognizes these interconnections and feedback effects is very important as in many (if not most) cases there will be two or more necessary conditions that must be met in order to effect change in household well-being measures (especially in the area of household (and especially child) nutrition).
p.47 The discussion of microfinance does not consider savings groups as vehicles for mobilising funds. While savings groups are unlikely to provide sufficient loan funds for larger investments, there is a growing amount of evidence that they are very effective for facilitating small investments or income smoothing, and have the added advantage that they frequently are operated by women who play a major role in small holder agriculture.
p.48 The section on risk beginning on this page does not really discuss the area of micro-insurance (including crop and weather insurance). This is a developing area and while it remains to be seen how important it will ultimately be in reducing smallholder risk, it should be considered.
p.49, second paragraph – in other words household decisions about production and consumption are nonseparable. It might be useful to mention the household modelling literature that discusses this and the importance of recognizing it when trying to understand household decisions and the possible policy options that will have the desired impact on them.
p.51. The typology developed beginning p.51 is of use in identifying important categories of variables, but it still leaves us with the problem of determining the relative importance of different missing/weak components and the best sequence of actions to help remove the barriers they create to greater food security. The real risk is that the mix of strengths and weaknesses in each country or region will be sufficiently different as to make the program and policy response essentially unique to that place. As the report acknowledges ‘It is specific forms of interaction and combination that produce the undesirable effects.’ (p.52), and some examples of the numerous country specific responses are noted on p.55. The complexities of land tenure in many countries is an example. Even a relatively straightforward approach like farmer managed natural regeneration needs to tailored to each situation it is used in.
p.58, section 5.2.2 – the title of this section is “Improving productivity and resilience”, but there is really very little mention of anything that would contribute to increasing the resilience of agricultural systems. As it stands now, this section is very weak for that reason. With respect to improving productivity, it is not only a matter of new technology but also of more widespread adoption of some very good existing practices. In many cases some of these practices are also very positive in terms of their impact on resilience (a very important dimension of sustainability) and productivity. When the primary focus is on improvements to productivity, the focus shifts to short term solutions that can actually negatively impact resilience (and sustainability) since they almost invariably neglect soil and water conservation practices and agroforestry practices. When the focus shifts to an emphasis on building/restoring resilience of the agricultural system, then one has a longer term perspective – one that puts more emphasis on adopting practices which lead to major improvements in the natural capital on which productivity ultimately depends. With these sorts of practices more widely adopted, then the stage is set to make much better use of other options – such as purchased inputs (after all fertilizer use efficiency, for example, is much higher on high carbon soils).
p.58, section 188.8.131.52, first paragraph – in addition to “investments to enlarge the natural resource base of smallholders” consider revising to read “investments to enlarge or improve the natural resource base of smallholders”
p.69, section 184.108.40.206 , second paragraph, point (c) – not only do more efficient producer organizations help in this way, but they would hopefully counterbalance the market power in contract negotiations in situations where there are few buyers – provided that there is appropriate legislative and institutional support and that buyers negotiate in good faith.
Some other points
Related links and resources:
Constraints to Smallholder Investments - A consultation by the HLPE to set the track of its study
Committe on World Food Security (CFS)
High Level Panel of Experts (HLPE)
The High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) Key Elements