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Re: Enabling rural cooperatives and producer organizations to thrive as sustainable business enterprises

Walter de Oliveira FAO, Sierra Leone
Walter de Oliveira

Dear Moderator
I would like to bring the discussion towards the role of the public sector investment in rural development with an example of an approach, currently being implemented in Sierra Leone with the support of FAO. The approach is enabling small-scale farmer organizations to succeed as sustainable business enterprises.
The Smallholder Commercialization Programme (SCP), under the Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme (GAFSP) is setting the basis for the development of an enabling environment for pro-poor agricultural growth in the country. It is a nationwide investment plan for agricultural growth and food security involving government, private sector and development partners.
The SCP, covering the years 2010-2014, is implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS) and composed by six inter-linked components:
Component 1-Smallholder Agriculture Commercialization: Production Intensification, Diversification, Value Addition and Marketing: improving smallholder production and commercialisation by setting up 2,750 FBOs and building 650 Agricultural Business Centres (ABCs) nation-wide;
Component 2-Small-scale Irrigation Development: developing small scale irrigation to boost rice production on 18,000ha of land;
Component 3-Market Access Expansion through Feeder Road Rehabilitation: improving access to markets by rehabilitating and maintaining 4,000km of feeder roads;
Component 4-Smallholder Access to Rural Financial Services: providing better access to financial services specifically tailored to rural farming groups or individuals through the creation of 130 Financial Services Associations (FSA);
Component 5-Strengthening Social Protection, Food Security, and Productive Social Safety Nets: providing a social protection safety net to vulnerable households to increase food security and nutrition for 1,5 million people and;
Component 6-Planning, Coordination, Monitoring and Evaluation: implementation and support.

The establishment of ABCs, under component 1, is intended to boost small-scale farmers’ productivity and improve access to agricultural support services (inputs, post-harvest technologies, extension services and technical advice) and rural markets. By the end of 2011, a total of 193 ABCs were established and equipped at different level of operations.
The ABCs are farmer owned multi-purpose form of cooperatives providing rural communities with a place to trade goods and services and acting as an interface between famers and service providers, thus enhancing access to markets and technologies.
The ABC is a process that started with the Farm Field School (FFS) approach, organizing smallholders into Farm Based Organizations (FBOs) with technical and managerial capacity to manage the ABCs.
Each ABC is planned to deliver services to around 400 members, covering approximately 110,000 smallholder farmers in the country. The services include micro-credit, sale of inputs, rental of labour-saving equipment, storage of seeds and crops to reduce post-harvest losses, and the transport of harvests to markets.
One of the key objectives of the ABCs is, amongst others, to provide a one-stop point where farmers can access a total service package for their production activities, facilitate mobilization of human and material resources, provide some forms of functional education, improved seeds and chemicals and ways of generally improving agricultural activities.
The ABC is also aimed at resolving problems related to diseconomies of scale faced by smallholders in accessing credit, extension services, input supply and access to markets, as well as in facilitating the dissemination of information on new technologies and environmentally friendly practices, in a rapid and more cost-effective way through the FBOs.

I believe this can be an example where public sector investment in smallholder farmers, with appropriate policy, institutional and technical support are critical to ensuring that the smallholders organizations can effectively carry out their functions.
In this way, the public support is creating an investment climate conducive to rural growth, and empowering the poor to share in the benefits of that growth.

Thank you