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

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: