Contact us:

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

Juan Carlos Garcia y Cebolla and Frank Mischler FAO, Italy
FSN Forum

We wish to congratulate the HLPE for its paper on investment in smallholder agriculture, especially the analytical framework.

While most issues are included in the paper, we would suggest that the executive summary first section of the paper (first section of the paper: “The importance of smallholder agriculture”) already points out that the prevalence of undernourishment among members of smallholder families is very high. Although they are food producers, very often they are net food buyers, especially shortly before the harvest.

The reason for their deprivation are lack of access to electricity, no safe drinking water, inadequate public health, education and sanitation services, lack of access to productive resources and  dismal rural infrastructure. Investment that should benefit stallholder farmers should directly address the underlying causes of malnutrition mentioned above. As the report rightly points out: most investment in smallholder agriculture is realized by smallholders themselves. One could add, that the resources invested directly benefit the local community in two ways: 1. Most resources invested are derived from the local economy investment and 2. Many of the investment don’t benefit only the farmers but the community as a whole. Improved infrastructure, like tertiary roads, or maintenance works of wells and water reservoirs may serve as examples.

The report talks about the main reasons why farmers can’t increase their investment (para 9). Two constraints could be added to this list. First, investment by smallholders is a high-risk action. Smallholders often have no access to credit or suffer from inferior conditions. If return on investment is lower than expected, smallholders may face serious consequences. Second, smallholders operate in an inadequate environment as basic public services are lacking.

The report highlights social protection and other policies that reduce their exposure to risk, enabling them to invest and explore other opportunities. Many times they are characterized as risk adverse. The reality is that their exposure to risk is so high that taking more risk would be fatal for them. It also has consequences when designing and implementing extension and R&D programs that could be adequate to their needs and context, it is not only a question of low cost innovation, risk faced that could affect their livelihoods is critical.

From a human rights perspective this needs to be corrected. State parties to the International Covenant on economic, Social and Cultural Rights have subscribed to the commitment to progressively realize the right to food. This includes the obligation to invest the maximum of available resources (Art. 2, ICESCR) to this aim. In the 2004 Right to Food Guidelines (“Voluntary Guidelines on the Progressive realization of the Right to Adequate Food in the context of National food Security”), state parties to FAO further agreed to their obligation to create an enabling environment that allows all women, men and children to feed themselves in dignity. With respect to smallholders this includes policies, strategies and programmes that directly support them, as well as establishing and maintaining a governance system that offers basic public services and minimizes undue risks.

We applaud the authors of the paper for considering ‘access to social, economic, and political rights’ in addition to access to financial resources and access to markets and services. Too often development experts maintain a purely economic or technical perspective, forgetting that smallholders, first and foremost, are rights holders that need (i) their basic human rights met in order to have the necessary security to look ahead; (ii) economic fairness to build resilience and gain market access/share; and (iii) to participate in decision making processes that concern them and make their voice heard. One could add the dimension of cultural human rights that encompass rights related to themes such as language; participation in cultural life; cultural heritage; intellectual property rights, among others.

You also reflect the need of recognition and enforcement of rights regarding existing rights on land and resources, making an explicit mention to the  Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security would provide clearer guidance on this issue.

A saying goes that ‘a right is only a right if it can be claimed’. In reality however, poor rights holders, such as smallholder farmer, lack adequate access to justice. The national smallholder investment programe proposed by the HLPE, or existing programs should include grievance and redress mechanism that are accessible to poor individuals at a local level, do not require undue investment of human and financial resources and don’t put the claimant at risk. In addition to legal recourse mechanisms, administrative recourse mechanisms could be incorporated into program design as well as support for mediation of less serious offences.

About the typology presented: all the typologies have some trade offs. It is useful, addresses diversity  provides elements that made it operative, and allows to look to the key elements needed for a Human Right based approach.

We are aware that useful reports need to be concise, but maybe you consider useful to include some considerations related to the regional (international level) regarding to two specific points: regional mechanism or initiatives like CAADP in Africa, or ECADERT in Central America, just to mention two examples, and the specificities of boundary territories.

With kind regards

Juan Carlos Garcia y Cebolla and Frank Mischler

(Right to Food Experts in FAO’s Agricultural Development Economics Division (ESA))