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

Concern Worldwide , United Kingdom
FSN Forum


This submission was prepared by Concern Worldwide (Concern) to inform the report on smallholder investments in agriculture, prepared for the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) of the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS). Below is our response to the questions raised by the HLPE. Given our focus on the extreme poor and smallholders in low income countries, particularly sub Saharan Africa, this submission relates to the opportunities and challenges for investing in smallholder agriculture in low income countries.

About Concern:

Concern is leading the search for innovative solutions to break the cycle of poverty and hunger, by addressing their root causes. Our work helps create the conditions that are needed to build resilient communities and lift the poorest and most vulnerable out of hunger. Since our foundation in 1968, Concern has been widely regarded as one of the world’s leading humanitarian organisations. Today, our work focuses on four sectors that are key to tackling extreme poverty: improving livelihoods, education, and health and HIV and AIDS.

Concern’s Approach:

Concern’s mission is to help people living in extreme poverty achieve major improvements in their lives which last and spread without on-going support from Concern. Because extreme poverty is defined by the lack of basic assets and/or the low return to these assets, our work primarily focuses on the build-up, protection, and promotion of assets through targeted investments, livelihood strategies and mechanisms. From the perspective of the extreme poor, it is often only once deficiencies in the basic assets are remedied that there is opportunity to acknowledge that social and political assets need to be secured and strengthened in order to address the root causes of poverty.

For more information on this submission, please contact Policy Officers Ana Ramirez and Jennifer Thompson



  1. Definition and significance of smallholder agriculture: is the approach in the report adequate?

Poor and vulnerable farmers

Many of the countries Concern works in are experiencing or recovering from conflict; have weak, under-resourced systems of governance; and suffer from inappropriate and unsustainable policies. In addition, most of our target groups live in areas that are prone to recurrent floods, droughts, tropical storms, earthquakes, landslides and crop pests; are exposed to abusive behaviour and practices and are very vulnerable to diseases such as malaria. Smallholder agriculture holds great potential for reducing food and nutrition insecurity, as well as poverty, particularly when it comes to the poorest and most vulnerable.

However, the report is missing evidence on the poorest and most vulnerable smallholders around the world. The majority of the evidence cited in the report is from developed countries and Latin America. Smallholders in low income countries face greater challenges and are confronted with higher levels of food insecurity and hunger, than those living in middle income countries. The report would benefit from bringing together examples from emerging economies, high level income countries, and low income countries in order to draw out commonalities and differences between them. Across these different types of countries, it would be useful to highlight the links between productivity and consumption trends. This would better illustrate the links between investments in agriculture and food security. Although the author’s definition includes pastoralism, aquaculture, fishing and gathering, there is no mention of such examples in the report. Finally, the report does not provide any insights into the opportunities and challenges faced by women smallholders. In summary, Concern recommends that the report should include:

  • An analysis of the role of female smallholders, particularly the central role they play in food production;
  • A consistent definition and treatment of smallholders that is either inclusive of all types of smallholders, or more precise and exclusive to people who cultivate;
  • Examples from emerging economies, high level income countries, and low income countries in order to draw out commonalities and differences.



  1. Framework for smallholder agriculture and related investments: is the typology useful, adequate and accessible for the problem at hand?

Based on Concern’s approach to extreme poverty, smallholder agriculture investments goes beyond asset creation and protection – and focuses on targeting the root causes of poverty, which are linked to inequality, vulnerability and risk. Although investments are key, targeted policies that are adapted to different types of smallholders are needed in order to bring to scale investments that have had positive impacts on smallholders’ food security, incomes and environment. Agriculture is central to the challenges of food and nutrition security and poverty, but it cannot solve all of the deeply rooted challenges that perpetuate poverty on its own. A wide-range of interventions from the nutrition, health, micro-finance and social protection sectors can help achieve agriculture’s full potential to reduce hunger.

a. Targeting the poorest and most vulnerable

In terms of the report’s approach, the dimensions of inequality, vulnerability and risk constitute considerable barriers to smallholder agriculture and productive communities. Therefore, the report should include inequality, vulnerability and risk as key dimensions of smallholder agriculture.

Inequality needs to be considered as a dimension of extreme poverty which can both cause a lack of assets and poor return to assets, and which can prevent people accessing services and taking up opportunities for their own development. Without attempting to address the effects of inequality on the lives of the extreme poor, development interventions may only contribute to short term change. It is important to acknowledge the different support and resources that each person requires in order to achieve the same outcomes as someone who does not face the same degree of inequality. Amongst smallholders themselves it is important to consider the inequalities that exist on the basis of gender and ethnicity. Vulnerability describes people’s level of susceptibility and exposure to the negative effects of hazards and their impacts. The level of vulnerability of an individual or group is determined by their ability to anticipate, cope with, respond to, and recover from hazards and their impacts. Risk is defined as the probability of a hazard happening in a given timeframe and the magnitude of its impact(s) when it does occur.

b. Leveraging community-level interventions

Levels of intervention or entry points for smallholder investments in agriculture should be addressed in a more systematic way in the report. From Concern’s experience, the community level is the most effective entry point when targeting the poorest and most vulnerable food producers. In this sense, contextual analysing of the inequalities and risks faced by poor and vulnerable farmers can contribute to a better understanding of the different community-level entry points and obstacles to agricultural interventions.

Conservation agriculture

In the context of climate change and scarce natural resources, over-exploitation of land through intensive agriculture techniques has the potential to worsen the trend of land degradation and loss of bio-diversity – which represent high costs for smallholder farmers in terms of food, income and environmental security. However, there is considerable evidence that sustainable intensification of small farming systems, using low external inputs, agro-ecological methods and crop diversification can reduce risks and improve food security for smallholder farmers. It is particularly suited to smallholder farmers in ecologically fragile, risk prone areas. In Zimbabwe, poor small farmers who started practising Conservation Agriculture (CA) are achieving yields that are so much higher than farmers who use traditional cultivation techniques that they have gone from food deficits to surpluses. A study carried out by Concern on the impact of CA on food security and livelihoods of smallholder farmers in low potential areas of Zimbabwe in 2008[1] found a dramatic improvement in food security amongst farmers who have successfully adopted CA techniques.[2],[3]

The farmers who adopted CA achieved much higher maize yields than traditional farmers. The extra maize yields contributed to over 60% of the food needs of the very poor and almost 70% of the food needs of the poor in the targeted area. The success of this programme largely hinged on intensive investment in extension services, and careful use of inputs, based on specific guidelines developed by the CA task force. A year on, these farmers went from being production-deficit households to production-surplus households. Each participating village produced on average a surplus equivalent to 179% of the village’s annual food energy needs. This enabled farmers to provide food to surrounding food insecure villages by selling or offering grain as payment for work. Today, these farmers are selling their maize surpluses to aid agencies that distribute food aid, which is incredible evidence of the successes CA can achieve.

Strengthening women’s voices

Despite their central role in agricultural labour, women continue to be marginalised as farmers, land owners and production managers. Women’s marginalisation limits their ability to access to land, credit, financial services and agricultural support – and therefore to increase their asset base. This has wider consequences in limiting women’s rights and power to shape community decisions and policy outcomes. Concern’s work in Liberia and Rwanda has shown that women’s groups can help promote savings and credit groups, access to finance and micro-credit services, and provide extra technical support to women farmers.[4] The benefits of this approach are that women are more likely to receive agricultural support services, they can also sell output collectively, and most importantly there is also a social improvement with facilitating feelings of confidence and solidarity.

Despite the fact that many women can improve their productivity and food security with support, not all women will be able to. The Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) and the Ford Foundation have been exploring how a “graduation model” can create pathways out of extreme poverty, by gradually expanding poor people’s access to financing, entrepreneurial and social protection services. The term “graduation” refers to participants moving out of safety net programs and “graduating” into income-earning activities that let them sustain themselves without external subsidies.[5] The graduation model is a successful approach to integrating both safety nets and agricultural support. Concern has been piloting the graduation model exclusively targeting women in Haiti, offering support services such as housing renovation, and agricultural inputs and training and links to business development training. A total of 95% of women graduated and should reach 5,000 women by 2015.

c. Multi-sector interventions

Agriculture is central to achieving food and nutrition security but it cannot solve all of the deeply rooted challenges that perpetuate inequality and vulnerability on its own. Interventions ranging from pre-cooperatives, to training packages, nutrition and social protection can help agriculture achieve its full potential to reduce hunger.

In Rwanda, Concern developed different sets of approaches to improve the productivity of resource-poor farmers including integrated intervention packages, one-to-one field demonstrations, participatory cattle distribution scheme, and pre-cooperative system set up. Findings illustrate that with targeted support; the poorest smallholder farmers can increase food security and productivity. Yet, research results indicates that poor coverage in some agricultural interventions such as extension, irrigation and access to inputs can limit the impact of national level strategies to invest in agriculture. Lack of capacity at the local and district level, a challenge in which development partners can play a role in addressing through capacity building.

In its latest work with farmers, Concern is combining agriculture, micro-finance, cash transfers and business development services together to support a five step pathway out of poverty towards economic development. Although this is still in its early stages in Burundi, research from leading development experts suggests that the graduation model increased standard of living, business income and food security.[6] In this model cash transfers will provide a safety net during the adoption of new production techniques, microfinance will be used to encourage financial discipline and life planning and traditional livelihoods style interventions aimed at improving agricultural production, which have been proved to work, such as conservation agriculture.

Making agriculture work for nutrition

The report should emphasize the role smallholder agriculture can play in preventing undernutrition. The limitations of production-focused agriculture interventions to deliver improved nutrition have been well documented.[7] The evidence is clear that while increased agricultural production and income are probably necessary, they are clearly not sufficient to reduce child under-nutrition.  Far more substantial impacts were achieved when agricultural interventions incorporated non-agricultural components that addressed other determinants of child nutrition.[8] Agricultural interventions aimed at improving nutrition have been undertaken for decades by governments. However, the studies that evaluated these actions presented multiple limitations, making it difficult to fully capture the linkages between nutrition and agriculture, including links with other interventions and activities that may have influenced nutrition outcomes.[9] Uncovering agriculture’s true potential to reach poor communities where malnutrition is chronic, to increase family incomes and to diversify their diets, requires investment in broad-ranging rigorous research.

Concern’s Realigning Agriculture to Improve Nutrition (RAIN) project in Zambia is addressing this by integrating agriculture and nutrition/health interventions at all project levels to improve the nutritional status of children during the critical 1,000 days window of opportunity for preventing stunting (from conception until a child reaches its second birthday). The project goes beyond the traditional objectives of food security programmes by empowering women and fostering measureable improvements in nutrition security.

Develop resilient livelihoods

Concern’s work in Haiti aims to move members up through a pathway by which they can continue a slow and steady ascent out of poverty. The first milestone on this pathway is Chemin Lavi Miyo (CLM), which is intended to help members develop resilient livelihoods, social networks, and the life skills necessary to have greater control of their destinies. The second milestone is to graduate to TiKredi, where they are introduced to the disciplines of microfinance, and encouraged to focus on commerce so they continue building a sustainable enterprise that can provide a reliable and regular source of income.

Whilst many development programmes succeed in creating short term physical or social gains, many fail to achieve changes that can be sustained. CLM has certainly succeeded in delivering the inputs that it identified as important in promoting and protecting extremely poor women‘s livelihoods in Haiti. It has also achieved significant positive outcomes over a 24-month period.[10] The key question, however, is whether these improvements can be sustained and whether CLM members will continue on their pathway out of poverty.

  1. Constraints to smallholder investment: are all main constraints presented in the draft? Have important constraints been omitted?

Smallholders’ ability to manage the market, income, climatic and human risks they are exposed to needs to be improved in order to overcome barriers to smallholder investments in agriculture. Disaster risk reduction (prevention, planning and managing) initiatives at the community level can help increase smallholders’ resilience to shocks as well as their ability to plan for, and manage risks better.

a. Vulnerability and risks

The World Development Report 2011 highlights that external shocks, including from volatile commodity markets, migration, illicit transfers of drugs, arms and money and transnational ideological threats can all increase the likelihood of violent conflict breaking out.[11] Fragile and conflict affected countries are at greater risk of both scenarios because they have less capacity to respond to unexpected events, or to prepare for slow onset changes. The populations of both are also, therefore, likely to suffer most from both eventualities. However, little has been done to integrate risk and resilience into agricultural investment planning and development.

In 2011, East Africa faced two consecutive seasons with below-average rainfall, resulting in one of the worst droughts in 60 years. Although the 2011 drought affected the whole region of the Horn of Africa, central and southern Somalia were most affected by the crisis[12]. This was due to a multiple set of factors including drought, conflict, high and volatile global food prices, the region’s reliance on food imports, and the long-term deterioration of coping strategies in local communities.[13]

The majority of the people affected by the food crisis face obstacles to escaping the cycle of poverty and hunger they are trapped in. For most, economic, social and political inequality and marginalisation are at the heart of this challenge. This means the little assets they have are insufficient to create and accumulate income, afford food, health care and education. This increases their vulnerability, but also dissuades them from taking risks that could actually help them escape this cycle.

Smallholder farmers face direct constraints at the farm level – that include rainfall, soil quality, land holdings, remoteness and ill-health. Lacking irrigation, many marginal farmers rely on rainfall to water their crops, making them highly vulnerable to weather pattern changes. Increasingly unpredictable rainfall is leading to reduced output for many marginal farmers. Flooding and droughts damage land and destroy harvests, change traditional planting seasons and lead to long-term loss of assets for many poor people. Marginal farmers often farm in fragile areas with poor soil quality, limiting the number of crops they can grow. Areas of particular concern include the Sahel and savannah areas of Africa, transitional ecosystems which are subject to long-term alternating cycles of desert expansion and contraction that are not well understood, but which are home to large, and growing, farming populations

Increased rural population densities in many areas have reduced the size of landholdings for farmers, meaning that plot sizes are sometimes so small they can no longer sustain a family. This reduction in the size of landholdings and resulting competition for land has pushed marginal farmers to cultivate unsuitable land on steep slopes, flood-prone land and arid areas. Many marginal farmers live in remote areas with poor infrastructure such as roads, electricity and storage facilities. Due to their location they face constraints over access to inputs such as seeds and fertilisers, credit and other services, and are often unable to take advantage of new market opportunities to sell their produce. Ill-health can also seriously undermine the efforts of the poorest farmers, especially those with limited labour. HIV & AIDS, malnutrition, malaria and anaemia can all reduce the productive potential of the rural poor, as well as increase the household caring tasks for women marginal farmers.

If measures are not taken to improve early response, to protect livelihoods and loss of assets, all other efforts to strengthen resilience and the gains of development will be wiped out, and the numbers of vulnerable households locked into chronic food insecurity will increase. In addition, early warning systems, including indicators of severe and moderate malnutrition levels, as well as malnutrition response action plans that set out precise triggers, processes, and responsible stakeholders must be put in place to improve people’s ability to respond and bounce-back from extreme weather events, high food prices, and other risks.

b. Enhancing resilience

One-off shocks that have a short-term impact (e.g. illness, natural disaster), and shocks that have a more permanent, longer term effect upon a household (e.g. death, serious and recurring illnesses). By resilience, we refer mainly to a household‘s ability to cope with short-term shocks, as long-term shocks can debilitate even the strongest of households.

According to the United Nations (UN) resilience is “the ability of a system, community or society exposed to hazards to resist, absorb, accommodate and recover from the effects of a hazard in a timely and efficient manner, including through the preservation and restoration of its essential basic structures and functions”.[14] Addressing resilience as part of smallholder agriculture, particularly at community level, has the potential to unite the sectors of development, humanitarian and environment necessary to prevent disasters and deliver long-term sustainable solutions. It requires a holistic view or systemic approach to reducing vulnerability, mitigating risk and addressing inequality.

In Kenya recurrent droughts have eroded people’s livelihoods, assets and coping strategies. However, a survey revealed that severe acute and global acute malnutrition (SAM and GAM respectively) in the district of Moyale were much lower than in neighbouring districts with similar conditions. As drought cycles have shortened, the need for a more flexible approach to planning, responding to, and recovering from droughts has become clearer.[15] Concern’s community-based approach to disaster and risks has helped reduce malnutrition and improve resilience in the long-term. Resilience practices include using drought-resistant crops and diversifying  livestock, conflict resolution in management of natural resources particularly water, including potential to exploit public–private partnerships, as well as developing trigger indicators to inform health and nutrition interventions at times of crisis, and flexible planning and funding.

c. Protecting assets during shocks and emergencies

There has been a growing recognition that in situations of chronic food insecurity institutionalised social protection programmes are more efficient and effective than repeated annual emergency food aid.[16] Social protection programmes like cash transfers, can help smooth consumption and sustain spending on essentials in lean periods without families having to resort to selling their assets or other negative coping mechanisms. They have the potential to help poor households save, invest in productive assets and obtain better credit terms. Ethiopia has used its high growth rates to make significant progress in reducing poverty. A contributing factor has been Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP). Ethiopia recently added early warning and contingency planning functions for triggering a scaling up of PSNP interventions in response to emergencies. Resilience makes safety net/social protection programming both developmental and humanitarian.[17]

[1] Concern Worldwide, Food Security and Livelihoods Recovery Programme: end of programme evaluation. Stephen Brown, FEG Consulting, November 2008.

[2] P. Wagstaff and M. Harty, The Impact of Conservation Agriculture on Food Security in three low veldt districts of Zimbabwe, Trócaire Development Review 2010.

[3] Note: due to data variability observed, data quality is being reviewed by Concern Worldwide.

[4] Farming for Impact, a case study of smallholder agriculture in Rwanda, Concern Worldwide (UK), London 2011.

[5] Creating Pathways for the Poorest: Early Lessons on Implementing the Graduation Model, Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, Washington DC, 2009.

[6] E. Duflo, Targeting the ultra-poor : impact assessment, preliminary results, Global Graduation Meeting, July 18th, 2012.

[7] World Bank, From Agriculture to Nutrition: Pathways, Synergies and Outcomes, Washington DC, 2008.

[8] World Bank, From Agriculture to Nutrition: Pathways, Synergies and Outcomes, Washington DC, 2008.

[9] Masset E, Haddad L, Cornelius A and Isaza-Castro J, A systematic review of agricultural interventions that aim to improve nutritional status of children. London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London, 2011.

[10] Chemin Levi Miyo, 24 months evaluation, Concern Worldwide and Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, 2012

[11] World Bank, World Development Report 2011 (2011), p 217-240.

[12] J. Mosley, Translating early warning into early action, East Africa Report, Chatham House, London 2012.

[13] D. Maxwell, M. Fitzpatrick, The 2011 Somalia famine: Context, causes, and complications, Global Food Security, 5–12, 2012.

[14] United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2007.

[15] W. Erasmus, L. Mpoke and Y. Yishak, Mitigating the impact of drought in Moyale District, Northern Kenya, Humanitarian Exchange Magazine, Issue 53, March 2012, Overseas Development Institute, London, 2012.

[16] DFID, Cash Transfers Evidence Paper’, DFID, London, 2011.

[17] Intermon Oxfam, Définition du Cadre d’orientation stratégique de moyens d’existence (COSME) en Afrique de l’Ouest (Sahel), Avril 2010.