Font size:

Contact us:

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

CARE International ,
FSN Forum

CARE International – submission to HLPE consultation on investment in smallholder agriculture

January 31, 2013


CARE International (hereafter, CARE) welcomes the invitation to comment on this draft report by the HLPE and commends the Committee on Food Security for carrying out such an important and relevant consultation. CARE considers itself in a good position to be able to provide critical comment and evidence to this process given many decades of experience in food and nutrition security work, particularly among smallholder farmers. Our feedback is provided through the questions posed in the consultation though we have added points where we feel more detail is required.

1) Definition and significance of Smallholder agriculture: is the approach in the report adequate?

1.1          CARE believes that the case for the significance of smallholder agriculture is well made in the paper. The statistics and evidence used adequately captures the importance of smallholder agriculture in terms of livelihoods and economics. The definition per se, is not problematic and we agree that context and circumstance are always important variables but we feel that the paper does not adequately capture some social and cultural dynamics among smallholder communities. Of most concern to CARE is the inadequacy of attention paid to gender.

The ‘smallholding’ or smallholder unit is portrayed as a singular or family unit and while there is a need to generalise, it will be very important for the paper to explore the non-heterogeneity not just of smallholder agriculture in general, but of the household structures within smallholder communities. Gender inequalities and other socio-cultural and socio-economic differences below household level as well as dynamics of fragmentation of communities and households  (e.g. seasonal or permanent migration of parts of a household) are not given due weight, or not addressed at all. While section 5.2.1 addresses rights and the need to consider social difference is mentioned, this is totally inadequate and far too late in the paper to be taken seriously. Some analysis of social exclusion and marginalisation of women in the initial problem statement would be an important addition to the paper.

Women and children are not explicitly referenced until page 14, and this is only in the context of a welfare-oriented element of the proposed framework i.e. the 'wellbeing' aspect (i.e. special attention to women and children in social protection and access to basic public goods). While CARE strongly supports policy and investment in such interventions, what is completely missing from the analysis is the role that gender inequalities play as part of the substantial barriers for smallholder agriculture, and the role that reducing gender inequalities must play as part of the solutions proposed - for example (but not only) in the context of these recommendations the paper makes: 

  • social, legal and political recognition of smallholders as a business and social sector opening rights and duties
  • strengthening of collective capacities of representation of smallholders
  • recognition and enforcement of land rights


1.2          Notwithstanding good analysis, point 2 on the importance of smallholder agriculture which identifies two sides of reality for smallholders ‘economic ‘ and ‘domestic’ is unconvincing. CARE’s experience working with smallholders tells us that economics is very much a domestic issue and that differentiating them is not helpful. On point 6, we would add that other conditions (further to favourable markets) are also necessary for positive smallholder response. We would also contest the assumption in point 7 that smallholder agriculture ‘represents resilience when it comes to shocks of whatever type’. This point is not clear and appears to present resilience in a narrow humanitarian light. In point 12, it is worth noting that the economic dimension of smallholder contributions to food security is also associated with inequalities. Inequity and injustice is not exclusive to social dimensions of individual, household or community livelihoods.

2) Framework for Smallholder agriculture and related investments: is the typology useful, adequate and accessible for the problem at hand?

The typology is interesting and necessarily complex as this is difficult area. However, we feel that it is somewhat biased towards markets and production aspects – notwithstanding the convincing analysis on the importance of these areas. The paper succeeds in addressing the issues of investment of labour and labour productivity, credit, agricultural inputs etc. for increased productivity, and creating more favourable market conditions to market yields. But various access and nutrition issues are considered only in so far as they represent a barrier to or an enabler of smallholder investments in the form of labour/ and other forms of livelihood capital. CARE questions the appropriateness of the title 'investing in smallholder agriculture for food security and nutrition' – because nutrition is not at all part of the equation and is underestimated or ignored in areas of both the analysis and the typology.

CARE believes, as in many papers aimed at addressing the challenges faced by smallholders, that nutrition is thus again neglected as a critical lens through which to seek solutions. There is very little attention provided to actual nutrition-sensitive agricultural interventions and the typology narrative in section 4.5 does not include any direct or even indirect connection to nutrition – focusing instead on a somewhat tired nexus of assets/endowments, markets, productivity and relationships. While we agree these are important, our evidence from Bangladesh demonstrates that it is indirect interventions, in combination with direct traditional livelihoods interventions, that better nutrition outcomes are achieved. 

Other gaps in the analysis – reflected to some degree in the typology, is the lack of attention to recent and alarming climate science. In this regard, the absence of attention to adaptation and specifically community-based adaptation, is a serious deficit in the paper. Recent evidence published by CARE from research in agro-pastoral communities in east Africa demonstrates for example that, even under the most severe climate scenarios, the return on investment in community based adaptation (for smallholder agriculture and pastoral livelihoods) is positive. Though the paper cites the climate threat, there is inadequate attention in the analysis and the typology to adaptation-based solutions or the need to invest in the adaptive capacity of smallholders.


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

The problem definition is centred on imperfect market conditions, and the focus here is on volatility which is sound. However, the paper seems to neglect wider systemic/political economic issues constraining smallholders. There is no discussion, for example, of the transformative changes needed in the face of rapidly changing climate prospects and the political economy of climate finance and carbon markets. Climate change is an externality and the injustice it brings on smallholders is not discussed. As mentioned above, the more glaring omission is that of adaptation – particularly community based adaption – to climate change.