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

In October 2011 the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) requested its High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) to conduct a study on smallholder investments, and in particular, to assess: “a comparative study of constraints to smallholder investment in agriculture in different contexts with policy options for addressing these constraints, taking into consideration the work done on this topic by IFAD, and by FAO in the context of COAG, and the work of other key partners. This should include a comparative assessment of strategies for linking smallholders to food value chains in national and regional markets and what can be learned from different experiences, as well as an assessment of the impacts on smallholders of public-private as well as farmer cooperative-private and private-private partnerships.”
Final findings are to be presented at the CFS Plenary session in October 2013.
The High Level Panel of Experts for Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) now seeks input on the following V0 draft of its report to address this mandate. The current draft has been elaborated by the Project Team, under guidance and oversight of the Steering Committee, based also on the feedback received through the scoping e-consultation.

The present e-consultation will be used by the HLPE Project Team to further elaborate the report, which will then be submitted to external expert review, before finalization by the Project Team under Steering Committee guidance and oversight.

The current draft is work-in-progress towards a comprehensive yet accessible and succinct presentation, highlighting priority topics and areas that are useful for action to the diverse range of stakeholders which form the CFS.

To be useful in the next steps of the report write-up, the HLPE proposes to open a dialogue on the following topics and seeks feedback and input according to the following lines:

1) Definition and significance of Smallholder agriculture: is the approach in the report adequate?
2) Framework for Smallholder agriculture and related investments: is the typology useful, adequate and accessible for the problem at hand?
3) Constraints to smallholder investment: are all main constraints presented in the draft? Have important constraints been omitted?

The current V0 draft contains a short summary and, intentionally, very first tentative recommendations : these are to be seen NOT as the final recommendations of the HLPE, but as a work-in-progress, part of the process of their elaboration: it is therefore to be seen as a scientific and evidence-based invitation for their enrichment, for being screened against evidence, as well as for further suggestions on their operationalization and targeting.

Are the main areas for recommendations and the priority domains for action adequate? Does the draft include sufficient information at the adequate level to support the policy messages?

The current V0 draft, at this stage of the writing, could be further enriched by more concrete examples to support the reasoning. As the HLPE seeks to formulate practical, actionable recommendations for implementation, we would therefore seek, through this consultation, concrete examples and references [cases, facts and figures] to feed into the report, in particular into a section on Implementation and to sustain the vision that is presented.  
The issues that this report needs to cover may comprise some controversial points. Do you think these are well highlighted in the report in order to feed the debate? Are those presented with sufficient facts and figures to elicit their rationale? Did the current draft miss any of those?
We thank in advance all the contributors for being kind enough to spend time in reading and commenting on this early version of our report. Supplementary information, references and evidence-based examples would be very much welcomed in such a format that could be quickly manageable by the team (for instance, if you suggest a reference, a book etc, please highlight a/the key point(s) in 5 to 10 lines).

Contributions are welcomed in English, French and Spanish. The V0 draft is available in English. We look forward to a rich and fruitful consultation.
The HLPE Project Team and Steering Committee

This discussion is now closed. Please contact for any further information.

Sibiri Jean Zoundi SWAC/OECD, France
Sibiri Jean Zoundi

Chers amis et collègues,

Ci-joint mes commentaires sur le V0 Draft de 'Investing in Smallholder agriculture for food and nutrition security'.

Salut à tous.

Sibiri jean Zoundi

Administrateur Principal

Secrétariat du Club du Sahel et de l'Afrique de l'Ouest (CSAO/OCDE)

FSN Forum Team FAO, Italy
FSN Forum

Posted on behalf of the Federal Government of Germany

  1. Introductory Comments

Germany highly welcomes the opportunity to comment on the HLPE V0-Draft on constraints to smallholder investment in agriculture. Overall, the paper provides a good as well as balanced assessment of the challenges faced while attempting to facilitate smallholder based agricultural development.

However, the report should take more into account the overall challenges of agricultural development in the context of ensuring food and nutrition security. Agriculture has to feed approximately nine billion people in 2050. Climate Change, declining soil fertility and the consequences of the negligence of the agricultural sector in the past are constraints for increased sustainable agricultural production which is in its own required to implement the human right to adequate food worldwide. FAO estimates that investments of 83 million USD are needed every year to achieve that. The role and the potential of small scale farmers to contribute to increased agricultural production and to benefit by enhancing their own means of production and productivity should be elaborated more detailed in the report.

Since the CFS requested the HLPE to compile a report on constraints to smallholder investment in agriculture, the headline of the V0-Draft is creating the false impression of dealing with investments in smallholder agriculture in general. Yet, the content really covered by the report and requested by the CFS deals with challenges and opportunities to facilitate smallholder based agricultural development by smallholders themselves. As a consequence, Germany recommends changing the headline into “Facilitating smallholder agriculture for food and nutrition security”.

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

Assuming that the above mentioned improved embedding of the topic into overall agricultural challenges will be included, the report is adequate to define smallholder agriculture and their significance.

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

The used typology is adequate to access the problem. The charts and boxes within the report further simplify the readability of the document.

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

All in all the constraints are addressed in a proper way. However, the following aspects should be included as well:

  • One of the basic conditions for successful investment and sustainable development, particularly in the small scale farming sector, is education, especially vocational education and training. While education in general is referred to, the document does not address the area of vocational education and training. The report should give reference to the importance of vocational education and training appropriate consideration.
  • The report repeatedly refers to climate change. However, only the relationship between the sector of small scale farmers and the mitigation of climate change is mentioned. Given the already apparent impacts of climate change on agriculture in many regions, it will be essential to enable the small scale farmers to adapt their production to the changing climatic conditions. Therefore investment in adaptation strategies for small scale farmers should be taken into account appropriately in the report.
  • The report mentions in its summary the dimension of institutional and policy design. More detailed insights in the importance of good governance are nevertheless lacking in the main document. Germany recommends therefore evaluating the inclusion of an additional chapter dealing with political frameworks and underlying governance structures.
  1. Are the main areas for recommendations and the priority domains for action adequate? Does the draft include sufficient information at the adequate level to support the policy messages?

While referring to the agricultural dimension of economic growth, the macroeconomic parameters for overall development need to be taken into account as well or at least be kept in mind. In some countries investing in smallholder farming might contradict the optimum of macroeconomic development policies.

While referring to the enforcement of rights regarding existing rights on land the reference to the Voluntary Guidelines of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the context of national food security and the self-commitment by the states for its implementation has to be included and clearly pointed out.

In general, it is appropriate to focus on small scale farmers because they represent the majority of agricultural producers. Nevertheless, the focus should be on a dynamic development taking small scale farmers as a starting point for further development. A mere conservation of small scale farming structures in the long run should not be the leading idea of this study.

Further, the study recommends states to develop a “National Smallholder Vision and Strategic Framework”. Such an instrument can be regarded as useful in order to better address the smallholder issue within the national agricultural policy planning. However, given the need for synergies and an effective and efficient use of capacities it might be more appropriate to recommend including that kind of framework in already existing international or national frameworks like CAADP or other national agricultural strategies.

Mr. Samuel Hauenstein - Swan Action Against Hunger | ACF International (ACF), United ...
Whilst the agricultural sector cannot create all preconditions for a healthy start in life – this is the joint task by the health, education, social protection sectors among others– smallholder investment must play a central foundation to enable the rural environment where by smallholders can strive to build the nutrition security for under-fives, mothers and thier households.
At ACF International we would like to see more specific proposition in respect to the specific nutritional requirements of under-fives, pregnant and lactating mothers within the small holder development discussion. 
Four areas we see need for improvement in the next drafts:
The role of smallholder agriculture in nutrition security needs to be more analytical and precise defined, draft 0 largely considers nutrition as an add-on to food security.
Often when the terms food and nutrition security are used in the text, there is little following mention of nutrition and it invariably refers only to food security- (for example in the summary, in the section on Smallholder Agriculture: the Way Ahead- past the initial assertion in paragraph 12 there are no further mentions in the section on nutrition, but only food security.) Food security and nutrition security should be two separate terms rather than merged as in current draft. By referring only to food security, there is the risk of the assumption that increased production for smallholders will automatically lead to better nutrition, which may lead to agricultural development programs that do not program adequately for improved nutrition as an outcome. Increased agricultural production can even cause possible harm to nutrition status (for instance where smallholder investment shift towards cash crop and thus reduce dietary diversity, women workload, diseases related to use of agro-chemicals).
We will where available cross reverence to some ACF examples and research that outline way how to program for nutrition impact.
Programming for nutrition impact means including it as an explicit objective of nutrition-related programs… 
Little mention of the significance of smallholder agriculture on nutrition at the individual and household level
There appears to be no section on the significance that smallholders can have for improvements to nutrition. It would seem to be relevant to include some information on this in section 2, in particular considering that there is a section included on smallholders significance for food security etc. but no thoughts given to the role of nutrition - more specifically the role in growing complementary food for children of 6 to 24 months. The report could highlight the available evidence that smallholder agricultural development leads to more effective food utilisation and dietary diversity. (We do however acknowledge that there needs to be further scientific research on the link between smallholder agriculture and nutrition, as clearly acknowledged in the last systematic review on the subject Masset. et all, 2011). 
Smallholder agriculture can increase food production, raise rural incomes, and push down food prices; all of which should improve the access of poor and vulnerable people to food and thereby contribute considerably to improving their food security. Smallholder agricultural interventions can be made more sensitive to nutrition in two key ways; by reducing female disadvantages in farming, for example poor access to inputs, seasonal credit and technical assistance, thereby increasing women’s returns from their farming, and through this giving them more opportunity to spend on the nutrition and care of their children — and themselves. The other is either to promote home gardens and small livestock keeping to encourage more diverse diets at the household level and especially under the control of the women, or to fortify staples with added minerals and vitamins such as Vitamin A through plant-breeding, or a combination of these two. 
ACF International has their own program evidence of the impact of small scale agriculture and complementary nutrition activities on nutrition and dietary diversity:
  • Health Gardens project in Mali (2010 evaluation): project which comprises the improvement of availability and access to high quality food through vegetable gardens, the increase of households’ incomes and the good use of food and incomes generated by the gardens for the improvement of the family and children’s health. Our evaluation found participants had more production from gardens; more income; were eating a more diverse diet; and that child malnutrition had fallen in participating villages
  • Low Input Gardens (LIG) project in Zimbabwe: The project evaluation found that participants in the project had better dietary diversity (higher HDDS scores than control groups) following the conclusion of the project as well as social impacts (greater acceptance of HIV/AIDS patients).
Following on from the above point, it seems important to include some discussion in the report on the effects of seasonal hunger and food availability, which is the reality for many smallholder farmers in low income countries. (Relevant to mention seasonality in section 4.2. Persistent poverty and lack of access to resources (as a constraint to smallholder investment).  It is well known that the poorest households – even those relying predominantly on small scale agriculture for their livelihoods – are reliant on the market to purchase food once their harvest runs out. It would be encouraging to read more in this HLPE report on interventions that aim to reduce the hunger gap by ways of food and seed storage, or how to reduce dependency on markets, especially during the hunger gap with interventions such as Inventory Guaranteed Credit Schemes (Warrantage), building storage solutions, affordable food processing on village level and the like to increase food and nutrition security during seasonal deprivation.
The gains made during the prosperous times of year are often negated by forced sales of assets and other coping mechanisms families are forced to undertake to survive during the hunger season. Seasonal changes in the local market can push vulnerable households closer to a threshold beyond which they cannot afford to cover their basic (qualitative and quantitative) dietary needs, eroding their resilience and preventing investment in their livelihoods. Many programmes fail to address seasonality of hunger and undernutrition… This could also be mentioned in 5.2.1., as methods to tackle seasonal hunger amongst smallholders could be a major way of improving their well-being and hence improving investment (for example pre-positioning of health and nutrition resources before the hunger season, employment guarantee schemes and cash transfers during the hunger season). The care giver should increasingly be educated on the dietary needs of growing children so that they can make the best choice for planting, selling, saving and purchasing food commodities throughout the annual cycle.
Recent ACF research emphasised the importance of designing food and nutrition security interventions around rural-urban linkages (migration during the hungry season to cities, and cash sent back from families in the city to rural relatives during this time) to help increase the impact of these interventions. These linkages are most important during seasonal periods of hunger and poverty. These linkages often represent efforts by the households to create their own safety nets, reflecting their own priorities and capacities. This report should point to ways and needs how to strengthen these self-generated safety nets linking rural smallholder with urban relatives and food markets to progress nutrition security.
Acknowledgement of the importance of nutrition interventions in under-fives and mothers.
As clearly reported in the paper, the health and well-being of individuals involved in smallholder agriculture clearly affects agriculture itself- an unhealthy agricultural population constrains resources and labour for investment. In section 5.2.1: ‘Access to rights: smallholders’ family needs for well-being.’ The first paragraph mentions the importance of strengthening the well-being of women and children for investment in smallholder agriculture. While the draft discusses action for school age girls and boys, its proposition in respect to under-fives within the small holder development discussion is unclear. Pregnant and lactating women, babies and children have heightened nutritional requirements, particularly between conception, complementary feeding phase and age two. Smallholder investment must therefore be planned and monitored in how far it is addressing these nutrition needs for children under five during ‘the window of opportunities” to prevent impaired child growth, create healthy conditions for the women during pregnancy and that put the growing child at a lower risk of suffering from chronic diseases in adulthood. In addition, interventions that target maternal health can help to prevent low birth weights and stalling progress in later child development, and the smallholder agenda can take specific care to create healthier environments, lower workloads and production focus to raise availability and utilization of adequate diets. 
There are a range of proven direct and indirect nutrition interventions that could be included in the report for this ‘the window of opportunity’. These include the promotion of breast feeding and optimal complementary feeding, the increase of micronutrient interventions and strategies to improve family and community nutrition and reduction of disease burden (e.g. promotion of hand washing and strategies to reduce the burden of malaria in pregnancy). (For further information, see ACF International Manual, Maximising the Nutritional Impact of Food Security and Livelihoods Interventions, 2011). 
Samuel Hauenstein Swan - Senior Policy Advisor 
Jennifer Stevenson - Policy Resercher
Action Against Hunger - ACF International 


Mr. Subhash Mehta Devarao Shivaram Trust, India

How Farmers Can Protect Water Quality, Replenish Aquifers and Save the Soil - a subject of great importance to for meeting the needs of the poor smallholder producers and for this consultation process, as trailed below:

Scientists work with farmers to find ways to reduce surface runoff and soil erosion, thereby also reducing water pollution. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

A team of scientists and local farmers used a computer simulation programme to help identify the best ways to reduce surface runoffs and soil erosion on farms

The study was done in collaboration with the local authorities in an area of south-western France that suffers badly from surface runoffs and soil erosion
after rainfall.

To support the work, they used a geographic information system (GIS) computer simulation model of water flow and soil erosion, STREAM, to assess the impacts of a spring stormy event under different management scenarios at two sites chosen by the farmers. The results were jointly analysed and evaluated by the farmers and scientists, and the farmers discussed the technical and economic feasibility of each management scenario.

The STREAM simulations showed that a 40 mm spring rainfall with current cropping patterns led to 3 116 m3 total water runoff and 335 tonnes of sediment at site A, and 3 249 m3 water runoff and 241 tonnes of sediment at site B. Growing grass strips at strategic places could reduce runoff by about 40 % and sediment by about 50 % at site A. At site B, grass strips could reduce runoff and sediment by more 50 %, but changing the cropping system could eliminate both runoff and sediment almost entirely.

Agriculture & water

Agriculture is a major user and polluter of water, and this needs urgent attention in view of the global depletion of fresh water resources (see [2, 3]
World Water Supply in Jeopardy, SiS 56; Using Water Sustainably, SiS 57).

The problem started from the 1960s when intensive agriculture was introduced in Europe to increase crops yields (see [1]). This required mechanisation and the application of fertilizers and pesticides, which soon favoured big farms at the expense of small farmers. And the now well-known nvironmental problems of runoff, soil erosion and pollution of water resources started to emerge.

Over the past 20 years, groundwater and surface water monitoring in Europe revealed significant nitrate and pesticide contamination, especially in France, where surface water samples often exceed the drinking water limit of 0.1 mg pesticides/L. For example, 96 % of surface water in the Department Tarn and Garonne in south-western France was contaminated by nitrates, phosphorus and pesticides, partly because of erosive runoff in cultivated fields.

In 2000, the European Community introduced the Water Framework Directive (WFD) to restore and preserve the quality of all water resources. It set targets of water quality to be achieved by 2015. The common agricultural policy (CAP) reform of 2003 introduced the ‘cross-compliance principle’ that linked the full payment of CAP aids to farms to compliance with agri-environmental standards
called “good agricultural and environment condition”, which include a part of the annual cropped area to have permanent plant cover to prevent soil erosion and buffer strips (no-cultivated or grass planted) along water courses to prevent surface water pollution.

According to French decree, the total surface area of permanent plant cover (PPC) in each farm must be at least 3 % of the annual cropped area. PPC or grass strips must be planted within fields, most importantly, those bordering rivers, and the strips must be between 5 and 10 m wide and must cover at least 500 m2. Designing these agri-environmental measures (AEM) is not a trivial matter, and will differ for farms at catchment level as opposed to river level. Therefore modelling could help find the best design. And working with farmers in real farms would also put the model to proper test.

Farmers chose the sites

The study was done in the French Department Tarn et Garonne in collaboration with Lomagne district agricultural committee. Soil erosion is prevalent in these catchments and sediment loads in streams and rivers impact negatively on water quality.

The region has a humid temperate climate, with annual rainfall between 700 and 760 mm, and average daily temperatures 10 to 35 ºC. Rainfall is low to moderate in winter, and the most intense rainfall events are in spring. The soils in the region are very susceptible to surface sealing. The water table is very deep (> 10 m). The risk of erosive events is very high in April-May, when intense rainfalls occur (20-40 mm in 2 to 3 hours) and many fields have just been sown.

Figure 1   Sites selected for study in southern France

In collaboration with the local farmers, two sites were selected (see Figure 1). The first is a 41 ha hillside farm with slopes ranging from 0 to 15 %, comprising five large fields cultivated by two farmers. In 2009, 36 ha were planted with spring crops (maize and sunflower) and 5 ha with winter wheat. Spring storm causes mud flows in the fields with spring crops that cover the downhill road nearly every year.  The second site is a 107 ha catchment that supplies the Serre River and comprises 40 fields cultivated by 5 farmers. This site is characterized by a steep-sided upstream valley with strong slopes (> 15 %), followed by a relatively flat valley (slope between 0 and 5 %). In 2009, five main crops were cultivated: winter crops (wheat, barley and rape) on 43 % of the area, spring crops (maize, sunflower and sorghum) on 41 %. Grasslands account for 12 % of the area mainly in the upper basin, while forest and set- aside account for less than 4 % of the area.

Site A was chosen because erosive runoff is severe and occurs almost every year in spring. Site B was chosen because it is small and different crops are grown
there. Another important factor was that most of the farmers (5 of 6) in the two sites selected agreed to spend time with the scientists.

The hydrological model and geographic information simulation software

Read the rest of this report at:


Timothy A. Wise Tufts University, United States of America
Timothy A. Wise

Comments from Timothy A. Wise, Research and Policy Director, Global Development and Environment Institute, Tufts University, Medford, MA 02155

The V0 draft of the HLPE report on smallholder investment is an excellent first draft on a large and complicated topic. These comments are intended to deepen and broaden the research and presentation to include more of the relevant literature on the subject, to build the evidence base, and to answer more directly the specific research questions posed about PPPs in general and corporate investment in particular. (I attach them as well, in case that is more useful.)

I would refer the authors to a very recent publication I co-authored with Mexican researcher Antonio Turrent Fernandez, Achieving Mexico’s Maize Potential, linked here and available at:
This extensive paper included an extensive literature review on the evidence base that investments in small-scale maize farming in Mexico could close yield gaps estimated at more than 50% through available technologies, focusing on sustainable methods and without the use of controversial genetically modified maize seeds. We concluded that there was enormous potential for Mexico to close that yield gap and regain some or all of its lost self-reliance in maize production. We further concluded that with significant public investment in irrigation and infrastructure, underutilized land could be productively brought into production, dramatically increasing Mexico’s maize output and making the country a net exporter.

This is relevant to the HLPE draft because I believe the authors have still not consulted a wide enough literature to sustain their analysis. I would point out that the G20 interagency paper commissioned by Mexico for the June G20 meetings, “Sustainable Agricultural Productivity Growth and Bridging the Gap for Small Family Farms: Interagency Report to the Mexican G20 Presidency,” offers an extensive review of the relevant literature, and while that report has many weaknesses it identifies much of the important literature.

It is also relevant because it seems the explicit question about PPPs and value chains may have diverted attention from the more fundamental question the paper is to address: “a comparative study of constraints to smallholder investment in agriculture in different contexts with policy options for addressing these constraints.” Key to that larger question is public investment, a topic that does not get adequate attention in the current draft. Nor does the issue of gender, which the majority of smallholders (women) would probably say is one of the biggest constraints to smallholder investment. Again, there is a wide and deep literature on this topic, and it should be consulted and represented here. Following are a few specific comments on the literature followed bymore on the draft itself.

The need to consult a wider literature: It is unclear from the presentation what methodology was used in the literature review, specifically, whether the scope included only peer-reviewed literature. If so, I would urge that a broader range of publications be reviewed and that the peer reviewed literature be consulted more deeply. The paper referenced above includes a very up-to-date literature review on the topic, with references that go well beyond Mexico, maize, and Latin America. So too does a comprehensive report from early 2012: Resolving the Food Crisis: Assessing Global Policy Reforms Since 2007, by Timothy A. Wise and Sophia Murphy, GDAE-IATP Policy Report, January 2012.

I include at the end of these comments some important references from a variety of sources, including institutions such as the World Bank and IFPRI, academic researchers, and researchers working with NGOs. All seem relevant to the topic at hand. In addition, I would suggest inclusion of two authors who have contributed a great deal on these subjects:

1.       Michael Lipton – one of the seminal thinkers on smallholders and poverty. I do not cite any one book or article, but urge that the authors review his important work, with firmly established the importance of investment in smallholder agriculture as necessary to broad-based economic development in societies in which smallholders still predominate.

2.       Olivier de Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, who has taken up not only the broad question of the smallholder investment but the specific question of smallholder links to agribusiness and contracting arrangements. I would note in particular:

De Schutter, Olivier (2009). Seed policies and the right to food: enhancing agrobiodiversity and encouraging innovation: Report presented to the UN General Assembly (64th session). Geneva, Switzerland, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.

De Schutter, Olivier (2010a). Agribusiness and the right to food: Report presented to the Human Rights Council. Geneva, Switzerland, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.

De Schutter, Olivier (2010c). Large-scale land acquisitions and leases: a set of minimum principles and measures to address the human rights challenge: Report presented to the Human Rights Council. Geneva, Switzerland, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.

De Schutter, Olivier (2011a). Agroecology and the Right to Food: Report presented at the 16th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Geneva, Switzerland, United Nations Human Rights Council.

De Schutter, Olivier (2011d). "The Green Rush: The Global Race for Farmland and the Rights of Land Users." Harvard International Law Journal 52(2).


A few observations on the content of the draft:

1.The definition of smallholder agriculture is not as clear as it should be. On the one hand, it should be clear whether smallholder agriculture includes those renting land. (I would assume it does.) On the other, it should be clear that many smallholders are operating at a level that goes beyond subsistence, and the goal, in fact, is to bring a larger segment of smallholders to the point of producing surpluses for the market. The typology of the smallholder farmer should be expanded.

2.The definition of investment is not as clear as it should be. Specifically:

a.Public investment is critical to smallholder agriculture given the wide range of market failures prevalent in the sector. The use of the term “public goods” is confusing in this regard, because public investment in smallholder agriculture goes well beyond the provision of public goods. It can (and often must) include credit, storage and other marketing infrastructure, research and development, extension services, irrigation, etc.

b.Private investment is too often equated with corporate investment, via PPPs or other means.

c.Private investment includes smallholders’ own investments in their productive assets. This is acknowledged in the draft but is then treated more as a matter of furthering subsistence through safety net programs than in equipping smallholders with the capital and economic security to innovate in their farming practices.

d.The paper is largely silent on international aid for ARD. This is an important topic, all the moreso because of the G8’s embrace of PPPs as an explicit substitute for public donor investment in ARD, as part of its corporate-led New Alliance initiative. This approach needs to be challenged, and the important role of international public investment needs to be emphasized.

3.The paper is unclear on the role of the market, in a number of different ways:

a.Market failures are not well-documented or well-understood. These include a broad range of weaknesses that plague smallholder agriculture, hamper investment, and require public sector investment.

b.Market regulation is referred to often but is not presented as a critical function of government in relation to smallholders and in relation to larger corporate interests. The authors note the asymmetries in economic and political power between agribusinesses and smallholders, but they do not delineate the government’s critical role in mediating that relationship with strong and enforceable market regulations.

c.This includes active government regulation of supply chains, including at the retail level. Such supply chains are often of benefit only to a small number of producers, while they serve to exclude the majority of traditional producers from markets they used to access easily. Beyond ensuring that the maximum number of smallholders benefit from the growth of value chains, the government must ensure that the value chains themselves do not stifle smallholder agriculture and restrict market opportunities. That has been a common experience in Mexico and in other parts of the developing world. Walmart may source some of its produce from smallholders, and the more the better, but if it puts all the other markets out of business the remaining producers have nowhere to sell their goods.

d.Successful smallholder development experiences are not adequately explored. For example, China’s experience and Vietnam’s offer cases of government-led market development in a context of international market integration, with capital accumulating in the hands of smallholders and benefits both to overall productivity and to food security.

e.Land reform, and the rights to food producing resources, do not get adequate attention. Given the CFS’s excellent work on the Voluntary Guidelines for Land Tenure, this paper should build on those principles. It should also note the importance of implementing the Law of the Seed to protect access to key food resources.

4.Extension services, in combination with locally adapted research and development, is the most important public investment in smallholder agriculture. This was well-documented in last year’s “Sustainable Agricultural Productivity Growth and Bridging the Gap for Small Family Farms: Interagency Report to the Mexican G20 Presidency” (see full reference below). Extension does not get adequate attention in the V0 draft, and when it does it is for improving smallholder access to value chains, which is not the highest priority. Other priorities for public investment include:

a.R&D in traditional crops rather than commodity crops, especially traditional food crops.

b.Irrigation development and water management, including rainwater harvesting and erosion control.

c.Climate change adaptation.

5.P 21 – data on US farm sizes is incorrect. It uses aggregated USDA data that includes the two-thirds of US farms that are “lifestyle” or “retirement” farms and are not operating as working farms. This dramatically skews the data. See:
"Understanding the Farm Problem: Six Common Errors in Presenting Farm Statistics," by Timothy A. Wise, GDAE Working Paper No. 05-02, March 2005.

6.Employment and livelihoods are not recognized adequately as a key contribution of smallholder agriculture. (see p 25) In a world of underemployment, the sector remains critical.

7.The issue of “land grabs”, which are often justified as needed agricultural investment, needs to be taken up more explicitly. This is mentioned, but the issue is not treated adequately, noting the threat such investments can represent for smallholders now farming the land.

8.In the recommendations:

a.Agro-ecology and other sustainable practices need to get more emphasis. Pretty’s work on sustainable intensification, for example.

b.There is too great an emphasis on expanding access to improved seeds, which is a counterproductive and inappropriate technology for many smallholders. (Only 30% of Mexican maize farmers have adopted hybrid seeds, for example.)

c.Precision application of inputs, through extension services, is more important and sustainable than simply expanding fertilizer use. (See our Mexico maize study for a good example of the results one can achieve.)

d.The emphasis on smallholder organization is excellent. Our Mexico maize example, noted above, is an excellent case study of how good extension with appropriate technology with organized smallholders can produce dramatic productivity gains and also improvements in resource management.


Below are some references the authors may find particularly relevant to this paper. I thank the authors for taking on this daunting and important topic and look forward to their further development of the HLPE paper.

Sources from Turrent, Wise, Garvey, Achieving Mexico’s Maize Potential:

Altieri, Miguel A. (1999). "Applying Agroecology to Enhance the Productivity of Peasant Farming Systems in Latin America." Environment, Development and Sustainability 1(3-4): 197.

Fan, S., Ed. (2008). Public expenditures, growth, and poverty: Lessons from developing countries. Baltimore, MD, John Hopkins University Press.

FAO, OECD, Bioversity, CGIAR Consortium, IFAD, IFPRI, IICA, UNCTAD, HLTF, WFP, World Bank and WTO (2012). Sustainable Agricultural Productivity Growth and Bridging the Gap for Small Family Farms: Interagency Report to the Mexican G20 Presidency. Rome, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Fuglie, K.O. (2012). Productivity Growth and Technology Capital in the Global Agricultural Economy. Productivity Growth in Agriculture: An International Perspective. K. O. Fuglie, S. L. Wang and V. E. Ball. Oxfordshire, UK, CAB International.

Garrity, D.P., F.K. Akinnifesi, O.C. Ajayi, S.G. Weldesemayat, J.G. Mowo, A. Kalinganire, M. Larwanou and J. Bayala (2010). "Evergreen Agriculture: a robust approach to sustainable food security in Africa." Food Security 2(3): 197-214.

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David Neven Italy

I'd also like to congratulate the authors on having been able to handle such a broad topic and deliver a well-structured paper. In order to challenge the authors a bit though, I'd like to offer the following comments, which are mainly based on the draft summary and recommendations:

 1. Flawed premise:  The paper assumes that, long term, investment in smallholder agriculture is the solution to food and nutrition security, mainly because so many households are critically dependent on it. This is a flawed reasoning, as most of these smallholders (all of them if you follow the definition of the authors) are subsistence farmers. Most of these farmers are in agriculture for survival, because it is the only option left to them. They invest in the farm (if they do), because there is nothing else to invest in. A sub-group of smallholders (more broadly defined) is market-oriented (perhaps a third?), and supporting those farmers (promoting investment in/by them) makes sense, but even in that case, the objective is that these farms grow, that they create jobs and cheaper, healthier food, and that they eventually are able to drop their smallholder label. The solution to broad-based food and nutrition security lays in creating an efficient food system and creating jobs in agriculture, in the downstream part of the food chain, and in non-food chains. By promoting marginal change at the smallholder farmer level, smallholders are made marginally better off, but kept in relative poverty in rural areas, still very exposed to external shocks, and thus with food and nutrition security obstructed rather than aided. In addition, if all stay in agriculture there is no land available to more efficient smallholder farmers to grow through expansion (i.e., they will remain small). Furthermore, the effectiveness, sustainability, and cost-efficiency of measures that directly support the poorest farmers is likely low (impact data are very rare to proof this either way), and are more of a social support than an economic development nature. The paper blends these two objectives thus undermining its ability to provide effective policy guidance (e.g., handing out free fertilizer to the poorest households undermines the ability to simultaneously establish commercial fertilizer markets for other smallholder farmers).

 2. Omission of the meso-level context: the paper takes a micro-level (farm-level) perspective in which the smallholder farmer is not placed in a value chain context (or sub-sector or business model context). This means that there is no identification of root causes or of leverage points where a maximum impact of facilitation efforts can be achieved. Solutions to the identified dimensions of investment growth, i.e., secure access to resources, favorable market conditions, and good policy design, are largely found at the meso level. The importance to find PPP type solutions (e.g., for extension) is largely ignored, while heavy government involvement is promoted. The importance of starting from clear market opportunities is ignored. The development thinking of the last 10 years is largely ignored.

 3. Collective action from singular perspective: collective action is presented as springing from social networks (rightly so), and to then extend from there to effective collective action for advocacy and commercial intent. However, links based on social networks can at times be more detriment than facilitation for commercial collective action as they imply different objectives (social security vs. increased sales). This angle is overlooked in the report but needs to be fully recognized in any capacity building effort.

4. Net buyer status not recognized: smallholders are correctly described as being in the market, but without discussing that they are very much linked to food markets as buyers of the very same products they produce. Many are net buyers of staples such as maize they produce, which stresses the importance of near-farm storage. While the paper recognizes the heterogeneity amongst smallholder farms, it does not incorporate this in the formulation of recommendations (it just mentions that this heterogeneity needs to be considered).

5.  No discussion of formalization: ultimately the social safety nets and public investments (schools, extension) have to be funded from somewhere, with taxation being a key part. Formalization of economic activity (in some practical form) has to come into play at some point so that government has both the knowledge and funds to support food system growth in the long term. This aspect is not discussed. 

Nora Mckeon Italy

Congratulations on this gargantuan task. My comments, obviously, concentrate on points that I think could be improved but there is much that is excellent.

I think it would be good to be clearer up front about the fact that this  particular study is situated within the mandate of the CFS: that of promoting food security and guaranteeing the right to food. This would authorize you to state some points and recommendations more unequivocally. Examinations of the relation between investments and small-scale producers undertaken in other contexts and with other mandates could produce different results and recommendations, but that is not the objective of this study.

The CFS request to the  HLPE included undertaking a comparative assessment of strategies for linking smallholders to food value chains in national and regional markets and an assessment of the impacts on smallholders of public-private etc. partnerships. The civil society/social movement participants fought hard to get the words I have italicized included in the wording of the decision box. It seems to me that, although the draft zero report does touch on the various strategies it does not really conduct a comparative assessment of them, nor does it discuss the impact of PPPs. I realize that the HLPE team is inevitably composed of people with different views. However, I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to recognize this and clearly present a range of options/readings where these exist. As it is, on some of the most contentious points the zero draft report presents these different views as though they were complimentary, which they most often are not, and the result is confusing (e.g. the para. following box 3 on pg. 32, or para 2 on pg 41).

In this line, it might be good to state clearly at the outset that (simplifying, of course) there are two different narratives that confront each other: one that maintains that smallholder agriculture is essentially archaic and that the only solution for enhancing food security is to “modernize” it by incorporating those farmers who can make it into corporate-led value chains and giving the rest social protection treatment VS  one that maintains that smallholder agriculture is the basis for food security and a host of other benefits and should be supported in line with its own logic, not by trying to incorporate it into some other logic. This would give you a clearer framework for comparative assessment of strategies. It would also provide a stronger basis for arguing in favour of support for smallholders – not just for the sake of it but because (at least according to one of the two narratives) they are the major pillar of food security and sustainable food systems for many developing countries.

I think it would be good for you to clarify the terminology up front. The CFS request talks about smallholders, but there are several other terms such as “small-scale producers” and “family farmers”. You do this to some degree in paras 3-5, but it should be in the Exec Summary as well. The fact that behind the term “smallholder” one is talking about a model of agriculture that contrasts in many ways with that of industrial agriculture and that provides a host of benefits beyond production could be clearer. The “sustainability” part of the equation could be strengthened. You risk having the agroecologists rise up in arms (p 59)!

Regarding markets, there is a clear statement on this in the last para. of section 2.3.1 but elsewhere in the report the discourse is a bit less clear. The discussion about different types of markets does not adequately address the issue of how they score (differentially) in terms of “the conditions that govern smallholders’ participation in the market economy”. The report doesn’t illuminate the “value chain” buzz word sufficiently (box 8 is tendentious) and doesn’t come to grips with the issue of somehow reconciling the financial benefits generated through sale of commodities with the overall, diversified logic of the “exploitation familiale”.

You might want to consider introducing a dimension of future-oriented scenarios. With climate change and an intensified energy crisis the policy arguments for promoting sustainable smallholder production will also be intensified.

You don’t seem to have given enough weight to conflicts of interest between the corporate private sector and public goods. The issue of the impacts of profit-oriented corporate concentration along the food chain on food security and the right to food cannot be ignored.  

The justification for a National Smallholder Vision and Strategic Framework isn’t strong enough yet. How would it relate to a food security/right to food strategy, and to an agricultural policy (in which presumably one would want smallholders to be at the center, as in ECOWAP)?  And of course implementation is the big problem. I’m sure you are planning to work on this for the final version.

The report is a bit weak on women in food production and on human rights. Opportunistically, you might try to get more mileage from the International Year of Family Farming.

On a more cosmetic tone, once you have finalized the content it would be great if the HLPE secretariat could arrange for a top quality English mother tongue editing.

Chencho Norbu Department of Agriculture, Bhutan
Chencho  Norbu

Components where I feel we need to focus:

1.      Exposure of small farmers through education and awareness:  Small farmers are usually slow to respond to new types of technologies.  This is because they have strong belief in their norms and customs. It is important for small farmers know more about other types of farming or culture beyond their local areas. This is particularly true where physical boundaries like mountainous, hills, valleys and rivers separate settlements from one another. 

2.      Communication and connectivity: Small farmers become more aware of investments when they are connected to markets. Connectivity could be through motorable road networks or information communication technologies, like mobile phones and information sharing through TV and radio.

3.      Incentives to produce more: A mechanism should be in place to buy farm surplus or when prices of farm produce are below the cost of production.  This would encourage small farmers to produce more. Investments could be in form postharvest storage facilities establishment, provision of minimum support price systems, crop insurance schemes for loss from pest/disease or natural disasters etc.

4.      Food/Nutrition and hygiene/sanitation: small farmers should produce beyond their traditional crops to enrich their dietary habits. Supplements through vitamins and mineral tablets are not a solution. Farmers should know nutrition value of their crops. In addition, clean drinking water supply is necessary to keep them away from water born diseases and maintain good hygiene/sanitation. It is important to see small farmers and their children strong and healthy to keep local economy moving.

5.      Investments in Sustainable Land Management (SLM)- It is important to keep small farms productive for the current and in years to come. Although substantive gain from SLM is a long term, it is good to invest in it to increase farm productivity and reduce risks of farmland degradations. There are good lessons where SLM has proven to be successful for those households headed by a woman doing a mixed farming.

6.      Good coordination among agencies supporting small farmers is necessary-  Small farmers usually practice mixed farming to reduce risks of crop failures.  Farm labors are contributed either by family members or rotational basis among the households.  Farm labors are becoming scarce because of migration to urban areas. It is important for various agencies (donors or local authorities) to connect and coordinate so that the  farmers are not called for meetings time and again. In the name of participatory planning or engagement of local in decision making, the farmers are asked to attend numerous meetings when there is a lot to be done on farms. 

Lizzy Nneka Igbine Nigerian Women Farmers Association, Nigeria
Lizzy Nneka

Welcome and happy new year to all.

The small holder farmer is the food producers of my country Nigeria. The account for 90% of the farming population and the provide about 95% of the food consumed every year in my country Nigeria. their contributions is so intense that if there is additional funding for this sector , they will produce more.

Types of produce of this group of farmers ranges from maize crop to legumes , cassava and grains. There had not being any significant change in investments over the years and farming have not changed from ancient practices to modern and improved farming. Though this area has huge potentials.

Investing in small holder farming should be focused on changing the manual forms of cultivation with investment on mechanization.

Clustering of farmers into cooperatives so that there can be a pool of resources that can qualify for funding and easy accessibility and arrangements to off take farmers harvest. also inputs like fertilizers and improved seeds should be distributed. This are basic necessities for a good start in improving the lot of the small scale farmers.

Small scale farmers harvest will grow with an astronomical percentage and this will take care of the food needs of the Country as well as provide raw materials for our industries.

While taking care of the food needs, Cassava produce of farmers could be used in the production of Bio fuels like ethanol.

This will come cheap due to high volumes of expenditure being expected in the Agriculture business.

Hunger will be a thing of the past and poverty will disappear while unemployment will give way to job security and economic growth.

FSN Forum Team FAO, Italy
FSN Forum

Posted on behalf of Mike Donovan, Practical Farm Ideas, UK

Dear authors,

My interest is The dissemination of improved methods for farmers and smallholders, and I search the report for an analysis of current knowledge transfer and recommendations for its improvement.

My involvement is the creation of Practical Farm Ideas  in 1992, and the subsequent development of the service, which has the potential for the principles to be transferred to the developing world. Even some content is suitable for adoption in farming systems based on smallholding.

Knowledge transfer is as important to the sector as marketing and banking / finance systems. Knowledge transfer, independent of those companies and organisations marketing products and services, allows the poor performer to move higher, the median smallholder to achieve production and efficiency through the use of methods and ideas passed to them by the best performers. This happens in the developed farming of the UK and is equally relevant in Africa, Asia and South America.

Mike Donovan
editor, Practical Farm Ideas
11 St Mary's St,   Whitland,
Carmarthenshire, SA34 0PY