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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.

Calvin Miller Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, Italy
Calvin Miller

I agree the document is a useful report. There could be some more on the issue of small farmer overall competitiveness which goes beyond their lack of natural and financial resources, the less developed and often less reliable farmer groups and organizations and lack of economies of scale for both better market access and feasibility of investing in better technologies. It is then combination of factors that collectively pull them down.

I thought that in the point 3 and to some extent point 5 of the Summary and in the corresponding document text there is an over-appreciation of the status of farmer organizations. They have many problems of governance, of internal and external politics, etc. that seriously weaken many of them. It is not just that the world is "stacked" against them, which can be but is often not the case. I do agree with the point in 5 about inclusion.

I am not sure about the 2 hectare definition since it is not valid for some many places and does not address herders, mountain communities, etc.

Overall the other messages of the document are consistent with the information.

I look forward to further work in moving this from document into action.

Calvin Miller, Senior Officer Agribusiness and Finance, FAO

FSN Forum Team Afghanistan
FSN Forum

Posted on behald of Eric Joel Fofiri Nzossie, University of  Ngaoundéré, Cameroon


Faisant suite à votre courriel relatif à la consultation électronique sur la version V0 du rapport cité en objet, je vous prie de trouver ci-joint, mes observations à la suite de la lecture dudit rapport.



Université de Ngaoundéré
FALSH-Département de géographie
BP. 454 Ngaoundéré

Dr. Robin Bourgeois Executive Secretariat of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research, ...

Merci pour le partage de ce document. Vous trouverez mes commentaires directement dans le fichier attaché. Dans la mesure où ces commentaires sont à un niveau plutôt fondamental, je les ai concentrés sur la partie du résumé éxécutif.

Envisagez-vous de publier par la suite des versions en différentes langues afin de pouvoir recuillir les commentairesdes lecteurs non anglophones?

Mr. David Michael Wondu Business & Technology Services, Australia

Well done. It's a useful report. In terms of constraints to smallholder investment, however, I sugegst the report would benefit from more recognition of and examination of economies of scale in agricultural production. There are significant economies of scale in almost all agricultural production enterprises across grains, horticulture and livestock, not just industrial crops. Economies of scale enable lower production costs and facilitate quality control, market access, financial access, skills access, risk management expertise, access to contracts and access to new technology. The reports cites examples of higher yields in smallholder farms compared to large farms but productivity and growth in productivity is not just about yields. While yields is important total productivity is the main game and comes from superior capital and labour performance. That's why economise of scale are important.

Another area that could be examined in more detal is the retail and wholesale market. We can expect these markets to develop and grow in just about all countries especially those in developing and LDCs. They will be private sector owned and driven. The investment climate will play an important role in their incentive to invest. In the circumstances contestable markets take on added importance. Once again, economies of scale will play an important role. As these retail markets grow they will play an ever increasing role in food security. 

Prof. JS (Pat) Heslop-Harrison University of Leicester, United Kingdom
JS (Pat)

I welcome the opportunity to comment on the V0 draft, which certainly covers a wide range of important issues. I would like to highlight very briefly three areas that I feel are insufficiently addressed in the V0 draft.

Firstly, I felt that the whole report underplays the critical role of education in investment and food or nutrition security. It rightly points out that crop yield potentials are not achieved, the complexity of achieving smallholder nutritional sufficiency, and even poor investment decisions by smallholders, but I would suggest that education at all levels is critical to alleviating these problems. As well as primary and high-school eduction, one can argue that the emphasis on training BSc level and MSc level extension workers and larger family or other farmers, has had a major impact across many parts of Asia in ensuring food sufficiency, safety and sustainability.

Secondly, I was happy to see the attempt to reference research underpinning many of the conclusions. However, throughout the report, much of this cited research is weak, often written in vague terms, and inadequately reviewed. I think it would be valuable for the report to highlight areas where better knowledge of the issues is essential. National and international organizations will then be able to encourage research in these areas - as the report notes (recommendation 14), the contribution of smallholders is "too frequently neglected in policy and public investment" but V0 does not detail all the ways this might be mitigated.

Thirdly, I was sorry to note the limited comments about genetic improvement of crops and animals, and potential of new species. The rapidity of agricultural change is alluded to several times, but I am not sure that consequences and rapidity of adoption of new genetic stocks and improved agronomy is fully considered. Of course the changes is best exemplified by the Green Revolution wheats over very few years in the 1970s, but it is important to scan the nature of future revolutionary improvements.

I hope that the final report will build momentum to the political support for smallholders and the key contribution that they make to the well-being of so many billions on the planet today and in future generations.

FSN Forum Team Afghanistan
FSN Forum

Posted on behalf of Abdul Razak Ayazi, Permanent Representation of Afghanistan to FAO

First I wish to make some general observations on the zero draft of the study and then address the three topics on which comments are requested by the HLPE Team, as well as reflecting on section 5 of the study (Recommendations).

General Comments

The study is wide-ranging and contains useful material on principal issues relevant to the investment needs of sustainable smallholder agriculture. The search conducted    by the HLPE Team on this study is indeed extensive and praiseworthy.

However, as a policy-oriented document the structure of the study needs improvements. In its present form, the text reads like an academic paper, which is obviously not the intention. The membership of CFS wish to be advised on key  policy recommendations that are most suitable for improving the production and productivity of sustainable smallholder agriculture for different ecological systems.

With this purpose in mind, the balance between broader and circumstantial issues and those germane to the development of sustainable smallholder agriculture needs a fresh look, with the aim of increasing the weight of the latter in the study.

The section on Conclusions (which has not yet been written) should come before section 5 and should focus on substantive issues, thereby leading the way to a few  key recommendations.

Section 5 (Recommendation) should be made shorter and more focused. The essence of each of the 9 recommendations proposed needs to be expressed in a straight forward manner and in simple  language, so the reader would know exactly what each recommendation entails.

The Three topics

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

For a policy-oriented study, the definition of “smallholder agriculture”, which also includes small fishers and indigenous forest dwellers, should be crisp and concise. The three paragraphs of sub-section 1.1, when taken together, reflect a definition that is somewhat diffused. Recognizing that the definition of smallholder varies from region to region, from country to country and from location to location within a country, the symptoms are nevertheless commonly shared.

On the global scale, smallholders, who practice intensive and diversified agriculture, are large in numbers, asset- poor, prone to exploitation, least beneficiaries of public services, most vulnerable to shocks, facing a wide range of socio-economic and technical constraints and struggling to survive in a global economy from which they hardly benefit. 

Given the policy nature of the study, sub-section 1.2 (How small is small) can be shortened and perhaps limited to the salient features of  Figure 2 and Figure 3. This reduction will in no way diminish the importance of the valuable conclusion shown in bold letters on page 22 of the study.

To provide a geographically balanced oversight on policy for smallholder agriculture,  it may be advisable to also include in sub-section 1.3.2 (Policy concerns) one or two initiatives taken from Asia and the Pacific Region, where 87% of the world’s smallholder farmers live. Similarly, an example from Latin America and the Caribbean would be most appropriate because in that continent the profile of smallholder is different than in the land-scare continent of Asia.  

Sub-section 1.4, which represents historical trends in the average size per holding for 3 countries (India, France and Brazil), may not be that representative of the global picture. It would be advisable to show a single chart based on the last three or four censuses showing the evolution in the size of holdings for at least 10 small, medium  and large countries in different regions and then attempt to make some comparisons, if feasible. Consideration could also be given to placing sub-section 2.5 after sub-section 1.4 because the two sections are to a large extent complementary.

The significance of smallholder agriculture is fairly well substantiated in Section 2.  That said, it may be advisable to also mention milling in sub-section 2.1.2 due to its importance in rural areas and open a new sub-section on the contribution of smallholder agriculture to rural employment, as this aspect is highly significant and needs a separate treatment. In Box 4 on pages 34-35, mention should also be made to the third category of family farms that hire some labour on permanent basis. While this category accounts for only 6% of the 15 million family farms in LAC, it cultivates 25% of the most productive land of the 400 million hectares of family farms.

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

Section 3 should present the investment framework most appropriate to smallholder agriculture. The existing text is not well focused on this issue and what is presented is somewhat academic. Generally speaking, the five types of capital/assets listed on pages 37-38 (Human, Social, Natural, Physical, Financial) equally applies to medium and  large size holdings, though the mixture may differ between the three types of landholdings according to their specific characteristics and requirements.

For investment in smallholder agriculture, three ways of asset creation are crucial, namely:

(i)           family labour for on-farm development (basically soil improvement; better use of family labour in improving animal productivity through crop/livestock integration; creation of home-based gardens; on-farm improvements that would increase water efficiency for crops, trees and livestock; and preservation of genetic resources);

(ii)         community labour used in creating physical and human assets beneficial to smallholders as a group (erosion control, terracing, drainage, water harvesting, improved range management, construction of community owned wells, storage, on-farm roads, centres for cooperative and farmer organization, facilities to enable the group employment of women and the development of skills for young boys and girls);

(iii)        Public goods that gives an upward shift to the technological frontier most suitable for smallholder (roads connecting smallholders to nearby markets, small and medium irrigation schemes, electricity, public education, sanitation, health services, affordable financial services and communication, more or less on the model practiced in China and some other developing countries). Public-private partnership in  research and extension and building on traditional knowledge are also considered as important public goods.

Corporate investment has a role to play in the development of smallholder agriculture, provided the benefit sharing arrangements are carefully worked out for the benefit of both parties, a subject matter that presumably will be addressed in the study on rai. 

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

Generally speaking, section 4 (A Framework for Smallholder Agriculture and Investment) contains relevant conceptual  material. However, the section attempts to  simultaneously cover context, constraints and potential solutions in mitigating the negative impact of the constraints on production by smallholders and improving household income. It may be advisable to keep the focus of  section 4 on constraints to investment and their typology and placing context and potential solutions to other sections of the study. 

Nevertheless, the good features of section 4 are:

•              Underscoring the complete absence or severe limitation of legal protection for smallholders and their political and economic underweight within their respective social environments. The writings of Mr. Olivier de Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, could be used to substantiate legal protection for smallholders;

•              A very good assessment of the three types of risks facing smallholder agriculture and their interaction (sub-section 4.3);

•              A good exposé of the policy disincentives (sub-section 4.4);

•              An excellent presentation of typology of smallholder according to the interplay of 3 essential factors: assets, markets and institution, especially Box 9 on page 54. 

The assessment is comprehensive, issue-oriented and with focus on policy issues. I cannot think of any important thing to add.

Section 5 ( Recommendations)

Section 5 is too lengthy and the recommendations are somewhat lost within the expansive text. For example, what exactly is being recommended under 5.2.1? Is it that smallholder should have full access to all public services as listed in lines 4-9 of the first paragraph on page 58?  If so, it needs to be concise and precise.

That said, the 9 recommendations (4 addressing the constraints facing smallholders, 3 focusing on specific priority domains and 2 related to implementation strategy) are undoubtedly pertinent and strategic in nature. Avoiding a plethora of recommendations is also commendable. The question is the presentation of the recommendations in short and unambiguous language. It would be very helpful if each of the 9 recommendation can be supplemented with one or two country-based experience, like Box 10 on yields, page 59, and Box 11 on Rabobank, page 51

See the attachment:Smallholder investment.doc
Jacques Loyat CIRAD, France
Jacques Loyat


Suite à votre appel à contribution, je me permets de vous adresser quelque remarques.

Tout d'abord, mers félicitations pour le travail réalisé.  Je souscris très largement aux analyses et recommandations de ce rapport.

Vous trouverez, dans le fichier joint, quelques annotations (aux § 1, 2, 3, 9, 13, 20, 29 ainsi qu'à la page 59 sur l'agro-écologie).

Deux commentaires complémentaires:

1 - Le schéma de la figure 1 pourrait être mieux présenté en clarifiant notamment les notions de "typologie", de trois piliers (deux fois trois piliers !), de trois domaines (voir commentaires dans le texte).

2 - Le passage relatif à l'agro-écologie (p 59) donne l'impression qu'elle n'est pas à la portée des smallholders, l'agriculture conventionnelle étant finalement mieux adaptée à répondre à leurs besoins.

Selon le rapport d'Olivier de Schutter (Agroécologie et droit à l’alimentation, rapport de décembre 2010,  présenté à la seizième session du Conseil des droits de l’homme de l’ONU, le 8 mars 2011) : l’agroécologie est à la fois une science et un ensemble de pratiques ; elle utilise une forte intensité de connaissances et elle repose sur des techniques qui ne sont pas fournies du sommet à la base mais mises au point à partir des connaissances et de l’expérience des agriculteurs. Le rapport met l’accent sur la dimension verticale du développement de  l’agroécologie, à savoir la mise en place d’un cadre propice. Les gouvernements ont un rôle déterminant à jouer à cet égard, qui va au-delà de celui qui consiste à favoriser l’accès des petits exploitants à la terre, à l’eau et aux semences.
Sur le plan écologique, l’agriculture industrielle à fort usage d'intrants a une responsabilité première dans la pollution des eaux, des sols, et la disparition accélérée de la biodiversité animale et végétale. Elle peut présenter des risques sur la santé humaine. Elle contribue à la disparition des exploitations paysannes et à leurs savoir-faire ancestraux. L’agroécologie est une voie possible car elle protège la vie des sols et la biodiversité et elle s'appuie sur des savoirs traditionnels. Elle associe différentes espèces cultivées dans un même champ et utilise des engrais naturels pour fertiliser la terre. Par des circuits d’échange plus courts, elle rapproche les consommateurs des paysans.
Pour autant, des voies se font entendre pour relativiser quelque peu les bienfaits attendus de ces techniques de l’agroécologie. Dans un article de 2009 (voir réf ci-dessous) consacré à la mise en pratique de l’agriculture de conservation dans les petites exploitations africaines, des chercheurs mettent en garde contre une vision par trop optimiste sur les résultats attendus.  Ils insistent sur le fait que ces technologies doivent être adaptées à chaque situation et dépendent des environnements biophysiques et socio-économiques spécifiques. Tout va dépendre notamment des ressources à disposition des agriculteurs, en termes de terres, de main d’œuvre et de capitaux. Avec des ressources limitées, comment peuvent-ils adopter des pratiques qui certes pourraient accroitre la production à long terme, mais qui à court terme ne leur procurent pas les bénéfices attendus ?

Tel est bien l’enjeu de la mise en place de services adaptés de formation et de développement agricoles pour accompagner les agriculteurs dans leurs décisions,  notamment les petits agriculteurs.

Réf citée : Ken E. Giller,, Ernst Witter, Marc Corbeels,, Pablo Tittonell, Conservation agriculture and smallholder farming in Africa: The heretics’ view. Elsevier , Field Crop Research 2009.

Bien cordialement et tous mes vœux pour la nouvelle année 2013

Jacques Loyat