This member participated in the following discussions
In the context of this consultation, I would like to flag some work at FAO that aligns closely, namely work on knowledge management related to sustainable food value chain development. This is a broader program of normative work that includes the initiation of a new set of practitioner handbooks, a training program, an (internal) FAO technical network and an online knowledge platform. In a few months, FAO will launch this knowledge platform. Value chains are a part of the food system, and their holistic, systems-based nature and our particular focus on the three sustainability dimensions (economic, social, environmental) makes this platform a tool that could likely support the FAO-UNEP program in various ways: generating ideas, facilitating networking, sharing experiences, promoting best practices, …Especially for objective 3 on stock taking. The approach is described in the attached document.
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.