FAO Regional Office for Near East and North Africa

Rural advisory services for inclusive transformation in the Near East and North Africa

Small-scale family farmers are a cornerstone of agriculture in the NENA region, managing about 85 percent of agricultural holdings. Yet, their livelihoods and income are often undermined by factors of limited assets, land fragmentation, weak productive infrastructure, and links to markets.  In addition, low volume and quality of produce, high transaction costs, as well as weak access to inputs, technologies, market information and postharvest facilities, limit their capacity to operate their farms as profitable businesses and respond to market demands and standards. Women and youth are at a particular disadvantage given the additional constraints they face in access to resources, capital, information, services and markets. 

Rural Advisory Services (RAS) play a key role in enabling farmers to cope with both production and marketing challenges, thus contributing to enhancing rural livelihoods and reducing poverty. This entails a wide range of market-oriented RAS encompassing services that enable smallholders to increase their productivity, manage their farms sustainably, link to inputs’ and outputs’ markets, act collectively and make informed decisions to advance towards “farming as a business.” Targeted efforts are further needed to ensure responsiveness of RAS to the diverse needs and demands of small-scale farmers, women, youth and vulnerable producers.

Evidence shows that these diversified services are often provided by multiple service providers from the public and private sectors, producer organizations and civil-society groups (pluralistic service system). Increasing service quality and outreach can therefore be facilitated through capitalizing on diversity of these systems and networks, drawing on the comparative advantages of each actor and the complementarity of services they provide.

The sub-programme aims to strengthen rural advisory service systems in the NENA region, making rural services work for small-scale producers and family farmers towards more inclusive rural transformation.  The overall purpose is to inform and guide the development of policies and scalable programmes on pathways for transforming RAS to more inclusive and market oriented systems facilitating access of smallholders to services and markets to increase their income and enhance rural livelihoods.

Interventions under this sub-programme focus on
  • Appraisal of extension and rural advisory services, from a pluralistic and market-oriented perspective, to identify gaps and entry points and inform policy and programme formulation, e.g. Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Oman;
  • Facilitate evidence-based policy dialogue and stakeholder consultations at national and regional levels. E.g. Regional consultation entitled: Transformative pathways for Rural Advisory Services in the Near East and North Africa;  
  • Foster exchange and learning across countries to promote strategic planning and scalable results for leveraging the role of rural advisory services in rural transformation. e.g. Regional study on the status of RAS in the region entitled ‘Advancing Rural Advisory Services in Arab countries to promote market-orientation and inclusive transformation’;
  • Advocacy for enhanced regional networking and cooperation for advancing rural services, linked to the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS)
Facts and Figures
  • About 40% of the NENA region’s population live and work in rural areas. Deep inequalities persist between rural and urban areas.
  • Small-scale family farmers comprise about 70% of the poor living in the region.
  • Nearly 85% of agricultural land holdings are farmed by families. The majority of family farms in the region are small, with an average size of less than two hectares.
  • Small-scale agriculture provides more than 80% of some annual and perennial crops and livestock produce in the region.
  • Over 75% of the agricultural produce in the region is transacted through the traditional marketing systems where the number of intermediaries is large and the power relations between farmers and intermediaries are unequal.
FAO impact
  • Extensions and advisory services assessed from a pluralistic and market-oriented perspective in 4 countries (Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Oman)
  • 172 service systems actors involved in stakeholder consultations on the status of RAS and means for its advancement; 454 farmers engaged in focus group discussions; 77 service providers from different sectors engaged as key informants in Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan.
  • Technical cooperation project to support strengthening extension and rural advisory services launched in Syria.