CFS week: Late-night push for smallholder agriculture

Flyers and other documents during the 40th session of the Committee on World Food Security on Oct. 9, 2013 in Rome, Italy. On Oct. 10, the CFS approved a document that sets out where and how public investments in agriculture should be channeled. Photo by: Annibale Greco / FAO

The lights remained on well into the night on Wednesday, at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s headquarters in Rome. The reason? Complicated negotiations on investing in smallholder agriculture.

Yesterday afternoon, the plenary of the Committee for World Food Security approved a document that sets out where and how public investments in agriculture should be channeled.

FAO member states agreed that smallholders must be the priority, identified specific measures to be implemented, asked for a revision of national budgets and urged support from international development partners, especially the Rome-based agencies, the World Bank Group and regional financial institutions.

“This document requests governments build national policies for smallholders, with a clear call for investing [resources],” Andrea Ferrante, coordinator of La Via Campesina Europe, who participated in the negotiations on behalf of civil society, told Devex.

The question is now how these recommendations will be enacted at country level and how they will impact on development actors.

Setting the stage

The document pushes for country-owned investment strategies, but also indicates what actions should be pursued to promote access to assets, public goods, social services, technology, market and financial instruments, as well as the investments required in non-farm rural environments. Further, it provides indications on stakeholder relationship building and how to help empower smallholders.

According to Ferrante, the document is innovative — even “revolutionary” — not only because the role of smallholders as first investors in agriculture has been recognized for the first time with such strength, but also for the specific provisions it includes.

“The recommendations recognize the right of smallholder farmers to choose the markets they want, … they acknowledge non-monetary exchanges, … state that smallholders can produce, exchange and sell their own seeds,” he said.

Drafting the recommendations has been a long, iterative, inclusive and participative process, which began in June after the release of the High Level Panel of Experts’ report.

Sensitive issues have included seeds, agroecology, traditional versus science-based knowledge and phytosanitary regulations. Although these sticking points needed discussion and compromise, there is a feeling that a genuine consensus has been reached between prioritizing public investment and encouraging further private engagement.

“Everybody agreed on enhancing investments to smallholder agriculture. Where there were some discussions was on the relative importance of public versus private investments,” Florence Buchholzer, rapporteur for the negotiations and minister counsellor at the European Union delegation to the U.N. in Rome, told Devex.

Impact on development actors

Member states seem to agree that the first outcome of the recommendations will be an increase of the resources devoted to smallholder agriculture. “We cannot project what [member states] are going to do [but]… there is a call to give [smallholders] priority,” Buchholzer said.

Will development actors adopt the recommendations in their panning? Will they change the way they work? “I hope so, because that’s the purpose of these recommendations. It’s to have a more smallholder-sensitive approach … [NGOs and development actors] are encouraged to do so,” she said.

Meanwhile, Ferrante believes that the endorsement of the document will impact on everyone’s operations, affecting next year’s activities around the Year of Family Farming, as well as the next CFS discussions on responsible investment in agriculture.

Some countries are already going in that direction, such as Brazil, India and even China, according to Ferrante.

The document should also give rise to greater engagement by donors and international agencies of national stakeholders and local organisations, with an emphasis on the involvement of farmers’ organizations.

Will the recommendations be enacted?

Despite the fact that the decisions of the CFS are not binding, the implementation of the voluntary guidelines on land tenure shows us that CFS agreements can have the power of steering the choices of countries and donors.

“Even if they are not binding … everyone is working on the implementation of land tenure guidelines,” Ferrante said.

The chances of the latest recommendations being adopted are now greater than ever, according to observers. This week, the CFS changed the rules for monitoring its decisions, which makes the recommendations stronger.

“Yesterday, [CFS] adopted a document on monitoring with specific criteria … [It] introduces obligations for members to report to the CFS,” Buchholzer said.

And according to Ferrante, it is now up to the farmers’ organizations to use those recommendations in the negotiations for policies and resources with the member states that voted on them.

What’s next?

Civil society organizations will now start disseminating the document and the CFS will continue working on issues relating to smallholder agriculture. The recommendations call for guidelines to be issued on public-private partnerships and contract farming. “We will keep going on this topic … there is an ongoing work on contracting,” Buchholzer said.

After that, the next step will be sharing expertise during the high-level forum on connecting smallholders to markets to be held in 2015.

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About the author

  • Elena L. Pasquini

    Elena Pasquini covers the development work of the European Union as well as various U.N. food and agricultural agencies for Devex News. Based in Rome, she also reports on Italy's aid reforms and attends the European Development Days and other events across Europe. She has interviewed top international development officials, including European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs. Elena has contributed to Italian and international magazines, newspapers and news portals since 1995.

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