Engage smallholders fairly: There are well known mechanisms to link smallholder farmers to agribusiness firms in fair and sustainable ways, such as contract farming (CF). Farmers can benefit from CF by having a guaranteed market outlet, access to technology and the possibility of pre-financing of farming inputs, among others. Firms also benefit by reducing the uncertainties related to procurement in agrifood markets. To help achieve positive outcomes for all engaged in CF systems, FAO created the contract farming resource centre and recently issued a publication outlining a number of guiding principles for responsible contract farming operations.
Regulations aren't always as effective as voluntary adherence: Voluntary adherence to codes of conduct and standards is more likely to work if it is driven by consumer demand. Regulations are not unimportant, but if enforcement is weak they might not work. To promote environmental responsibility by agribusiness firms, regulations might not be as effective as voluntary adherence to codes of conduct or environmental standards. As consumers become more demanding and wish to know how their food is produced, certified compliance with such codes and standards can be a way to guarantee market growth.
Bring agriculture into the media: National agricultural policies and media policies are too often dealt with as separate entities. It is great to see positive examples and guiding principles on contract farming and other business models documented and made publicly available. The next step needed in developing countries is to make this information available in formats that inspire people who are not used to reading reports.
Embed sustainable management systems: To cope with climate change which affects all agricultural systems we need to embed sustainable land and water management methods as widely as possible into agricultural extension. FAO, along with many other organisations, have established a consortium of experts, along with a great knowledge resource that can be consulted at the world overview of conservation approaches and technologies website. To build on and expand this rich resource Access Agriculture has developed a section with downloadable video and audio files to support sustainable land and water management.
We need a holistic approach to value chain development: Often, projects aiming at quick results focus on individual challenges only and/or beneficiaries who will respond more effectively to external support. But this favours stronger actors in the value chain. What's often lacking is medium-term financial and technical support for implementation of value chains, especially the financing of small enterprises to upgrade their facilities and access business development services providers, i.e those that help farmers to market, manage and link up their businesses.
Monitoring is key: Perhaps voluntary adherence to environmental standards by agribusiness firms could work, but not independently of timely, systematic monitoring and inspection systems. There are many examples of large firms plundering natural resources and taking advantage of government concessions in developing countries in the past. Perhaps now there is more public awareness and more of a social conscience, but monitoring is always crucial.
Mainstream conservatism: For sustainable development, we need to broaden the objectives of agribusiness so to incorporate and promote resources conservation and environment protection. We also need to mainstream more efficient use of energy resources, particularly locally produced materials, and therefore create more value added and increase labour productivity. Agricultural systems should primarily be based on components that are well adapted to the local environment and ecosystems. Policies should reward farmers and producers for conservation and environmental services.
Certification schemes can entrench inequality: Although organic certification schemes are well-meaning, those that charge annual fees exclude the smallholder farmers that can't afford them. One thing that buyers can do is visit local farms directly to establish relationships and trust between them.
Sydney Zharare, development economist, DAI, Johannesburg, SA
Model farms can help encourage chemical compliance: Making sure farmers in developing countries comply with chemical standards is a huge challenge. As a corporate agribusiness we implemented 2 models: 1) We had a team of agronomists working with farmers on land preparation, pre-planting herbicides, planting and basal fertilizer application until harvest to ensure that chemicals were used in acceptable quantities. 2) We developed a model farm in the centre of a growing region where most smallholder production was taking place and ensured compliance from there. Here the farmers had to be geographically concentrated. We then branded everything under the model farm brand.
Value chains work best within well-functioning systems: Value chains are helpful to a point, but where systemic change is needed it becomes more difficult to secure appropriate and timely investments. The value chain approach can help provide some sequencing of investments to address the weakest or most pressing issue in the chain. However, if systemic change across a farming sector is needed, then the value chain needs to be able to operate in isolation which is difficult to achieve.
Ahmed Dirie, independent research consultant, San Jose, US
Release Africa's farmlands from cash crops: East Africa exports coffee, tea, flowers, banana and livestock but faces recurrent droughts and food shortages. Africa needs appropriate small-scale technologies to improve its production capacities. The bulk of agribusiness in Asia and Latin America is propelled by small-scale and medium sized farms and technologies and not by large-scale intensive agribusiness. Africa's most fertile and irrigated farmlands need to be released from cash crops for export to wealthiest communities and turned into staple crop productions. Achieving this will require a mixture of policy change, investing in what's appropriate, capacity building and strong agricultural research systems to serve the best interests of farmers and agribusinesses.
Caspar van Vark, freelance journalist, London, UK. @foodpolicynews
Adopt a gendered approach: A gendered approach to agricultural development is essential in general, given the important role that women play in farming. There are an estimated half a billion smallholders in the world, but women often have insecurity of land tenure and can be less empowered to negotiate their way fairly into supply chains on their own.
Governments have a crucial role to play: The private sector can't do everything. Without decent roads and other infrastructure even the most productive smallholder can't sell their crop. In Africa, the Maputo Declaration of 2003 included a commitment to allocate 10% of national budgets to agriculture and rural development, but not every government has fulfilled that promise. Agricultural extension workers also have an important role to play.
Julius Mugwagwa, research fellow, ESRC innogen centre & development policy and practice group, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK
You can't 'scale up' unsustainable programmes: The challenge of sustaining successful models should be addressed before talks start about scaling them up. It's in the interest of all players in the agriculture value chain to ensure that successful models are sustained or buffered from failure, otherwise the start-stop cycle will never end.