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Small-scale farmers gain policymaking clout

Trends

Farming organisations can guide members in their policy positions on issues such as agricultural investments and postharvest handling regulations.

© IFAD/Susan Beccio

Agricultural policy

ACP farmers’ concerns are being more effectively addressed as they become better organised and trained, and hence, increasingly involved in shaping agricultural policies and strategies.

Land ownership, infrastructure development, taxes, subsidies, and market access spheres are largely framed by government laws and regulations, while also having a marked direct impact on the livelihoods of small-scale farmers. But do they have a say in the matter?

Farming organisations can guide members in their policy positions on issues such as agricultural investments and postharvest handling regulations.

Farming organisations can guide members in their policy positions on issues such as agricultural investments and postharvest handling regulations.

© IFAD/Susan Beccio

“Farmers' organisations (FOs) currently participate in agricultural policy discussions in almost all African countries and regional integration organisations,” says Jean-Philippe Audinet, lead technical specialist of producers’ organizations and rural development at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). “FOs now have a massive membership base in Burkina Faso, Burundi, Gambia, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Senegal and Uganda, which gives them substantial weight in representing farmers’ interests.” Audinet also points out that 10 of the 13 national FO members of the Network of Farmers' Organizations and Agricultural Producers of West Africa (ROPPA), are closely involved in formulating and implementing national agricultural policies – up from seven in 2015 – and ROPPA is associated with the agricultural policy of the Economic Community of West African States. This trend of FOs being more involved in formulating and implementing national agricultural policies has also been noted in other African regions.

The role of FOs/producer organisations (POs) varies according to their respective priorities when it comes to voicing smallholders' concerns. “Giving small-scale producers (particularly women) an appropriate platform to defend their rights and advocate for favourable policies is at the heart of empowerment. Such platforms connect producers to public officials and give POs greater access to agricultural policymakers and institutions”, states OXFAM in a Briefing Note entitled, Power, rights and inclusive markets. Public policies that support small-scale agriculture. The authors go on to say, “Critically, POs also give marginalised producers a stronger political voice.”

Nurturing farmers’ support

“When FOs are involved in the formulation and implementation of policies, strategies and programmes, they are more likely to participate in the implementation,” explains John Ulimwengu, senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). “If farmers are not involved in the policymaking, the implementation will suffer. This is because successful implementation of any agricultural initiative requires the full participation of all stakeholders; farmers are very important players in agricultural value chains. Losing their support often cripples the whole policy initiative.”

FOs therefore play a vital role while also serving as key intermediaries in formulating agricultural policies with local, national and regional authorities. In recognition of this status, the Support to Farmers’ Organisations in Africa Programme was set up (main phase 2013-2017), with support from IFAD, the European Union, the French Development Agency and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. The FOs involved were better organised and their members and leaders trained in advocacy or business planning. As a result, in Southern Africa, for example, there has been a 90% increase in national FO participation in policy task forces. Membership also markedly increased by 32% in East Africa, 8% in Central Africa and 28% in Southern Africa. Moreover, FOs managed to raise a total of €12 million from public sources.

Throughout Africa, FOs are increasingly involved in discussions with local and national governments and in the national agricultural policymaking process. One of the most striking political successes was the adoption (in 2015) of the Cooperative Societies Bill by the East African Legislative Assembly under pressure from the Eastern African Farmers Federation (EAFF). This law seeks to harmonise cooperation laws within the region so as to enhance the functioning of cooperatives, facilitate transnational cooperation and strengthen countries’ regional integration. EAFF has been involved in a long (around 15 years) and painstaking process of consultation, advocacy and drafting of the law. Each State now just has to ratify the wording of the law before it comes into force throughout the region.

The very influential EAFF has scored further successes.“We have assisted our members on more than 25 national policy positions on issues such as agriculture investment, warehouse receipt systems, climate change, crop regulations, postharvest handling, etc., all geared towards generating policies/regulations that are supportive of the small-scale farming community, which constitutes the majority of our members,” says Norbert Tuyishime, EAFF programme officer for agribusiness and trade.

FOs are essential for the proper formulation and implementation of agricultural policies. Small-scale farmers – in their villages or regions – often take advantage of the FO platform, “…to share their experiences, including on crop/variety selection, planting techniques and periods, fertiliser applications and harvesting techniques,”says Ulimwengu at IFPRI. “However, most of them lack the analytical skills required to identify and properly articulate policy options.”

Myriad challenges

“In general, organisations in rural areas often face difficulties to participate in processes of dialogue and policymaking,” explains Elisenda Estruch-Puertas, specialist in rural economy and related sectors at the International Labour Organization. “In rural areas, trade unions and employers’ organisations tend to be fragmented and register lower levels of membership. The realisation of their freedom of association and their right to engage in collective bargaining is often restricted. All of these challenges are aggravated by poverty and informality, as well as by the remoteness of rural communities and the variety of categories of the workforce, which is mostly comprised of self-employed, seasonal, casual and migrant workers.”

ICTs to the rescue

There is also a serious lack of reliable data and ways to mobilise farmers. The Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU) – with CTA support – has thus developed an Electronic Membership Data Management System for the Swaziland National Agricultural Union (SNAU). “The accumulation of membership data by farmers’ organisations can improve delivery of services to farmers to enhance their income, and provides these organisations with the evidence and legitimacy to advocate farmers’ needs. As such, farmers’ organisations become trust centres that bridge between farmers, policymakers and value chain actors,”writes Fhumulani Mashau, SACAU project officer, in ICT Update. Nqobizwe Dlamini, SNAU project coordinator confirms the deliverables: “This project and the publicity it generated has positioned SNAU as a partner organisation of choice for various stakeholders, including government, for initiatives involving farmers in the country. It has also improved the standing of SNAU as a repository of farmers’ data in the country.”

Some extent of diplomatic talent is often required to defend farmers' interests. “Policy advocacy is a very new trend in the Pacific and to farmer organisations,” says Lavinia Kaumaitotoya, programme manager at the Pacific Island Farmers Organisation Network (PIFON). “As the Pacific is small, the issue in the Pacific becomes how to advocate on issues and make an impact on policy without destroying relationships that will be needed later to continue to be effective in serving/representing its members. In the Pacific, relationships matter, families matter, so it is an art to be able to weave one’s way around it – we call it the Pacific way.”

PIFON has thus published two policy briefs on agricultural extension and research, along with a video on climate change impacts. These documents are used by PIFON representatives and member organisations at national support levels to raise farmers' awareness on these issues and their rights. In turn, PIFON has published a help guide entitled Farmers Having Their Say. Five steps to influence policy are outlined in this 64-page guide illustrated by real cases. Maria Linibi, a farmer, says, “Networking and building relationships has been a key factor in the success of Papua New Guinea Women in Agriculture, helping to raise our profile and enabling us to influence decisions and become involved in innovative projects.”

Audinet at IFAD says, “We are no longer in an era of large public agricultural extension agencies, government-run farms and parastatal cooperatives. Modern, inclusive and effective agricultural policies cannot be implemented without farmers and their organisations.” To this end, the dialogue must include financial resources, efficient administration, sector-oriented platforms, a monitoring and assessment system and continuity in all initiatives undertaken. “To be effective, agricultural policies must be carefully built and assessed over time, not just within the few months or years of the mandate of a specific minister or development project.” 

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