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First week of e-conference: the moderator's summary

Here below you can read the moderator's summary:

A week ago, we launched the 2nd FAO e-conference for the SALSA project. 

One week later we are thrilled with amount and depth of everyone’s contributions. This is a huge testimony to the 800 people that registered for the e-conference and the 101 processed contributions (distributed through 32 aggregation emails) coming from 57 contributors in 30 countries. 

And this is just the first week, from Monday to Friday, excluding the contributions received/distributed over the weekend!

Here is a quick summary of the input so far. 

We’ve had valuable contributions on cooperation among small farms (Topic 1), their contribution to the resilience of the food system (Topic 2) and strategies used by small farms now and in the future to overcome challenges (Topics 3 and 4).  The importance of food businesses to small farms (Topic 5) and how policies affect small farms (Topic 6) haven’t been so fully explored yet. We look forward to more contributions – especially from those that haven’t yet shared their experiences – we know that a diversity of involvement will lead to more experiences and deeper conversations.

The first five days of the e-conference has produced a rich variety of experiences from across the globe on small farms’ cooperation (Topic 1). An interesting point raised by Mayank Jain from India was that whatever form the cooperation takes, it needs to be economically viable. As a case study from northern Tanzania noted, successful cooperatives were ones where the farmers experienced the benefits first hand

You have shared examples of informal cooperation that tap into kinship ties, family and friends for mutual support. That support often takes the form of labour but also includes sharing of machinery, crops and seeds, sharing information, financial support, management of natural resources and exchange of products.

We’ve read a lot about different styles of formal cooperation. Cooperatives, farmer interest groups, self-help groups, farmer producer organizations, societies, unions, agri-business clusters are all examples of formal cooperation you have brought forward.

So what have been examples of successes and benefits from more formal cooperation? The contributions indicate that economies of scale and scope are a key benefit. The strength in numbers and a greater voice of “an organization” (as opposed to an individual) has facilitated better deals on inputs, marketing, training/extension, machinery, infrastructure support. You’ve shared cases where the formal cooperation has defended the interests of farmers allowing for negotiation that can influence markets, credit, and prices. An interesting benefit coming from Honduras (submitted by Ruben Ruerd) was that cooperatives speed up innovation amongst smallholder farmers.  

However, many of you have also pointed out that formal cooperation doesn’t always work well. When there is weak organizational structure in the cooperation or personal ambition in the management, there can be corruption, elite capture, “free riding”, lack of monitoring and evaluation – all leading to loss of trust. Other failures in formal cooperation have resulted from the reliance on, or absence of, external technical and/or financial support and where there has been a wide gap between policy and implementation of those policies.  In one contribution, formal cooperation has not nurtured an entrepreneurial mindset.  A message from Sergiu Didicescu in Romania has challenged us to consider that most farmers perceive co-operation from the perspective of the producer but not as a stimulus to become more and better involved in the local rural development activities.

Your experiences indicate that gender can positively influence cooperation. Many of you noted the role of women in small farms and in some case the very differentiated role they play. These roles contribute greatly to the food security of families. In a contribution from Pakistan, when women are involved in small farm cooperation, the benefits include better organization, better utilization of funds and a focus on outcomes. Women’s role in peace-building and conflict resolution was also noted. In an example from India it was stated that “where women farmers are running the show, I have seen more harmony and cooperation in the farm work”. A further experience from India indicates women are easier to train, they are more confident and engaging and facilitate greater peer-to-peer learning.

It has been interesting to read a couple of examples of vertical integration and cooperation that bring together stakeholders along the value chain. We’ve had the example from Togo on the agribusiness value chain and the European Innovation Partnership (EIP-AGRI) Operational Groups in the EU.

Given that data from the first 10 reference regions studied in the SALSA project show that vertical cooperation may potentially reduce small farmers’ decision-making freedom, while remaining more autonomous, is a challenge, can you also share examples of vertical cooperation that reaches from the producer through to the consumer?

You’ve also shared several ways that small farms contribute to the resilience of the food system (Topic 2). Small farms' use of easily-accessible, simpler but effective technologies; diverse crops, products and production techniques; communal water management, and resource recycling are a few of the examples shared among the e-conference contributions. There have been a couple of contributions where it seems that, in some regions, small farms are more resilient than large farms due to their faster adaptability to change.   

You contributed your views on the three main challenges (Topic 3) currently facing small farms and there is a lot of congruence around the challenges posed by fluctuations in the market (including market access, lack of value chains, and no guaranteed price or access for products and inputs). Lack of knowledge/capacity was a key challenge mentioned many times as was climate change and effects/risks associated with drought, disasters, typhoons and floods. The response has been limited so far on the future challenges (Topic 4) faced by small farms and where opinion has been offered it seems that these are very similar to the current challenges.

It was interesting to note that development of formal cooperation (cooperatives as an example) with more effective communication, was one way for small farms to meet the challenges. Examples from India of more reliance on farmer knowledge in building capacity and training and practical demonstrations to farmers helped in successful knowledge building and transfer, including on climate smart agriculture. David Harris’ example showed us the benefits of sustainable intensification of agriculture in meeting global challenges of food security and nutrition while avoiding environmental disasters. The USAID efforts in Purdue Improved Crop Storage (and microloans), contributed by Paul Rigterink, is an adaptation to the challenge of food storage. 

Appropriate and supporting policies for small farms (international, national and local) are hugely influential to their sustainability and success (Topic 6). The contribution from Nidhi Nagabhatla showed how global strategies have translated into local and national policies and provided examples of the Ecosystem based decentralized land management policies for ensuring food security in India and the National Agro biodiversity Policy of Nepal. The very practical example of having a policy supporting neem-coated urea meant that more urea (a critical input for crops) was available to Indian farmers rather than industrial uses.

The SALSA project is particularly interested in policy measures that can improve the contribution of small farms to making the food system more resilient, and to meeting food security challenges. Please share more experiences and examples to further stimulate this topic.


You can follow the news on the e-conference also on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SalsaH2020

Source: http://www.fao.org/nr/research-extension-systems/res-home/news/detail/en...

Image: ©FAO/Tofik Babayev