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


Here below you can read the moderator's summary after 3 weeks of e-conference.

Hi everyone, 

Three weeks have passed since the FAO e-conference for the SALSA project was launched. The number and quality of the contributions has been incredible, and your submissions are going to be of great value to the SALSA team. To date we’ve received 234 submissions from 43 countries and your contributions have now led us to 56 aggregate emails. The number of registrations to the e-conference has risen to 846. We hope to get further contributions, especially to those questions posed by the participants. 

This week’s summary builds on the one sent last week (emailed to you on Sunday 1 April). If you haven’t read it yet, please do so (you can check the online version here). If you’d like to read the summary from week 1 it can be found at this link.

Topic #1: Cooperation among small farms

Topic 1 ("cooperation among small farms”) continues to enjoy a lot of input. This week the discussion on your experiences of small farms cooperation (Q1.1) brought forward some interesting examples. Many of these highlighted the various reasons why a cooperation model might not work, which echo earlier submissions e.g. lack on understanding the benefits of cooperation, lack of leadership, lack of trust and confidence.

Ways to address these challenges have been raised before e.g. ‘soft skills’ (Q1.1/6) as well as ensuring thorough explanation so that all actors fell they ‘own’ the initiative; a well-respected champion, and trust of external agents (Q2.1/12 and Q1.1/13). There have been numerous examples from Ghana (Q1.1/1, Q1.1/2, Q1.1/6, Q1.1/11, Q1.1/12, 1.2/8, 1.2/9, 1.3/8) over the e-conference and this week highlighted that there are failures and successes in small farm cooperation across the country (Q1.1/12) and that this differs from area to area. The topic of ‘soft skills’ was addressed in Q4.2/7 noting that these skills are equally important for professionals working with farmers. The Field Schools Knowledge Hub that AFAAS is hosting and nurturing, was provided as an example.

The Mango Foundation in Bangladesh (Q1.2/8) pointed to local leadership, increasing farmer technical knowledge, providing market space and storage, as success factors in small farm collaboration. The effectiveness of the value chain approach was also mentioned (Q1.2/9, Q1.2/7). Five possible scenarios for forms of collaboration for India was provided (Q1.3/7), all of which point to forming new types of partnerships and the skills required by farmers to collaborate effectively.

Finally, in Q1.4 there was repeated input that small farm cooperation benefits from involving and organizing women from small holder families but that cultural practices, religion, literacy levels and control by men all play a role in this effectiveness.

And as a reminder, and for your kind consideration, there have been four questions raised by participants that you are invited to respond to:

Q1.1 From Mayank Jain <mayank@sumarth.org> (India)

Can someone share consumer cooperative examples that have helped the cause of small farmers?(From the moderator: this is slightly different from small farms’ cooperation but concentrates on consumer cooperation models. do these help small farmers getting access to markets?)

Q1.1 From: Teresa Pinto Correia <mtpc@uevora.pt> (Portugal)

I would like to raise a question related to this topic. In Southern European countries there are soft skills required for a fruitful collaboration among small farmers, which is an issue. Small farmers, as many other groups in society, do not have the soft skills which are needed for cooperation to be established with a larger group, in the long run. Is this an issue in other countries and how is the issue tackled, to enhance the cooperation skills?

Q1.1 From: Manuela Bucciarelli <Manuela.Bucciarelli@fao.org> (Italy)

Any resource anyone might have on soft skills development in the context of agriculture is very welcome for TAPipedia

Q1.1 From: Mahesh Chander <drmahesh.chander@gmail.com> (India)

Are there any connections the participants see, of youth with small scale farming sustainability?


Topic #2: Small farms’ contribution to resilience of the food system

This week, on the ways that small farms contribute to the resilience of the food system (Topic 2), we read two interesting examples from Romania and Malawi (Q2.1/4). Informal distribution and producing products (e.g. chickens, eggs, seasonal fruits and vegetables) that are readily used in the local context (either by households directly or local markets) are two ways that small farms contribute to the resilience of the food system.

Topic #3: Three main challenges which small farms have faced in the past

We saw a good deal of consistency this week to previous weeks in the challenges faced by small farms in the past. Although it was noted that these change from region to region within a country (Q3.1/6), access to markets, costs of input, sufficient labour, and climate change were again mentioned. An additional challenge raised was access to post-harvest technology (Q3.1/7).

The example of the “Shinkafa Buni” initiative from Ghana (Q3.1/7) was submitted that outlined mitigation techniques that support farms with input, extension and some mechanized harvesting.

Topic #4: Three main future challenges for small farms

This week saw the topic of succession as a future challenge. This was earlier pointed out (Q4.1/9) with an example from Poland. This week was from the USA where a similar problem exists especially among minority populations with limited financial resources and where difficulties arise when the land owner leaves no will of how her/his farm is to be disposed. 

Among the input received this week on strategies to deal with future challenges it was suggested to extend the discussion about innovation to also include innovation in policy-making and innovation in the development of alternative business models (Q4.2/6). One approach mentioned was the hybrid concept of “Productive Alliances”. A practical example came in this week from Tanzania (Q4.2/8) noting the establishment of processing plants for higher value crops, education, extension and distribution of improved seed had led to the improvement of yields and environmental conditions. Exploring the transfer of concepts – not transfer of technology – was also added (Q4.2/9).

Given that cooperation as a way to overcome future challenges has been mentioned in both Week 1 and Week 2, participants this week also responded to the question posed by Winnona Merritt (Q4.2/5) on how farmers address the issue of human relationships that impede cooperation. the responses from Australia (Q4.2/6) and Italy (Q4.2/7) acknowledged the challenges in developing cooperation. Trust (as noted in Topic 1) is an essential factor and this can differ when the cooperation is in very rural areas where there are existing relationships as opposed to urban areas where producers can come from difference backgrounds and have differing levels of knowledge. The success story of Fadama (in Nigeria) was presented where farmers learn from one another (Q4.2/6). Concentrating on the benefits and working at collaboration have been important in an example from Italy (Q4.2/7).

As a note there are three questions raised that we invite you to further respond to:

Q4.1: From: Teresa Pinto Correia <mtpc@uevora.pt> (Portugal)

If a small farm does not have the skills (Moderator: or ability/opportunity) to collaborate, how does he/she get these skills? if you do not have access to knowledge or do not know how to use it, how can these skill be improved? There are drivers which need to be there otherwise the solutions do not work, and "the acquisition of drivers" is my main question.

Q4.2: From Mayank Jain <mayank@sumarth.org> (India)

How can we ensure that weather information obtained is processed and presented as an advisory to the farmers which has considerably helped them. Any success story to share and learn? Anyone?

(From the moderator: as climate change has a direct impact on small farmers, specifically on weather variations, weather information has become increasingly critical for small farmers, possibly defining the difference between a successful and a failed crop…)

Q4.2: From Winnona Merritt <wdjmerritt@gmail.com> (USA)

How can farmers address issues of human relationships that impede cooperation? - the need for trust-building and trustworthiness, care for the common good, justice, transparency, open and fair consultation, etc. etc.?  Does lack of addressing these issues stymie the best intentions and progressive initiatives? Are some places finding ways to address this? Is there a success story?


Topic #5: The importance of food businesses to small farms

Last week we read that small farm businesses were defined as family-run businesses and businesses that retail processed commodities selling directly from farm to market. This week the concept of small farm businesses being ‘entrepreneurships’ run at the level of small scale communities and food processing enterprises (Q5.1/4) was introduced. In one of the SALSA study sites in Spain, the typology of small food businesses is dependent on the product(s) produced and are differentiated by their activity – these activities rarely carried out on farm (Q5.1/5).

The importance of food businesses has been almost universally acknowledged as beneficial to small farms. Whether these be direct sales, small roadside markets, trade in raw produce, local restaurants, other actors in the value chain (millers, transport, processing), links to other markets, providing inputs and knowledge, these businesses strengthen community activities, improve food and nutritional security, provide additional income and create jobs (Q5.1/4, Q5.1/3, Q5.1/5, Q5.2/2, Q5.2/3, Q5.2/4).

From the food business perspective (Q5.2/2) five key success factors in implementing a food business venture with small farms have been noted - appropriate product, infrastructure, post-harvest processing, branding, and investment. The ‘hub-out-grower model’ used in East and Central Africa (Q5.2/2) and the ‘AbinBev raw material souring sustainability agenda’ (Q5.2/4) have demonstrated results that benefit small farms and the environment. Challenges to working with large food businesses have been expressed (Q5.1/4) where reliance on larger food businesses can affect small farms, for example delays in payments and price fluctuations.


Topic #6: How can policies affect small farm activities and their resilience?

Last week examples of the EU Common Agricultural Policy and environmental protection policies (e.g. control of wildlife, control of disease) were raised as policies that affect small farms. This week saw further input to the question raised by Dominic Duckett (Q6.1/4) on how conservation efforts affect small farms. In some areas conservation is considered beneficial and small farms adapt to protect their income (Q6.1/6). In Romania (Q6.1/8) the link between biodiversity (land with high nature value) and farming is coming under threat as small farms disappear. In the submission from Daniel Nkomboni from Zimbabwe (Q6.1/9) he noted how farmers in his region are disadvantaged by some of the conservation policies (conflict with wildlife). However, research to inform better policy is underway.

Other policies affecting small farm activities were noted in a contribution from Ghana. The ‘Planting for Food and Jobs’ policy is providing subsidies to help increase the number of small farms and small food businesses (Q6.1/8). When a policy to withdraw a policy in Ghana that increased tariffs on imported chicken and chicken parts (to help the local poultry industry) was implemented farmers “lost miserably and many farms collapsed” (Q6.2/7). The example from Tanzania where the increase of 18% VAT on poultry feed was removed (Q6.2/6) is a further example of how farmers have benefited from a policy review. In terms of critical policies that benefit small farms; uniform weights and measures, price intervening, transport to rural areas, credit and protection from cheaper imports were all cited (Q6.3/7).

As a wrap up to this topic, please feel free to respond further on the questions raised by participants:

Q6.1 From: Mayank Jain <mayank@sumarth.org> (India)

I want to know the opinion of fellow participants on "contract farming" with small farmers, through examples across different geographies. 

How does it help the cause of farmers? Because agriculture is not only a business but a way of living too. Isn't becoming employee in your own land taking us at an alarming pace closer to industrial agriculture?

(From the moderator: In many parts of the world, industrial agriculture might be considered as one of the main threats for small farmers. Is “contract farming” a viable “in-between” or not?)

Q6.1 From: Dominic Duckett <Dominic.Duckett@hutton.ac.uk> (UK)

SALSA is interested to hear about and discuss experiences of small farmers and their advisors across Europe and Africa dealing with rapidly evolving (nature) conservation governance affecting the farming world (in the discussion examples were given of “foxes versus poultry” - “wolves versus live stock” - “farmers livestock wandering off into wildlife reserves..): 

- Dominic is interested in how increasing agricultural production and conservation are operating together. 

- How is today’s small farmer managing wildlife differently to the previous generation? 

- Which new institutional and governance challenges and opportunities are emerging? 

- How can we more successfully combine increased agricultural production and effective conservation on small farms? 

- What is working and what is not working?

Q6.2 From: Irina Toma <irina@highclere-consulting.com> (Romania)

We're curious to hear whether you have any good examples of successful projects in your country:

- Do you know of any cases where agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Systems (AKIS) had good results on Food Nutritional Security (FNS) and market integration? 

- Were these AKIS systems using any interesting communication/ICT technologies and innovations?

- Are there other cases where innovation policies helped solve key issues related to Food Nutritional Security (FNS)?

(From the moderator: And we can easily relate these to Topic #6 on local/regional/national policies…)

Q6.2 From: Dr.Mahesh Chander <drmahesh.chander@gmail.com> (India)

I would like to know more on (and examples of) national level evidence based interventions of long term nature.

Q6.3 From: Viviane CdV <dalieforever@hotmail.com> (Italy)

Should national or regional policies protect small farms from perceived “unfair” competition from larger multi-national farms? 

With the additional questions:

- who can give examples on the status/conflict/competition of small farms versus larger industrial farms. Can small farms still compete “fairly" with large industrial/multi-national farms? If policies would be needed to protect small farms, what would those policies need to be, according to you?

- is it even feasible to protect small farms versus larger industrial farming through policies - knowing the industrial farming companies - as Viviane points out - often have the political backing)

Q6.3 From: Mayank Jain <mayank@sumarth.org> (India)

- I am interested to know measures taken for financial literacy (of small farmers) and its impact from different geographies.

- I sometimes find there is a total disconnect between bureaucracy and policies which leads to abuse/misuse of position or a policy. There are lot of armchair (policy) naysayers who design policies on whims and fantasies. Can I get some views on the same?


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Image: ©FAO/Noel Celis


Source: http://www.fao.org/nr/research-extension-systems/res-home/news/detail/en/c/1114370/