Smallholder farmers need greater involvement in public private partnerships

Smallholder farmers need to play an active role within agricultural public private partnerships (PPP), argues the Fairtrade Foundation. In its latest study, A Seat at the Table, the...

Smallholder farmers need to play an active role within agricultural public private partnerships (PPP), argues the Fairtrade Foundation. In its latest study, A Seat at the Table, the Foundation looks at the effectiveness of different PPPs while assessing the extent to which they engage with smallholder farmers, many of them members of co-operatives.

According to the study, a number of PPPs make assumptions about the farmers’ needs, not paying enough attention to their actual concerns and treating them as beneficiaries, rather than equal partners. The Foundation, which is home of the Fairtrade Mark, claims farmers have few or no opportunities to engage with governments, companies and other PPP stakeholders or to influence the development of such PPPs, even though these initiatives are designed to improve their lives.

In Ghana, the government has launched a $145m (£90m) framework initiative for agricultural PPPs called the Ghana Commercial Agriculture Project (GCAP).

The project, which aims to increase productivity of smallholder farmers in the Accra Plains and SADA region, is the result of a collaboration between the government, the World Bank and the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

However, according to the Fairtrade Foundation, these smallholder farmers have been asked to express their views on the project only once, in 2011, and warns that the interests of farmers should take priority over the commercial interests of the private sector.

Chief Adam Tampuri, president of the Gbankuliso Cashew Farmers’ Association in the SADA region’s Bole district, said: “Being a farmer leader… and having direct contact with other producers across the country and the continent – I think that we should be the ones who add value to reshaping the way a project can work for the benefit of producers. This project has come to change and improve the lives of farmers. But you cannot make a change if you do not have people working together.” The co-operative is the largest in the region, with 1,000 smallholder members.

The Foundation’s report suggests a number of methods by which both the government of Ghana and donors could engage smallholders in the design of agricultural PPPs. It argues the government should undertake in-depth consultations with established farmer-based organisations, many of them co-operatives, which are involved in the production of commercial crops. It should also see how the Ghana Commercial Agriculture Project could build on existing relationships between farmers and private actors.

The Foundation warns that instead of improving the lives of farmers, such projects can have a negative impact. In Dwangwa, central Malawi, over 250 smallholder farmers said they were forced off their land, with armed police beating them and destroying their homes, to enable the development of a sugar cane PPP funded by the African Development Bank. Other farmers have complained about a similar sugar cane scheme funded by the EU, saying they were not offered the right compensation, while well-connected outsiders linked to commercial interests were allocated land.

The study revealed that the re-allocation undertaken for the Dwangwa PPP sugar cane project exacerbated inequality in the area, with some farmers becoming landless and hungry while others gained higher incomes. A similar review conducted by the EU stated that the project has had a negative effect on poverty.

“We don’t want to get into sugar cane, we are being forced,” said the chair of the Mkhuto Food Security Club at Kasitu East. “Instead we want practical help with increasing our production through organic methods.”

Commenting on the study’s findings, Barbara Crowther, director of policy and public affairs at the Fairtrade Foundation, said: “Smallholder farmers are the backbone of our global food system and grow 70% of the world’s agricultural produce, yet they also make up half of the world’s hungry people. Agricultural PPPs could have the potential to improve lives, productivity and increase market access for communities.”

She believes there is a real danger that by allowing commercial interests to determine the direction of PPPs, the voice of smallholder farmers is not heard and genuine needs are being neglected.

“Governments and international development partners must do more to ensure that smallholder farmers can play an active role in the design and development of agricultural PPPs – or there is a risk that far from eradicating poverty, they could actually aggravate social and economic inequalities, create civil unrest and even exacerbate poverty,” she added.

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