Fairtrade Foundation warns that failure to engage farmers in PPPs could exacerbate poverty.
Photo: © fairtrade.org.uk

Fairtrade: a seat at the table for smallholders?

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 Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), writes Fairtrade Foundation in a recent study

Governments and NGOs are increasingly partnering with the private sector to tackle global hunger and poverty, but a study published in September by the Fairtrade Foundation warns that far from being a silver bullet, some agricultural public-private partnerships (PPPs) in Africa appear to prioritise commercial interests while ignoring the needs of the smallholder farmers they claim to help – and they could even exacerbate poverty. 

The study recalls that since the global food crisis of 2007-08, there has been a rapid surge in the number of agricultural PPPs in Africa, including high-profile initiatives such as the New Alliance for Food Security & Nutrition, which was launched at the 2012 G8 Summit by President Obama and promised three billion US-Dollars in agriculture-related corporate investments, with the goal of lifting 50 million people out of poverty within ten years. 

'A seat at the table?’, the Fairtrade Foundation’s study of four agricultural PPPs in Ghana, Malawi and Kenya found examples of PPPs failing to engage effectively with smallholder farmers, making assumptions about farmers’ needs while ignoring or overlooking their actual concerns and priorities, and treating farmers as beneficiaries rather than as equal partners. It found few, if any opportunities for farmers’ representatives to sit around the table with governments, companies and other PPP stakeholders, or to influence the design or development of the PPPs that claim to improve their position.  

One example presented in the Fairtrade study is the Ghana Commercial Agriculture Project, a 145 million US-Dollar framework PPP established by the Government of Ghana, World Bank and USAID. Its objective is to increase productivity of smallholder farmers in the Accra Plains and in northern regions of Ghana, yet there had been just one occasion, in 2011, when smallholder farmers had an opportunity to express their views about it. The project takes a demand-driven approach, so funds are allocated according to private sector applications rather than an assessment of farmers’ needs, notes the study.

“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,” pointed out Chief Adam Tampuri, President of the Gbankuliso Cashew Farmers’ Association, the largest farmer-based organisation in Ghana’s Bole district, with nearly 1,000 smallholder members. “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 worst case presented in the study is found in Dwangwa, central Malawi, where more than 250 smallholder farmers claimed they were forced off their land, some alleging they were beaten by armed police and had their home destroyed, to make way for a sugarcane PPP that was funded by the African Development Bank and is now under the umbrella of the New Alliance. 

Commenting on the study’s findings, Barbara Crowther, Director of Policy & Public Affairs at the Fairtrade Foundation, said: “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”.

Fairtrade is sharing the findings with government, business leaders and NGOs, and urging them to adopt a number of recommendations for agricultural PPPs. These include:

  • directing government and donor funds to clear and measurable development goals;
  • ensuring there is a clear and functioning land policy and legislation;
  • ensuring there is a transparent and participatory design process;
  • conducting rigorous social impact assessments;
  • investing in capacity-building of producers; and
  • striking a fair balance between market access needs and priorities of smallholders

'A seat at the table?' builds on the Fairtrade’s previous research on empowering smallholders in supply chains, which called for governments and decision-makers to increase farmers’ voice, influence and organisation, and to increase and target national and donor government spending on agriculture.


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