Small Farmers, Big Change: Lessons from Oxfam's agricultural programmes: An overview | Oxfam

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Oxfam’s Global Agricultural Scale Up Initiative (GASUI) was launched in 2005 with the aims of reducing poverty for millions of smallholder farmers, particularly women
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    C   Small Farmers, Big Change Lessons from Oxfam‟s agricultural programmes:  An overview Introduction Improving smallholder agricultural livelihoods is essential for achieving large-scale poverty reduction and growth. Almost 80 per cent of the world’s 925 million hungry people live in rural areas and most depend on agriculture as their main source of income and employment. Approximately half of these are smallholder farmers. 1  Overall, smallholder farmers constitute 1.5 billion of the three billion people living in rural areas and 87 per cent of all farmers in developing countries. 2  Of the one billion poor people living in rural areas, most rely mainly on agriculture for their incomes. 3  Equally, agriculture is key to achieving broad-based growth, especially in low-income developing countries. 4  Investing in smallholder agriculture ensures that this growth is inclusive, pro-poor, and environmentally sustainable. Under certain conditions, it can also be more efficient than large-scale agriculture. 5  In many developing countries, and particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, women provide a high proportion of agricultural labour, particularly in food production, processing, and marketing. 6  Women work as subsistence farmers, small-scale entrepreneurs, unpaid workers on family farms, or casual wage labourers, and often they play several of these roles. Because they are also responsible for the majority of caring and household tasks, women’s working hours are often longer than men’s, limiting their scope to      P  r  o  g  r  a  m  m  e   I  n  s   i  g   h   t  s    An overview  , Programme Insights, Oxfam GB. April 2011 2 engage in new opportunities. At the same time, women farmers also have more restricted access to land, credit, and training than their male counterparts. 7  Where women are involved in marketing the crops that they grow, it is often in small volumes and in the least profitable markets, and often does not lead to significant increases in income. These factors not only limit women’s benefits from smallholder agriculture but, crucially, also reduce overall agricultural productivity by as much as 10 per cent. 8   Oxfam’s  Global Agricultural Scale Up Initiative (GASUI) was launched in 2005 with the aims of reducing poverty for millions of smallholder farmers, particularly women; driving economic growth by linking farmers into new and wider market opportunities; and advocating for increased donor, government, and private sector investment to support smallholder farming. For Oxfam, ‘scale - up’ refers to increasing both the reach and quality of Oxfam’s agricultural programming and thereby demonstrating to governments, donors, and development actors how agriculture can contribute to economic development and poverty reduction. The initiative’s main strategy is to empower smallholder farmers to organize and engage effectively and equitably in agricultural markets and value chains. This overview is the first of nine Programme Insights papers in the ‘Small Farmers, Big Change’ series contained in this volume. The papers draw on learning from GASUI and on wider learning from Oxfam GB’s agricultural markets -based programming, as well as from programmes implemented by Oxfam India. The series is based on experiences across several different programmes initially documented for a global learning event in May 2009. 9  They have been further developed to show different pathways for achieving scale in a variety of contexts. The case studies explored in the papers demonstrate how linking small producers to markets and value chains and enabling them to engage in policy processes can help to improve livelihoods and can be a catalyst to wider, longer-term change. In developing such linkages, Oxfam programmes are working with private companies as well as with farmer organizations to develop new business models which maximize the benefits of market engagement for smallholder farmers, especially women, and contribute to economic growth. Programmes are also developing innovative methods of service delivery to small farmers, in collaboration with financial institutions and other service providers. Such innovations have the potential to be replicated by othe rs, beyond Oxfam’s programme interventions.  These Programme Insights papers are intended as a learning resource for development practitioners and professionals working in the field of smallholder agriculture, particularly those promoting rural women’s rights and women’s economic leadership. The different case studies presented offer an understanding of the varied   An overview  , Programme Insights, Oxfam GB. April 2011 3 livelihood options and risks faced by diverse groups of smallholders and possible strategies for managing these, in the context of globalized markets and a changing policy environment. The analysis and recommendations will be helpful to those involved in developing and delivering agricultural livelihoods programmes, especially those thinking about how to ‘scale up’ interventions. They will also be of interest to people working in business in the agricultural sector with an interest in linking to small farmers in developing countries, as well as to researchers interested in agricultural development. They provide evidence and examples useful for governments, donors, civil society, and private sector organizations on the potential of investment in smallholder agriculture for contributing to poverty reduction, enterprise development, and economic growth. The changing context of smallholder agriculture From the 1980s up to 2006, government and donor support to agricultural investment declined overall, and in support to smallholder agriculture in particular, in most developing countries. 10  Policies of liberalization in the agricultural sector during this period reduced government support to agricultural production and marketing and to rural infrastructure and services. The private sector has not effectively filled the gap left by the withdrawal of the state. At the same time, the power of large agribusinesses in the sector has grown, with the globalization of agricultural value chains and the deregulation of markets. The food price crisis, which dramatically hit global markets in 2008, underscored the legacy of this underinvestment and brought agriculture back to the forefront of the development debate. Concerns about the security of food supplies in the face of growing urban populations and of climate change have led to a renewed focus on efforts to improve agricultural productivity and growth, to new commitments to agricultural investment, and to growing interest in more sustainable, low-carbon production systems. There is now an emerging consensus that, without significant increases in investment in agriculture, and in small-scale farming in particular, the Millennium Development Goals for poverty and hunger reduction cannot be reached. 11  Developing rural food production can not only help to address the rural/urban income gap, but can also provide food for growing urban populations in the face of potential future food crises. The question is no longer about whether to invest in smallholder agriculture, but in what, where, and how. While the case for increased investment in agriculture is widely accepted, and in some cases has translated into significant commitments of funds globally and nationally, translating this into investments that benefit the    An overview  , Programme Insights, Oxfam GB. April 2011 4 majority of small farmers, particularly women, remains a huge challenge. These papers are about approaches to promoting the knowledge, technologies, policies, and institutional frameworks that enable agricultural markets to function in ways that benefit both poor rural people and the wider economy. Significant change is required to create strategies that are not only technically ‘accurate’ and able to address complex problems, but also effective in achieving widespread impact and improved life chances for both women and men smallholder farmers. Equally, in response to the growing risks to viable livelihoods associated with climate change, the interventions described in the papers aim to equip smallholder farmers for the future by identifying sustainable opportunities, as well as viable strategies, for their engagement in markets. Oxfam‟s work in smallholder agriculture Oxfam’s work in supporting smallholder agricultu re has for many years been a major focus of efforts to promote poor people’s rights to a sustainable livelihood. Work on sustainable livelihoods is part of a broader, integrated rights-based approach to addressing poverty and suffering. This includes promoting farmer organization and advocacy at all levels, from local to global, to influence the policies and institutions that shape smallholders’ livelihood opportunities, with an emphasis on supporting the political participation and leadership of women. Equally, rural areas have long suffered from lack of investment in infrastructure and essential basic services. Such lack of investment has not only denied poor rural people and their families their basic rights, but has limited the capacity of poorer farmers, and particularly women farmers, to play a productive role and to participate fully in development. Poor rural people are also often the most vulnerable to crises, suffer disproportionately from the impacts of climate-related risks, and are increasingly affected by conflicts or outside interventions that dispossess them of their sources of livelihood. Promoting their rights to essential services and reducing their vulnerability to shocks is also a core part of Oxfam’s work. Since 2003, recognizing the shift of power in the agricultural sector towards large- scale business, Oxfam’s work with small farmers has focused on strategies to improve their level of organization and their negotiating position in markets, in order to increase their share of agricultural incomes. This has complemented longstanding work on strengthening smallholders’ access to and control over assets, recognizing the increasing importance of cash incomes to poor people’s livelihoods. The GASUI initiative has reflected and built on this change, with its emphasis on empowering smallholders to improve their own livelihoods by gaining greater ‘power in markets’ that increases their ability to access and effectively participate in
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