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Edith Boekraad
Director Food Security Unit, CORDAID
The Netherlands, 16-03-2015

Effective policy for poverty reduction: focus on fragile areas and include smallholders


Smallholders are crucial to increasing agricultural production. Smallholders show high production potential. Provide them with tailored support to connect to markets and to integrate national food supply systems and value chains. Training and education of women and young smallholders are an important investment in social capital and innovation is crucial. In fragile states sustainable development that is needed to create economic opportunities also for the young population requires a long term commitment.  The minister should search such a commitment from her partners in the aid and trade agenda.

Despite encouraging progress in reaching the MDGs by 2015, the number of poor people living in countries affected by conflict is growing. Recurrent natural disasters and/or conflict impact heavily on the livelihoods and the growth potential of the communities in these countries, which often depend on agriculture and livestock for a living. In Africa rural poverty is widespread and smallholders (responsible for approx. 90% of food production) are often also the ones who are food insecure and suffering from hunger. Yet, these smallholders offer a huge potential for change.

Cordaid considers that security, justice and the transfer of knowledge and technology are the keys to creating sustainable change for communities. Private sector and civil society organizations offer the experience and expertise for it.  Yet, in fragile and conflict-affected areas, private sector investments are few and concentrated in the more stable, urban areas. Private sector involvement alone will not  solve the food insecurity and hunger in remote rural areas.

It is in these areas that individual farmers and groups are excluded from the support they require to use their potential.  Fragile and conflict-affected areas generally suffer from years of neglect resulting in poor infrastructure, lack of institutions, and lack of skills and knowledge. A relationship of aid (and trade) with these countries requires programs that enable smallholders to catch up and connect to markets. Economic opportunities can contribute to taking away sources of conflict.

There are five dimensions to this issue that I propose should be taken into consideration:

First, in situations where emergency aid is required, provide it for weeks and months – not years. Tap into local markets for the purchase of materials (e.g. grains and seeds). Stimulate local markets right from the start – for economic recovery. Avoid making these countries dependent on emergency aid. Also, make sure not to turn away attention and funding from the more stable parts of conflict-affected countries, as this will negatively affect their development (e.g. S-Sudan).

Second, real change comes from people not goods. Restore trust. Enhance social cohesion. Engage and build communities. Producer and community organizations are crucial for smallholders to achieve scale of operation for processing and marketing of their harvest and for negotiation of fair trading conditions. Invest in civil society organizations that have a proven track record in supporting such organizations and that are able to link communities to peace-building and conflict-transformative programs.

Third, invest in the human and social capital of the ‘average’ poor and excluded. Many poor and excluded people could flourish in economy and society if they were invested in. Poverty is not equal to low potential. Engage those who really cannot keep up, i.e. the most poor and excluded, through social transfer programs. Yet do so in a well-targeted manner, through cash transfers – not through market-disruptive and unsustainable subsidies (e.g. on agricultural inputs).

Fourth, support investment in education and training especially of women and young smallholders. Investing in women also benefits their children and families. Investing in young people will yield lasting results. Young people also often occupy a critical role in conflicts and conflict areas; being used as pawns in the fights. Proven education and training concepts (e.g. farmer field and life schools, innovative ICT, etc.) provide great opportunities to substantially raise the productive, social and conflict management skills of smallholders and their communities. Provide support from a value chain perspective – for production, processing, storage, marketing and business development.

And fifth, tailor support to the genuine interests and needs of smallholders. Make sure that technologies transferred respond to these needs, and only use technology which is affordable also after project. Prevent that the knowledge of our (most valued) Dutch Topsectors becomes dominant in Dutch development aid, as it is generally not adapted to smallholder demand and context. Note that local and Dutch SMEs tend to offer much more appropriate and sustainable solutions at a much more affordable price than do large companies. Beware that in fragile and conflict affected countries, Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) are high-risk due to poor governance. Favour creating an enabling environment for private sector to invest in fragile contexts, and support accountability mechanisms.


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Promoting inclusiveness in the Dutch policy agenda on trade and international cooperation

This contribution is part of a consultation for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs on how to promote inclusiveness in the Dutch policy agenda on trade and international cooperation.
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