“Build our organizations as strong and credible institutions capable of influencing our governments and other stakeholders, supported by evidence-based research, studies and knowledge” This message from delegates of the Farmers’ Forum held in IFAD Rome February 20-21, 2012, (http://www.ifad.org/farmer/2012/synthesisGC.htm) provided an encouraging back-drop to a subsequent Farmers’ Forum side event organized by the Empowering smallholder farmers in markets (ESFIM) programme at the invitation of IFAD.
Our aims were to share first-hand experiences on how national farmers’ organizations have identified and used research evidence to formulate feasible, evidence-based propositions for changes in policies and institutional arrangements that empower smallholder farmers and their organizations in local, regional and international markets and share key lessons learned through the ESFIM processes.
Steve Muchiri, Eastern Africa Farmers’ Federation (EAFF) chaired the event in which over 40 persons representing Farmer Organizations, International Agencies, NGOs, and other programmes, participated. Three of the ten National Farmers Organizations who currently partner in the ESFIM programme shared their experiences. Lorenzo Castillo, Coordinator, Junta Nacional de Café (JNC), Peru, (Castillo_Legislación Cooperativa y la Tributación Agraria en Perú – final) began by explaining how a lobby agenda had been developed by a group of farmers’ organizations engaged in collective marketing, led by the Junta Nacional de Café (JNC), and their subsequent participation in the multi-stakeholder platform on agricultural policy – La Convención Nacional del Agro Peruano (CONVEAGRO). He explained how evidence-to-policy support helped to refocus CONVEAGRO to address key issues that affect smallholders access to markets including: the reintroduction of VAT on transactions of members sale to the cooperative; administrative hurdles that prevent access to government procurement for school feeding programmes; access of farmers’ organizations to regional investment funds; and policies that define quality parameters and enable marketing strategies that differentiate on product qualities. Raul Montemayor, Free Farmers Federation Cooperatives, Inc. (FFFCI), the Philippines, (Montemayor_ ESFIM Rome Feb 2012) outlined how ESFIM supported the participation of farmers in the design of a national Agricultural Commodity Exchange System. He summarised progress on the establishment of the national system and outlined how ESFIM had strengthening farmers’ participation in its design and future operation through a baseline survey in key maize-producing area, an exchange visit to Africa to share lessons on the operation of Agricultural Commodity Exchange Systems, and the design of training tools tailored to the needs and capacities of farmers’ organizations and cooperatives as well as small-scale maize traders. John Mutunga, Kenyan National Federation of Agricultural Producers (KENFAP), (Mutunga_ESFIM-IFAD Farmers Forum-KENFAP-Kenya -Final Version) shared the process of undertaking a critical assessment of government interventions in input and output markets under the National Agricultural Accelerated Input Access Programme (NAAIAP). Specifically, the use of a voucher system for subsided maize seed and fertilizer and its impact on yield and on farmer income. Based on this work, KENFAP proposed changes to the NAAIAP policy through the preparation of a memorandum to the Government on food insecurity and sought to strengthen mechanisms to improve smallholder produce marketing through the use of the Warehouse Receipt System (WRS) and contract farming. Giel Ton, AGRINATURA & LEI Wageningen UR, the Netherlands, (Ton_ Final_ESFIM presentation – Farmers Forum 23 February 2012) completed the formal presentations with an overview of the challenges and opportunities in linking research evidence to policy processes of farmers’ organizations from the viewpoint of the ESFIM research partners. He drew on the lessons learned from ESFIM’s work in Africa, Asia and Latin America in support to farmers’ organizations.
The participants then offered other experiences and shared relevant information including on related initiatives where ESFIM may wish to partner and contribute. They was emphasised that: evidence based on sound research is one key to enabling and strengthening the legitimacy of farmers’ organizations as they strive to be equal partners in the policy discourse; there is a need to create the new spaces, structures and frameworks for enhancing farmers’ organizations led research – advocacy linkages; and whilst in some cases the issue may be common between countries – the policy solutions may differ. Farmers’ organizations and governments want local or relevant evidence to inform what is feasible in their own contexts. The ESFIM experiences of process and method are seen as invaluable by many partners including other national and regional farmers’ organizations and development partners. Steve Muchiri in closing the session thanked the speakers and welcomed the rich discussion that followed the presentations. This reflected the interest and relevance of such work and he noted that “Research must change to meet the needs of farmers’ organizations – the work of the ESFIM programme is now the beginning of such work”.