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43 stats, facts, comments and notes, about smallholder farming resilience, engagement and the SDGs

Here’s some notes from our recent conference on How business can make smallholder supply chains resilient which we held on 13-14 March in London, where we were generously hosted by Diageo at their London HQ. Their work on smallholders is commendable, and can be seen here.

Here are my notes from a few sessions. It by no means covers everything we discussed at the conference but it gives you a flavour of what we discussed. I hope it’s helpful.

On November 6-7 in London, we’re holding an event about communities, landscapes forests and agriculture in London, where we’ll cover many other relevant issues on this important topic. Get in touch if you’d like to get involved.

Here’s some stats, facts, comments and points from my conference notes:

1. Helping smallholder farmers become more resilient is not just a technical challenge, but also a creative one.

2. Solutions have to be people-centric, not just focused on numbers and measured outcomes.

3. The SDGs are vital and systemic approach to tacking 17 key areas, many of which are highly relevant to smallholders.

4. There’s a significant, $12 trillion per year, business opportunity to use the SDGs to create resilient supply chains.

5. Blended finance and new business model approaches need to considered alongside the classical approaches of training farmers and increasing yields.

6. Crop diversification will become ever more important to farmers, along with access to useful finance.

7. We should not talk about farmers, but families, households and communities of viable agricultural businesses.

8. There’s a significant shift underway, within the leading companies engaging with smallholder agriculture, from strategy and goal setting, to measurement and evaluation.

9. Key partners such as Oxfam are helping brands measure incomes and outcomes, not just run pilot projects.

10. The World Benchmarking Alliance is helping track progress on business and the SDGs.

11. The Produce and Protect Fund set up by the Norwegian Government is another useful initiative to consider.

Co-ops and governance

12. 10% of the world’s population work in 2.94 million co-operatives world-wide. These are mostly agricultural co-operatives.

13. Is there an ideal Governance structure for Co-ops? Which are the models to look at? Fairtrade can help as a bridging model but may not be the final destination.

14. NASFAM in Malawi is cited as one example of a well governed co-op.

15. Key is to be clear what the layers of management/governance do, whilst keeping focused on the production side.

16. We should see co-ops as rural businesses that collaborate on marketing.

17. Key elements to consider in co-op governance is their fundamental business model, their management capacity, even in administration, a clear structure, and clear rules around issues, such as AGMs, alongside quality and productivity controls and systems. Inclusion is also vitally important, for example with gender and poorer families in the community/co-op.

Nkio Agricultural Producers, Farmer (blue suit): Eric Kirimi; Farmer (woman, black head wrap): Modesta Kaburi; Farmer (woman, black sweater): Janise Gitonga, Kenya.

18. Development agencies such as DfID are keen to support co-op improvements, AgDevCo also a name cited around finance.

19. For brands, longer term contracts with co-ops can make a big difference to them functioning as a viable business.

20. Co-operative colleges around the world need financing and support.

21. IKEA is cited as one example of a brand using purchasing power to support co-ops in Uganda.

22. One emerging question is how to engage farmers unions and co-ops in landscape approaches to sustainable agriculture.

Market access for smallholders

23. Retailers must remember they are the furthest distance from the end of the supply chain.

24. Changing order patterns can make a huge difference. For example, a week’s notice instead of 4-5 days notice can have a significant positive impact on vegetable smallholders. Also, fixing prices for a month rather than more regular fluctuations can make a significant difference.

25. If brand innovation can help reduce food waste, savings can be shared with smallholders at the end of the chain.

26. How do brands help link Global GAP certification with running a profitable enterprise for smallholders?

27. If a brand can agree a fixed price and a fixed purchasing agreement for 12 months this can really help improve smallholder livelihoods.

28. Skilled local facilitators are key to help buyers talk to farmers about matching local needs to global markets.

29. Living wages for smallholders need to be constantly considered. The big issue is scaling the sustainable approaches that can help deliver these.

30. IFC has an Agri-Biz leadership programme with ten projects in six countries.

31. There is an interim ISO standard for smallholders, a standard for professionalism which is being trialled.

32. 140 million Indian famers now have 4G in the last 18 months.

33. Drones, AI and remote seeding can and will be significant in the future.

34. It takes seven years to bring a hybrid seed to market.

35. The Cocoa Action initiative on access to finance is focusing on deforestation prevention and entrepreneurship

36. There is an emerging big opportunity for young people as service providers to farmers.

37. Will the SDGs be the spring board for tackling land security collaboratively, to create the enabling environment?

38. There are still too many initiatives in Cocoa, not yet joined up enough, and with some poor in quality, even though basic standards are being raised across the board.

39. Despite all the work and the noise, in many areas we are not seeing the share of value to farmers rise, and in some cases it is falling.

40. Government engagement is a critical role and has often been neglected. Patience and a long term approach is needed given outsiders have limited leverage.

41. Targeted, data-driven lobbying focusing on opportunities is key: But “you can’t separate politics from development”, particularly when competition law can work against collaboration.

42. When speaking with governments, political sensitivities are key, visions are needed for politicians around economic growth that encompass positive environmental change.

43. Safe spaces for Government engagement are vital. The Prince of Wales and Cocoa and Forests Initiative, with IDH is a good example.

Lots more free analysis and podcasts, webinars on this area can be found at:

Join us at one of these soon: