7-8 JUNE 2017 / Tour & Taxis / Brussels

Global partnerships supporting smallholder farmers

Global partnerships supporting smallholder farmers

A multistakeholder outlook on how we can help smallholders better adapt to the challenges facing them

Thursday, June 8, 2017 - 13:30 to 14:45

Key points

  • Public-private partnerships must begin at the farm gate.
  • Smallholder farmers face problems of resilience and scaling.
  • Education is part of overcoming ignorance or entrenched attitudes.
  • Donors are not ATMs, but they can have different agendas.
  • World food production may have to double – then double again.


Smallholder farmers – typically taken to mean those with less than one hectare – produce 70 % of the world’s food production. But with future population growth output, this may have to double by 2030 and then double again by 2050.

Yet with 70 % of the world’s poor living in rural areas, many smallholder farmers struggle to keep up with the latest improvements or innovations in farming – which is where public-private partnerships (PPPs) come in.

However, these partnerships need to start at the farm gate, not in Brussels or the remote headquarters of multinational pharmaceuticals, if real progress in living standards and benefits from the value chain are to be achieved.

Genuine partnerships are the key to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, but farming receives less media attention than poverty or migration – despite having a strong impact on both.

Safeguards are required when working with the private sector but, when successful, they can help 150 000 fruit and vegetable growers, as in Malawi in the past year.

Companies can provide tropical vegetable seeds, which cost about 5 % of farm costs, but can more than double or treble income. Alternatively, with the growth of smartphones and tablets, farmers can send pictures of diseased crops to remote “plant doctors”, with a 92 % success rate in diagnosis.

Early warning of a particular banana pest, for example, can be transmitted to 50 million smallholder farmers at the touch of a button.

But just as donors are not just cash machines, farmers are not just guinea pigs for trial experiments. It is a dignified role – the foundation of all human life – but remote rural farmers often need education to help articulate their needs and eradicate pockets of ignorance.

For example, in some developing countries, a farmer is not considered ‘a man’ unless he grows maize – even though it requires heavy rainfall and maize is often not as profitable as other crops, such as cashew nuts.

For any PPP to be successful, its entry point must be the local village and its success must start at the farm gate. That means increasing productivity and access to markets, which in turn build up income and resilience – a virtuous circle where a farmer can then afford more seeds or technology.

One common complaint is that the internal subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy within the EU for European farmers provides an uneven playing field for farmers in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries trying to export.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for PPPs – different regional fruits, vegetables, tastes and specialities – but farmer cooperatives can help smallholders when dealing with the private sector.

 Farmer cooperatives can also help to scale up enterprises in what will always be a largely private sector activity, whether large or small.


Good PPPs work for smallholder farmers when companies are with the community for the long haul, from five to 10 years, listen to the farmers and help them articulate their needs and demands.

Organised by

    Nick Ishmael Perkins
    Lead Technical Advisor - Development Communication & Extension
    Henry Msatilomo
    Chief Agriculture Extension Officer
    Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development
    Maaike Groot
    Company Representative Europe
    East-West Seed
    Washington Otieno
    Plantwise Programme Executive Director
    Roberto Ridolfi
    Director for Sustainable Growth and Development
    European Commission - DG for International Cooperation and Development
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