For smallholders, an abundance of opportunities in climate-smart farming

Rose Koech, a farmer in Bomet, Kenya, cuts calliandra shrub for her dairy cattle. She is a member of the East Africa Dairy Development Project. Photo by Sherry

Rose Koech, a farmer in Bomet, Kenya, cuts calliandra shrub for her dairy cattle. She is a member of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded East Africa Dairy Development (EADD) project. Photo by Sherry Odeyo/ICRAF

The landscape appears ripe with opportunity for small-scale farmers worldwide, as their contribution towards feeding the world and fuelling development amidst a changing climate is more widely acknowledged.

“That smallholder farmers’ role in food production and natural resource stewardship is recognized as one of the quickest ways to lift over one billion people out of poverty and sustainably nourish a growing world population is an outstanding opportunity in itself. We should not lose sight of this focus,” said Delia Catacutan, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) senior social scientist, gender program coordinator, and Vietnam country representative.

Catacutan said many fresh prospects for the world’s billions of small-scale producers in developing countries are also coming from “trends towards increasingly secure land tenure and property rights; pro-poor food security initiatives; freer trade across national borders; and private-sector investments in smallholder agriculture value chains.”

Catacutan was speaking at a discussion session organized by ICRAF, the World Bank, and IUCN at the Global Landscapes Forum in Warsaw, 16-17 November. The session explored “Farm and smallholder opportunities: Synergies and opportunities for integrating agriculture, trees and forests,” with a special focus on tropical and sub-tropical developing countries. Alain Billand, head of the Tropical Forestry Research Team at CIRAD, moderated the discussion.

Private-sector food and commodity industries are keen to work with farming communities, the forum heard. In the process, private food processing companies are able to bring capital, infrastructure and training, as well as provide ready markets for farm produce and commodities.

“If you don’t take care of the source of your raw material, what is the future of your company?” posed Bernard Giraud, co-founder of the Livelihoods Fund, a mutual fund with the global food company Danone and other investors.

“It is very important that a company, and a food company in particular, is linked to the roots of its business. And those roots are farms, or the sources of the water it uses or markets.”

Giraud said it makes business and social sense for food companies to meet their demand for produce from small-scale farmers, though it is a more complex undertaking than sourcing from large, mechanized plantations.


L-R: Dewees, Giraud, Grainger Jones and Catacutan at the Global Landscapes Forum 2013. Photo by Daisy Ouya/ICRAF

Handled well, partnering with smallholders is also better for the long-term sustainability of both companies and communities, he said. Examples of public-private partnerships with ICRAF involvement are the Vision for Change (V4C) project in West Africa by Mars Chocolate, and the Novella Partnership for Allanblackia by Unilever. Both have sustainability and communities at their heart.

“I believe the private sector can be a driver of development. However, it is important to develop rules of engagement, and, together with the farmers… find a balance in interests,” said Giraud.

Large companies like Danone typically need ‘aggregators’— people or cooperatives that collect farm produce from many small farmers and then supply it in bulk to the company. This is another business opportunity for local communities.

Policies and an enabling environment can help farmers take advantage of the various opportunities available to them.

Peter Dewees, Forests Adviser at the World Bank, said policies “can work wonders.” He gave the example a restoration of over 5 million hectares of trees in Niger, thanks to “a quiet removal of a policy constraint,” which spurred farmers’ own efforts to encourage the natural regeneration of trees on Sahelian parklands.

Coffee expert shares knowledge about pruning management during farmers’ field school activity in Wonuahua, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia. Photo by Enggar Paramita/ICRAF via  Flikr

Farmers benefit from demonstration and training. A coffee expert shares knowledge about pruning in a farmers’ field school activity in Wonuahua, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia. Photo by Enggar Paramita/ICRAF via Flikr

Elwyn Grainger Jones, director of the Environment and Climate Division at IFAD, gave examples from an IFAD-supported project in Yemen to illustrate how participatory climate risk management can help design solutions, as well as reveal the true value of trees in landscapes.

“When you look at landscapes and analyse the risks associated with them, the real value of trees— which is greater than the wood they provide when they are cut down—can be better valued and recognized,” said Grainger Jones.

“Integrating trees into the landscape is the way forward in managing risks like erosion and malnutrition. Climate finance schemes should recognize these multiple benefits, and ensure that a fair share of the financing goes to smallholders,” he continued. This point was also made by Christine Padoch, director of Forests and Livelihoods Research at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Catacutan emphasized that direct and indirect incentives are needed to stimulate smallholder farmers’ investments in climate-smart practices.

“Direct incentives such as free or subsidized planting seeds and seedlings, agricultural inputs or cash grants, are relevant and important. But for long term sustainable change, we need to focus more on indirect incentives for smallholders; these create an enabling environment for farmers. They include market linkages; product promotion; branding; lowering transaction costs; extended payback periods on loans (particularly for technologies like agroforestry, whose returns come after several months or years); and agricultural extension with demonstrations, training and advice for farmers,” she stated.

According to a recent IFAD publication titled Smallholders, food security, and the environment [PDF report], smallholders manage over 400 million small farms and provide the bulk of the food consumed most of the developing world.

With enabling policies and appropriate support, billions of smallholder farmers could seize the opportunities available to better secure their livelihoods, feed and nourish a large section of the world’s projected 9-billion-by-2050 population, and help realise the potential of climate smart farming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build resilience to climate change, as outlined in the recently released UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2013.

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Daisy Ouya

Daisy Ouya is a science writer and communications specialist with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). Over the past 15 years she has been packaging and disseminating scientific knowledge in the fields of entomology, agriculture, health, HIV/AIDS research, and marine science. Daisy is a Board-certified Editor in the Life Sciences ( and has a Masters’ degree in chemistry from the University of Connecticut, USA. Her BSc is from the University of Nairobi in her native Kenya. She has worked as a journal editor, science writer, publisher, and communications strategist with various organizations. She joined ICRAF in July 2012. Twitter: @daisyouya

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