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Many training initiatives to improve smallholder access to value chains, but scaling up and restructuring market still a challenge

28 November 2011

by Dr Gaynor Paradza, PLAAS Senior Researcher

PLAAS is involved in a research project aimed at promoting Pro-Poor Value Chain Governance in Fisheries and Agriculture in Southern Africa. The project, funded by the Ford foundation, ICCO and SANPAD, focuses on artisanal fisheries and fresh produce in Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa. PLAAS held a two day workshop on Pro-Poor Value Chain Governance in Johannesburg on 8–9 November 2011. The workshop which brought together participants from the academic, public, private and civil society sectors focused on the current approaches and initiatives to improve smallholder farmers’ participation in and benefit from fresh produce value chains. Participants engaged in robust and honest reflections on the effectiveness of the current approaches and strategies aimed at improving food security and livelihoods of the poor farmers in South Africa.

Mr Davana , a Limpopo farmer appraised various state and private sector initiatives to strengthen smallholder farmers’ participation in value chains. The farmer illustrated how smallholder farmers were innovating through mobilising support, engaging the market and facilitating knowledge transfer from former commercial farmers to the youth to ensure the sustainability of the smallholder farming sector.

The private sector shared innovations and strategies they had devised to overcome challenges, making modest yet influential gains in integrating smallholder farmers into agricultural value chains.  The private sector-led initiatives noted the challenges of balancing profit-led motives for engaging smallholder farmers with sometimes politically-motivated state-led initiatives. The private sector led initiatives faced challenges of scale and impact as the sector lacks the resources and motivation to engage in broader initiatives in which goals extend beyond profit. Dr Jack Armour shared the experiences and initiatives that the organised agricultural sector has been playing to contribute to the efforts underway to facilitate knowledge transfers and links between commercial farmers and smallholder farmers.

Dr Michael Aliber highlighted overlaps between smallholder farmers and low-end commercial farmers and pointed to possible alliances between the two sectors. Government initiatives were acknowledged as the most inclusive, but not necessarily the most effective at integrating smallholder farmers into value chains. Government did not seem to be taking on board lessons from research, history and its own initiatives to inform the new policies aimed at restructuring market governance.

Stephen Greenberg and Gaynor Paradza’s focus on the Walmart debate provided an opportunity for participants go beyond the media debate to examine wider questions about business practises of existing food retailers in South Africa and the progressive initiatives (for smallholder farmers) they have had to undertake to mediate the ‘Walmart effect’ on the fresh produce value chains and retail sector.

Although they presented diverse approaches to the problem, participants agreed that smallholder farmer typologies were necessary to improve our understanding of and facilitate formulation of more effective policies.

Participants agreed that urgent restructuring of market governance is needed to enhance smallholder participation in agricultural value chains.

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