Empowering Producers in Commercial Agriculture (EPIC)

January 2018 to December 2021

EPIC aims to empower rural producers and their wider communities to influence public decisions and private sector conduct in favour of bottom-up, locally beneficial and more sustainable investments in commercial agriculture.

A Kenyan smallholder waters plants on his mixed farm where he is growing fruit trees and crops (Photo: V. Atakos/CCAFS, Creative Commons via Flickr)

Increased private sector investment in commercial agriculture – from production to bulk purchasing arrangements, to processing and distribution – has created both risks and opportunities for rural livelihoods in low and middle-income countries. 

Developing value chains and linking farmers to markets could transform the livelihoods of millions of rural people, expanding choice and creating income-generating opportunities. But there are also concerns about top-down approaches, unequal negotiating power, unfair business relations and social differentiation among rural people.  

The ability of rural people to make informed choices, exercise rights and have their voices heard when dealing with the government or the private sector is a key factor in enabling, or constraining, fairer investments that deliver positive outcomes for sustainable development. 

Yet interactions between governments, companies and rural people in low and middle-income countries usually involve imbalances in capacity, resources, influence and negotiating power. There is a need to develop, use and upscale innovative legal and other empowerment approaches that strengthen the position of rural people, particularly in their supply chain relations.

What is IIED doing?

Empowering Producers in Commercial agriculture (EPIC) responds to this challenge. Led by IIED, EPIC will support rural producers, their organisations and their wider communities to make informed choices, seize opportunities, address risks and shape their own future.

To pursue EPIC’s goal, IIED and partners will:

  • Strengthen evidence, insight and guidance on how to empower communities for bottom-up, locally beneficial and more sustainable investments in commercial agriculture. 
  • In Malawi and Nepal develop approaches to empowering communities to make informed choices and exercise their rights, and where relevant develop equitable partnerships with the private sector. 
  • Share lessons and build alliances for mainstreaming community empowerment in the policy and practice of agribusiness investments in the target countries and internationally.

What is socio-legal empowerment? Legal empowerment interventions to help rural people get a better deal from incoming investment may involve increasing legal literacy, strengthening local organisations for collective action, providing technical support in local decision making and external negotiations, promoting scrutiny of legal frameworks, addressing labour issues, or supporting the activation of grievance mechanisms and identifying ways to hold local leaders to account.

They may also need legal assistance in negotiations with companies – to develop partnership or supply agreements, for example. Legal empowerment alone is typically not enough. It needs to be complemented by capacity support in other areas: technical advice on inclusive business or economic valuation, for instance.

The concept of socio-legal empowerment captures this more rounded approach to empowering communities.

The project is funded through the UK Department for International Development (DFID)’s Commercial Agriculture for Smallholders and Agribusiness (CASA) programme.


Actors of change: can socio-legal empowerment support rural producer agency? Lorenzo Cotula, Emily Polack, Thierry Berger, Brendan Schwartz (2019) IIED Briefing

Rural producer agency and agricultural value chains: What role for socio-legal empowerment? Lorenzo Cotula, Emily Polack, Thierry Berger, Brendan Schwartz (2019) Research report