Provocation 5: Pro-poor business, development and smallholder empowerment

Article, 21 June 2011

The fifth in a series of seminars on markets and small-scale farmers took place in Brussels, Belgium on 22 June 2011.

provocation #4

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Watch video of the event

Part 1 - 1:27:23

Part 2 - 1:29:43


As interest in ‘markets that work for the poor’ grows, the private sector is changing how it works to be more inclusive of the rural poor. Approaches such as fair trade, corporate social responsibility and inclusive business models claim to meet commercial objectives while also reducing poverty, securing livelihoods and empowering small-scale producers. But to what extent do they actually deliver on their promises?

The provocation will bring together policymakers, academics and practitioners working at the interface between small-scale production, markets and development to debate the achievements, limitations and dilemmas inherent in pro-poor business models, particularly when it comes to empowering producers.

It aimed to address the following questions:

  • Can business models ever be successfully adapted to be ‘inclusive’ of small-scale producers?
  • Do fair trade, CSR and inclusive business approaches empower small-scale producers, or are corporations benefiting at the expense of smallholders?
  • What role do farmer autonomy, voice and participation play in shaping or resisting these pro-poor business approaches?
  • How are relationships between NG Os and business changing as socially responsible business approaches grow in both number and influence, and with what implications for smallholder empowerment?
  • Does scaling-up and mainstreaming shift the focus of attention away from producer empowerment or livelihood security towards issues of price, cost and quality?


  • Sanjeev Asthana, National Skills Foundation for India and former president and chief executive at Reliance Retail
  • Chris Bacon, Santa Clara University; co-author of Confronting the Coffee Crisis: Fair Trade, Sustainable Livelihoods and Ecosystems in Mexico and Central America
  • Richard Howitt, MEP and European Parliament spokesperson on corporate social responsibility
  • Alberto Monterroso, Comercializadora Aj Ticonel, Guatemala
  • Merling Preza, president of Coordinator of Fairtrade Small Producers in Latin America and the Caribbean (CLAC) 
  • Miguel Mendez Castellanos, SNV Representative for Nicaragua

This provocation seminar was hosted by our partners: Vredeseilanden and United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD).

Registration and contact

For further information on the event and registration, please contact Annelies Houpline at

Provocations series
Initiated by the IIED/Hivos Knowledge Programme, Small Producer Agency in the Globalised Market, the ‘provocations’ series challenge conventional wisdom on how to include smallholders in markets and bring fresh perspectives to the discussion on what works and why.

Provocation: join the debate

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