Small producer agency in the globalised market

What are the strategies and constraints of small-scale producers in an era of globalisation? This project provides insights that can help in designing better policies and business interventions to support them.

2009 – 2013
Matoke sellers in Uganda. Photo: Bill Vorley

Matoke sellers in Uganda (Photo: copyright Bill Vorley, IIED)

Agriculture is still a small-farm story: half a billion farmers, working on plots of less than two hectares, produce a significant proportion of the world’s food. More than 90 per cent of food in sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to be produced by smallholder farmers, for example. Globalisation, and particularly the food price crises of the past five years, have placed small-scale producers under the spotlight as part of the answer to creating a more sustainable food future.

Some of the challenges facing small-scale farmers are highlighted in a video playlist – click on the playlist below to see all the videos.

Small-scale farmers: important economic actors

A debate has been raging about whether that future is best achieved through inclusion of small-scale farmers in markets, or through resisting the market-based logic of globalisation.

Arguments on both sides often have one point in common: they continue a tradition of viewing smallholders as victims or as beneficiaries of external interventions. They miss producers’ role as economic actors in their own right who analyse their options, manage risks and make decisions.

The joint knowledge programme of IIED, Hivos and Bolivia-based Mainumby Ñakurutú has focused on understanding the strategies and constraints of small-scale producers in an era of globalisation and big changes in rural areas, and to provide new insights that can help in designing better policies and business interventions to support them.

The Programme got underway in 2009 with the establishment of a global peer-to-peer Learning Network, led from Bolivia by Mainumby Ñakurutú. This Network brought together leaders and practitioners from the worlds of academia, farming and agribusiness in Latin America, Africa and Asia, who contributed new insights and studies to the debate.

Filling knowledge gaps has been a major aim of the programme, and research was commissioned on the evolution of the debate on small-scale farmers and globalisation, on how small-scale producers have reacted to economic modernisation in China and to small-scale farmers under socialist governments, and on agriculture and youth.

Provocation series on how to make markets work for small-scale farmers

IIED, Hivos and collaborating institutions have hosted a series of 'provocative seminars' held in different locations across Europe, looking at some of the big assumptions, impacts, benefits and risks of approaches taken by the development community to ‘make markets work’ for small-scale farmers. The seminars have challenged conventional wisdom on how to include smallholders in markets and bring fresh perspectives to the discussion on what works and why.  

A compilation of the insights and material gathered from these seminars, from the work of the Learning Network, and the commissioned research is now available. The main issues are summarised in a briefing paper and further discussed in this short film. For further details of other related publications we have produced a brochure.