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CFS Bulletin

Volume 184 Number 16 | Sunday, 12 June 2016

OEWG on Connecting Smallholders to Markets

8-9 June 2016 | Rome, Italy

Languages: EN (HTML/PDF)
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The Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) on Connecting Smallholders to Markets of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) convened from 8-9 June 2016, at the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), in Rome, Italy. Building on the outcomes of the 2015 High-Level Forum on Connecting Smallholders to Markets, and the informal OEWG consultations held on 28 April 2016 that discussed key messages from the High-Level Forum, the meeting finalized a set of recommendations for adoption at the 43rd Plenary Session of the CFS (CFS 43) in October 2016.

Around 100 OEWG members, drawn from governments, UN agencies, civil society and private sector organizations, participated in the negotiations.

CFS OEWGs are informal groups open to all CFS members, participants and observers. They review, discuss and make proposals related to the intersessional work of CFS but have no decision-making mandate. The outcomes of their work are conveyed to CFS plenary, which is the decision-making body.


Opening the meeting, OEWG Chair Anna Gebremedhin, Finland, thanked all stakeholders for their contributions to the preparatory process. She invited participants to provide their inputs on the Chair’s Proposal, containing six introductory paragraphs and 19 recommendations, noting it was based on the outcome of the informal OEWG consultations in April.


OPENING PARAGRAPH: Commenting on the opening paragraph, the Civil Society Mechanism (CSM) noted the meeting should contribute to increased public investment in the sector and help smallholders improve their livelihoods, with the US and others noting the importance of an aspirational outcome document.

Canada, supported by the EU, US, Argentina, Brazil and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) among others, called for strengthening references to women’s empowerment across the document, noting their contribution to food security and nutrition, and the multiple constraints that they face. The PSM noted the need to pay equal attention to issues of youth employment and income. Chair Gebremedhin requested the Secretariat to draft text reflecting the issues of gender and youth.

Brazil emphasized the need to reflect smallholders’ essential role in securing the right to food and, with China, opposed including a reference to smallholders’ role in “the estimated 60% increase needed in food production,” noting the need for equal attention to efforts to promote sustainable production and consumption, including eliminating food waste.

Ecuador stressed the role of governments in developing the right policy and legal frameworks. The World Farmers’ Organization (WFO) noted the need for support to build smallholders’ entrepreneurial skills and ensure a safe market environment.

Final outcome: Among other changes, the OEWG agreed to: reorganize the introductory paragraph into two separate paragraphs; retain a reference to FAO data stating that smallholders supply 70% of overall food production; and reflect the role of governments in ensuring beneficial access to reliable and remunerative markets for smallholders.

LOCAL, NATIONAL AND REGIONAL MARKETS AND FOOD SYSTEMS: Following proposals by the CSM and the EU, participants agreed to rephrase the title of the paragraph from “local food systems and markets,” to “local, national and/or regional food systems and markets.”

The PSM called for recognizing that markets are evolving. The CSM highlighted that local and domestic markets are “highly diverse,” and are the ones through which “most of the food consumed in the world transits.”

The EU, China and Argentina supported a reference to investment in infrastructure to support productivity. IFAD called for addressing data gaps. The CSM highlighted public policies and investment to strengthen territorial markets. Supported by many, China underscored the importance of smallholders’ access to innovation, and Egypt highlighted access to new technologies. The CSM questioned the link of innovation to markets and called for reference to smallholder-owned innovation.

Participants debated language on markets within territorial spaces in different contexts. The PSM, the US, Australia, Argentina, the EU, Canada and China noted the term territorial spaces lacks an internationally agreed definition and does not add value to the document. The CSM drew attention to references to markets’ territorial dimensions in academic literature from various disciplines. Ecuador proposed reference to countries’ territorial approaches.

The CSM suggested explanatory language that food is produced, processed, traded and consumed within a given space and the value added is retained there, helping to create employment. A lengthy discussion ensued, and the CSM clarified that the value added generated from food production should be invested where it is produced. Brazil suggested reference to contribution to local social and economic development. The CSM said the value added should be redistributed among those participating in production.

Following consultations, the OEWG agreed to proposed compromise language.

Final outcome: The text states, among other issues, that value adding processes can help create employment and contribute to local social and economic development, when the benefits of value addition circulate within the local, national and regional systems.

GENDER: On Thursday evening, the Friends of the Chair group presented its final text to the plenary, noting it includes a rationale for investing in female smallholder farmers and underscores the role of human rights approaches in bridging the gender gap in smallholder agriculture. The OEWG adopted the text as proposed.

Final outcome: The paragraph notes that women comprise an average of 43% of the agricultural labor force in developing countries and that ensuring equal access to productive resources for women would lead to increased yields of 20-30% and a 12-17% decline in undernourishment. It highlights constraints for women smallholders in accessing markets and calls for the promotion, respect, protection, and fulfillment of human rights, including the progressive realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security, for gender equality and women’s empowerment.

YOUTH: On Thursday evening, the OEWG adopted new language on youth proposed by the Secretariat and reviewed by the Friends of the Chair group, with minor changes.

Final outcome: The paragraph notes that agriculture and food systems can present an important sector for youth “who are exploring income and employment opportunities in both rural and urban areas.” It highlights some of the constraints that young smallholders can face in accessing markets and notes that investing in smallholder agriculture and market infrastructure “is key to provide successful examples and viable livelihoods for all future generations.”

INTERNATIONAL MARKETS: The CSM and Ecuador opposed a stand-alone paragraph on this issue, noting that the bulk of smallholders operate primarily in local, national and regional markets. 

The PSM, supported by many, called for more balanced language to reflect that all markets pose challenges as well as benefits, and noted the need for the text to reflect the contribution of corporate and international market actors in providing diverse services to smallholders within value chains. Various participants also emphasized the need to focus on training and capacity building, including for farmers’ cooperatives.

Egypt pointed out that some food standards are not internationally agreed and discourage smallholders from participating in markets. Brazil suggested including competitiveness as a particular challenge for smallholders, with Switzerland noting that other market factors also contribute to smallholders’ vulnerability. The EU and US cautioned that some of the proposed language on food standards was beyond the mandate of CFS.

Following lack of agreement on references to, among other issues, the level of smallholder participation in international markets and the role of food safety and sustainability standards in locking out smallholders, Chair Gebremedhin forwarded the text to the Friends of the Chair group.

On Wednesday evening the OEWG adopted the text as revised.

Final outcome: The text notes, inter alia, that smallholders: are also operating in, or may like to engage with export markets, which present particular opportunities and challenges for them; may also face challenges such as meeting internationally agreed standards and other requirements related to food safety and quality; and can be vulnerable to disadvantageous contracts or unfair conditions and practices in these markets. The text further notes that training and capacity development on market functions, literacy and numeracy can facilitate and better prepare smallholders for markets.

NUTRITION: The CSM said the poor nutrition status of smallholders should be addressed by the OEWG on nutrition, and suggested focusing on smallholders’ contribution to nutrition. The EU highlighted that smallholders play an important role in connecting consumers to the source of food production. Participants discussed a CSM proposal on smallholders’ contribution to healthy, diverse, sustainable and balanced diets. Argentina noted that “sustainable diets” is not an agreed term. Following informal consultations, participants agreed that smallholders provide food that contributes to healthy, diverse and balanced diets “in a sustainable manner” and they can play an important role in maintaining the connection between consumers and the source of food production. Participants also agreed to an EU proposal that diversified production systems can improve smallholders’ capacity to participate in markets and improve their nutrition status.

The CSM, opposed by the US, stressed that standards and control systems should be appropriate to scale, production mode and context, and applied in a participatory manner that builds the understanding and knowledge of all actors. The African Group said smallholders should be trained on standards to produce internationally marketable food. Following informal consultations, reference to standards was deleted in this paragraph.

Final outcome: The text notes that smallholders: are both buyers and suppliers of food and are vulnerable to malnutrition due to a variety of reasons; and provide food that contributes to healthy, diverse, and balanced diets in a sustainable manner and help maintain the connection between consumers and the source of food production. It further stresses diversified production systems and the need for appropriate pre and post-harvest handling, storage and transportation facilities.

INSTITUTIONAL PROCUREMENT: Underscoring the importance of this issue, Brazil highlighted its strong involvement in South-South exchanges on good procurement practices, noted that the “distorting effects” of such programmes cannot be completely avoided, and opposed a reference to graduation strategies, asserting that institutional procurement “is a constant opportunity.” The EU called for explicit reference to inclusive contractual arrangements for smallholders.

The CSM suggested mentioning the role of local governments in procurement programmes. China and Egypt noted the need to clarify the role of such programmes in conflict situations. The OEWG adopted the text as revised.

Final outcome: The text, inter alia, highlights: the role of institutional procurement programmes in creating structured demand and helping smallholders to plan, and cope with conflict and natural disasters; notes the need for transparent and participatory procedures for smallholders and their organizations; and calls for the inclusion of local authorities and other stakeholders to address the context-specific needs of smallholder producers and local consumers and deliver social, environmental and economic benefits.

SMALLHOLDERS IN A CHANGING CONTEXT: Participants discussed the original title of this section, “Smallholders in transition,” with the CSM suggesting that it reference public policies for supporting smallholders in transition and the WFO underscoring the public sector’s role in creating an enabling environment. The Secretariat explained that this is the overall focus of the OEWG’s recommendations. Some questioned the meaning of “transition” and participants agreed to amend the title to refer to smallholders in a changing context.

FAO and IFAD proposed language on challenges and risks facing smallholders, particularly women, due to poor infrastructure and weak institutions, among other issues, which was agreed. Discussions continued in the Friends of the Chair group.

Argentina suggested moving the paragraph to the beginning of the document. On Thursday evening, the OEWG adopted final text proposed by the group and agreed to move the paragraph to the top of the introductory section.

Final outcome: The text highlights: the rapidly changing economic, social, environmental and political landscape in which most smallholders are operating; opportunities to access new or higher value markets, advance income diversification, and improve sustainability; challenges, including financial risks, inequitable terms, physical access to markets, access to and sustainable use of land and other natural resources, and poor infrastructure and market information systems; and the role of public policies and investments in creating an enabling environment for smallholders.


Opening the session on Thursday morning, Chair Gebremedhin invited the OEWG to begin consideration of draft recommendations contained in the Chair’s Proposal, proposing to cluster the discussions around broad themes.

On the chapeau, Egypt proposed language calling on countries to implement the recommendations, while others noted their voluntary nature. The OEWG agreed to include a reference to public policy, and to incorporate agreed CFS language to state that the recommendations “are voluntary and non-binding and should be interpreted and applied in accordance with national legal systems and their institutions.”

INFORMATION: Opening discussions on two recommendations addressing transparent information systems for smallholders, Chair Gebremedhin noted that language on data collection had been revised to reflect agreed introductory language on local, national and regional markets and food systems. Ecuador stressed the need to reflect that unfair market prices are one of the foremost challenges faced by smallholders. Costa Rica proposed stronger language to reflect that the provision of market information contributes to smallholder empowerment. The World Food Programme (WFP) suggested more information sharing on institutional procurement programmes. The WFO stressed the need to refer to both formal and informal markets, noting the latter are often overlooked by governments.

With no consensus reached on a CSM proposal to refer to the need for remunerative pricing for smallholders in the recommendation on market information, Gebremedhin forwarded the text to the Friends of the Chair for finalization.

Final Outcome: Among other issues, the recommendations call for:

  • regular collection of comprehensive data on diverse markets and food systems that is disaggregated by age, gender and geographic location, and making it available to both policy makers and smallholders;
  • a more enabling market environment for smallholders that provides fair and transparent prices and that adequately remunerates smallholders’ work and investments;
  • affordable mechanisms for smallholders’ access to useful, timely and transparent market and price information through information and communication technologies and smallholder-adapted market information systems.

PARTICIPATION AND DEMAND: With regard to the need for stable demand for smallholders’ products, participants agreed to an EU proposal to refer to structured demand. Egypt requested reference to “all cases of protracted crises.” Brazil suggested additional language on implementing institutional procurement programmes that link smallholders’ production to food security and nutrition policies such as food assistance and school feeding programmes. Following a lengthy discussion and informal consultations, participants agreed to language linking public procurement to structured demand.

On procurement, participants agreed to the Chair’s proposal as amended by the EU to refer to “inclusive” agreements.

On partnerships, the CSM proposed alternative text on frameworks to ensure that smallholders benefit from protection when entering into contractual agreements for export markets, noting that partnerships may be to the detriment of smallholders. IFAD recommended establishing policy and institutional arrangements related to value chain functioning and the relationships among smallholders and other actors, and highlighted examples of successful partnerships with financial institutions enabling smallholders to access credit. The WFP, FAO and IFAD called for ensuring coordination of partnerships.

On participation, many stressed the role of “relevant” rather than “local” authorities, and called for reference to smallholders’ organizations.

Final outcome: The recommendations call for:

  • promoting and expanding opportunities, including implementing institutional procurement programmes for public institutions, food assistance and school feeding, where smallholders are linked to structured demand for food and agricultural products and where consumers can access sufficient, safe, healthy, nutritious, and diverse smallholder-produced food, including during all cases of protracted crises and conflicts;
  • improving procurement procedures through the promotion of inclusive agreements with adapted modalities, which include simplified language and advance payments;
  • establishing policy and institutional arrangements, including innovative partnerships, related to value chains’ functioning that empower smallholders, particularly women and youth, and their organizations, to have an effective and equitable role in the design and implementation of contractual arrangements; and
  • promoting inclusive participation in local food systems, by encouraging relevant authorities’ engagement with all interested actors, including smallholders’ organizations, consumers and producers, especially women and youth.

INFRASTRUCTURE AND FINANCING: The OEWG broadly agreed on language in the Chair’s Proposal, with discussions focusing on the level of detail that should be included. Participants also agreed to restructure the initial recommendations into separate paragraphs focusing on either infrastructure or finance.

China proposed a new recommendation on institutional innovation which was approved by the OEWG with minor amendments.

Final outcome: The recommendations call for:

  • investing in and improving processing and storage equipment and facilities and their availability and accessibility across rural and urban areas to enhance availability, quality, nutritional value and food safety, and reduce seasonality of food insecurity and food losses and waste;
  • improving access to inclusive financial systems, adapted to the needs of smallholders, which provide a wide range of services and innovative financial products, microfinance, special lines of credit, start-up capital, and insurance; 
  • developing or improving smallholder-targeted infrastructure, such as irrigation and small-scale centers for processing and packaging; infrastructure that links rural areas with urban areas and relevant markets, such feeder roads, and market places for direct sales; and improving access to energy; and
  • promoting institutional innovation and improving agricultural production systems, and enhancing the organization of smallholders to better enable them to integrate into food value chains and increase their income.

BROADER LANDSCAPE: On smallholders’ contribution to sustainable natural resource management, the US called for deletion of language on “the true cost of food,” stating it falls outside the remit of the OEWG. The EU, supported by Argentina, proposed changing to “the true value of food” or “real value of farming.” The CSM opposed the changes saying they would water down the original intention of understanding the full value of investments made by smallholders. IFAD suggested referring to “the environmental, social, as well as economic costs of food production.”

Participants also debated whether to replace environmental “resources” with “services” or to use both terms.

On the policy environment, participants broadly welcomed the proposed recommendation, and agreed to include additional proposals by the EU and the CSM calling for reference to gender dimensions and local markets respectively.

Final outcome: The recommendations: recognize “the environmental, social and economic value of food produced”; acknowledge smallholders’ key role in the sustainable use and management of natural resources; and note the need promote integrated and balanced approaches between policies and broader national strategies, including gender-targeted interventions, such as those on local economic development and rural-urban planning.

PRODUCTION: Participants debated a recommendation on products which help preserve traditional food systems. Calling for a broader approach, the US, Argentina and the PSM opposed reference to the preservation of traditional food systems. The EU requested reference to geographical indications and organic products, with Switzerland adding reference to agrobiodiversity conservation and Brazil to products resulting from agroecological approaches. Egypt suggested linking such products to increasing smallholders’ income and Canada to enhancing their competitiveness. Following informal consultations, participants agreed on a recommendation on production diversification to increase resilience with a minor amendment.

On a recommendation on investing in production technologies, the CSM called for investing in smallholder-adapted technologies building on local knowledge, and the WFO in research and technologies. Egypt highlighted technology transfer and the EU capacity building. Participants agreed to the recommendations as amended.

The EU proposed a new recommendation on promoting short supply chains, which was agreed after some discussion, with some noting that it ensures a better income for smallholders.

The PSM supported, and the CSM opposed, a recommendation encouraging production of nutrient-dense food, including fortified staples, that may present new market opportunities. Brazil suggested reference to nutritious and healthy foods and the recommendation was agreed.

The UN Standing Committee on Nutrition and the WFP, supported by Canada and the PSM, proposed including a new recommendation calling for promoting demand for diverse nutritious foods, including under-utilized traditional crops, fruits and vegetables, and fortified products, noting it was based on the outcome of the second International Conference on Nutrition, held in 2014. The CSM opposed mentioning fortified foods, while Brazil suggested the inclusion of agroecological approaches and organic products. With some noting this issue was addressed in several agreed recommendations, the OEWG agreed not to include the proposal.

Final outcome: The recommendations call for, inter alia:

  • promoting smallholder products with specific quality characteristics, which increase income and can respond to consumer demand while preserving traditional practices and knowledge and agricultural biodiversity;
  • facilitating production diversification to increase resilience to climate change and price shocks;
  • investing in capacity building, research and smallholder-adapted innovative technologies and technology transfer, to promote value addition, diversification of production, employment and income sources, to help insure against food price volatility and mitigate the impacts of risks and shocks in agricultural income;
  • promoting short food supply chains that enable smallholders to obtain a better income from their production; and
  • encouraging production of nutritious and healthy foods that may present new market opportunities for smallholders.

CAPACITY DEVELOPMENT: On a recommendation to empower smallholders by strengthening their control over productive assets and facilitating provision of services, the CSM suggested that services be tailored to smallholders’ specific needs and the EU added a reference to risk management.

With regard to capacity building on food standards, the CSM and the US presented alternative language, which was agreed.

On capacity development for young people, many speakers welcomed the focus on entrepreneurship and innovation in value chains and agribusiness, noting it is critical in attracting youth to agriculture. The CSM’s proposal to remove references to value chains and agribusiness and refer instead to the need to “enrich smallholders’ knowledge and practices,” elicited lengthy debate, with the African Group, supported by many others, stressing that smallholders aspire to succeed commercially. The CSM emphasized that the overall objective should be to improve smallholders lives. Following informal consultations the OEWG adopted the text as proposed. 

Many supported additional language proposed by Brazil on South-South and triangular cooperation. The EU suggested reference to North-South cooperation, and Egypt to the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. Agreement was reached in informal consultations.

On smallholders’ capacity to increase their bargaining power and control over their economic environment and influence and participation in food value chains, the OEWG agreed to include a reference to women, proposed by the EU.

Final outcome: The recommendations call for:

  • empowering smallholders by strengthening their access to and control over productive assets and resources, and by facilitating the provision of extension, financial and business development services, risk management instruments and simplified administrative procedures, tailored to their specific needs;
  • targeting education and training, particularly to youth, with a focus on mentorship to enrich smallholders’ practices and knowledge, entrepreneurship, innovation and marketing in value chains and agribusiness, and making agriculture more attractive to them
  • promoting protection of food security through effective risk assessment leading to control systems that are appropriate for different scales, contexts and modes of production, while providing information and capacity building to meet these requirements;
  • promoting South-South and triangular cooperation, and strengthening North-South cooperation, to improve smallholders’ productivity and capacity to engage in all markets, in accordance with the Addis Ababa Action Agenda;
  • supporting the development of smallholders’ production, managerial and entrepreneurial capacities of smallholders; and
  • facilitating smallholders’ capacity to increase their economic influence and participation in food value chains by acting collectively and forming cooperatives, associations and networks, and promoting the engagement of traditionally underrepresented groups, such as women and young people.

FOLLOW UP: The CSM proposed new language on follow-up concerning the process for involving the Rome-based Agencies; CFS procedures for reviewing progress; and dissemination of the recommendations. The Secretariat clarified CFS’ practice that the OEWG on the Multi-Year Programme of Work (MYPoW) would consider timing of follow-up. Participants agreed on text as amended during discussions, with the understanding that the decision box to be addressed by CFS 43 will include a request to the MYPoW OEWG to consider the issue of follow-up.

Final outcome: In the recommendation, all stakeholders are encouraged to advocate, including within FAO, IFAD and WFP, and build awareness through dissemination and facilitate learning, action and experience sharing through the use of the recommendations. Stakeholders are invited to facilitate follow-up by mapping, assessing and promoting exchange of experience in some key areas, such as methodologies for data collection on local national regional and international markets and food systems, food safety and public procurement programmes.


Chair Gebremedhin thanked all OEWG members, the Secretariat, and the Friends of the Chair group for their collaborative spirit and hard work. CFS Secretary Deborah Fulton thanked Chair Gebremedhin for her guidance and perseverance during the lengthy discussions. Gebremedhin then declared the OEWG closed at 10:55 pm.


EMPOWERing vulnerable land users to become agents of a transformative 2030 Agenda: A Proposal for Inclusive and Participatory Global Thematic Reviews on Natural Resources: This session will be held during the tenth edition of the European Development Days (EDD 2016) on the 2030 Agenda. The session will focus on inclusive, participatory and transparent follow-up and review mechanisms of the 2030 Agenda to open up ways for the poorest and most vulnerable to hold governments accountable. The session is organized by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), the Biovision Foundation for Ecological Development, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), the Together 2030 initiative, and CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation.  dates: 16 June 2016  venue: Tour & Taxis  location: Brussels, Belgium  contact: Ivonne Lobos Alva  phone: +49 331 28822 431  e-mail: [email protected] www:

CFS OEWG on the Multi-Year Programme of Work: This meeting will finalize the themes and scope of the reports of the High Level Panel of Experts for 2018, including funding arrangements.  dates: 20 June 2016  venue: FAO Headquarters  location: Rome, Italy  www:

CFS OEWG on SDGs: The fourth and final meeting of the CFS OEWG on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is expected to finalize a proposal on how CFS as a global, multi-stakeholder committee, will support progress reaching the SDGs related to sustainable agriculture, food security and nutrition, and in advancing the parts of the 2030 Agenda that fall within its mandate. The proposal will be submitted to CFS 43 for adoption. dates: 22 June 2016 location: Rome, Italy  www:

High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development: The 2016 meeting of the HLPF is the first since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. The session will include voluntary reviews of countries and thematic reviews of progress on the SDGs, including cross-cutting issues, supported by reviews by the ECOSOC functional commissions and other intergovernmental bodies and forums. A three-day ministerial meeting of the Forum will take place on 18-20 July 2016.  dates: 11-20 July 2016  location: UN Headquarters, New York  contact: UN Division for Sustainable Development  email[email protected] www:

25th Session of the FAO Committee on Agriculture: The Committee on Agriculture (COAG) is one of FAO’s Governing Bodies providing overall policy and regulatory guidance on issues relating to agriculture, livestock, food safety, nutrition, rural development and natural resource management.  dates: 26-30 September 2015  venue: FAO Headquarters  location: Rome, Italy  contact: Guei Gouantoueu Robert  email: [email protected] www

CFS 43: The session will address items under CFS workstreams arising from its MYPoW, including, inter alia: nutrition and food systems; CFS engagement with the SDGs; connecting smallholders to markets; urbanization, rural transformation and implications for food security and nutrition; and sustainable agricultural development for food security and nutrition, including the role of livestock. dates: 17-22 October 2016  location: Rome, Italy  contact: CFS Secretariat  email: [email protected] www: