Strengthening professional farmers’ organizations to improve family farming income

Since 2019, the United Nations has proclaimed the Decade of Family Farming (up to 2028)[1] with the objective of promoting family farming as a development model for agriculture and rural areas worldwide .

Family farming (FA) is defined essentially as a form of agriculture where the family is the main agricultural operator, and where the land is often the main source of subsistence for the family with capital inseparable from the family patrimony (Cirad, 2017). Family farming can also be characterized according to the size of the farm. Thus, for the 81 countries for which data are available, 94% of family farms cultivate less than five hectares, and the vast majority even cultivate less than one hectare (French Committee for International Solidarity(CFSI), 2018). But size is a very context-dependent criterion. For example, a 20 hectare farm is considered small in France, whereas it can be seen as very large in the African context where the average is more generally between 2 and 5 ha or even in East Asia where the farms average only one hectare. AF is still today widely spread throughout the world, since it is admitted that it would represent more than 90% of farms in the world, i.e. approximately 500 million agricultural households (ONU, 2018) that is to say more than 2 billion people. These data are of course subject to many interpretations depending on the statistical methods of census estimates used. The share of family farming production in world food production thus varies according to the sources, but it is generally estimated at around 70% to 80% (FAO, 2019. CIRAD, 2017). It therefore plays an indispensable role in global food production and security. The quality of biodiversity and the management of natural resources is also a key element due to the close links with the environment and the notion of heritage to be transmitted to one’s descendants, thus encouraging family farmers to manage the resources of the environment prudently. Faced with climate change and thanks to its inherent flexibility, family farming, can adapt its crops according to climatic hazards or markets. It is thus often more resilient and has a certain capacity for innovation to ensure production without using many chemical inputs or significant water resources.(CFSI, 2018).

This decade supported by the World Rural Forum (WRF), FAO and IFAD[2], has therefore set itself the goal of strengthening policies, programs and investments in favor of family farming in order to promote the improvement of the living conditions of farming families and to maintain a social balance in rural areas. It also aims to promote the environmental sustainability and economic resilience of family farming systems.

On the other hand, several major international projects have emerged with the aim of strengthening and professionalizing farmers’ organizations. Indeed, agriculture remains an essential pillar of the economies of developing countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific where predominate family farming systems. However, in these regions, millions of smallholders and rural producers are poorly integrated into the supply chains and poorly organized, with the embryos of groupings (especially at the local level). The idea of ​​these support programs is, starting from local initiatives, to promote the emergence of larger farmers’ organizations whose mission would be to represent their members in the decision-making processes at national and regional levels and to strengthen the provision of technical and economic services.

Peasant organizations, in their professional versions, are quite old and widespread throughout the world. In Europe or in Western countries, the various professional agricultural movements have improved their structure, mainly because of their favorable economic and institutional environment (European Union). In the countries of the South, on the contrary, farmers’ organizations can often encounter difficulties linked to the lack of government support, unfavorable laws or insufficient economic resources.

The collective organization of farmers theoretically makes it possible to weigh favorably on the prices of inputs and products sold, allows them to negotiate with the public authorities, access services and technologies and promote healthier agronomic and ecological development practices.

For these reasons, in the early 2000s, a technical cooperation project for agricultural communities, launched by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), led to the creation of the “Farmers Forum in 2005. The Farmers Forum is a bottom-up process of consultation and dialogue between IFAD, governments and Farmers’ Organizations (FOs). It focuses on rural development and aims to build capacity within these Farmer Organizations in each country’s programs and investment projects. Meeting every two years, this initiative makes it possible, among other things, to enhance the visibility of the various actions of producer organizations and to benefit from joint dialogue with the ministers of agriculture of each country during the IFAD Board of Governors.

Alongside the multicultural dialogue bodies of the Farmers’ Forum at global and regional level, projects have been set up in the field to strengthen farmers’ organisations. Thus, IFAD, with several other donors (European Union, Swiss Development and Cooperation Department, French Development Agency), has entered into a partnership with farmers’ organizations resulting in subsidies, particularly in Africa with theProgram dSupport for Farmer Organizations in Africa (SFOAP) as well as in Asia with theMedium-term cooperation program with farmers’ organizations in Asia and the Pacific (MTCP1, MTCP2 then AFOSP project).

Implemented in 2009/2010, the MTCP1 project (Medium Terms Cooperation Program) with 1.5 million USD allocated, covered 12 countries: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam for US$1.5 million. With the following objectives; improving food and nutritional security, reducing rural poverty and promoting the sustainable development of rural areas by building the capacities of actors in the agricultural sector. It focuses on empowering small-scale farmers and rural communities, providing them with access to relevant information and technologies, strengthening their organizational capacities for negotiation.

Funding was directed towards supporting two types of farmers’ organisations, the advocacy organizations, aimed at improving laws in favor of family farming and agricultural service organizations, aiming to increase technical and economic services to their members.

Advocacy-type organizations, usually in the form of farmers’ unions, play an important role in defending farmers’ interests and promoting their economic, social and environmental development. Trade unions participate in the defense of the rights of peasants, ensuring that they benefit from decent working conditions. They also represent their interests with governments, companies and other stakeholders, and can also negotiate, for example, regional agreements on agricultural commodity markets or improve land laws at the national level. These organizations are therefore key players in maintaining sustainable, fair and equitable agriculture.

Agricultural service organizations, on the other hand, are existing associations in various forms (cooperatives, non-profit organizations or social enterprises) created by farmers to provide services to their members. For example, they make it possible to make group purchases of agricultural supplies, to support the marketing of agricultural products by providing processing, packaging and transport services. Agricultural service associations can also organize training on agricultural techniques, business management to help their members improve their agricultural practices or even help them by negotiating loans at preferential interest rates.

In summary, these two types of farmers’ organizations are two important pillars in the support of agriculture because they offer on the one hand, a collective voice for the defense of the interests of farmers and on the other hand, economic and social benefits. to their members. They can thus help to strengthen the resilience of rural communities and promote agricultural development in a sustainable way. These MTCP funds were thus allocated both to support and to the structuring of new associations that were not yet established or not yet established. Generally, the funding was relatively modest (a few tens of thousands of dollars) but allowed, for example, these associations to have the possibility of strengthening their secretariat, auditing their accounts or renting an office…

Building on the success and achievements of the first phase, MTCP2 was deployed from 2013 to 2019 (USD 20 million). On a larger scale (20 countries in Asia and the Pacific), it included three international and regional Farmer Organizations (FOs) (Pacific, Southeast Asia and South Asia), 94 national FOs, 895 sub-national FOs (provincial, departments, etc.) and nearly 24,000,000 individual farmers from 20 countries covering the following countries in three Asian sub-regions:

  • Pacific Region: Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue and Tuvalu (375,000 family farms)
  • South Asia Region: Nepal, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Bhutan and Afghanistan (200 million family farms)
  • Southeast and East Asia Region: Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, China and Thailand (200 million family farms)

The program is entirely managed by FOs and concrete gains in policy advocacy have been made, benefiting these millions of farmers. The success was particularly appreciated in the countries belonging to the economic community of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) which, like many of these inter-state organizations, organizes many inter-ministerial meetings each year by promulgating an important dialogue with farmers’ organisations. These meetings have also made it possible to give additional leverage to these POs, which now have not only influence in their respective countries but also on a larger whole in terms of regional policy decisions, because all these countries exchange agricultural products and services with each other. very important.

Finally, the program Asia-Pacific Farmers Program (APFP), developed in 2018 and until this year 2023, is based on the coverage of phase 2 of the medium-term cooperation program (MTCP2), by extending its field of action to six other countries, providing the total regional coverage in 29 countries. The program builds on the institutional and operational capacities of FOs strengthened during MTCP2 and continues to invest in inclusive expansion of FO membership at all levels; this includes building the capacity of FOs to deliver member-focused technical, advisory and financial services in a sustainable manner and promoting the direct participation of FOs in development programmes, particularly those supported by IFAD and the EU. The APFP is therefore designed to target and reach farmers and rural producers, in particular smallholders and vulnerable farmers/producers (and their households), through their farmer organizations.

For the African continent, over this same period, equivalent initiatives, also supervised and financed by IFAD and the European Commission and technically supported by FAO and the Technical Center for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) have been set up for the sub-Saharan region of Africa. A first pilot phase named Program Support for African Farmers’ Organizations (PAOPA) from 2009 to 2012 and supporting 55 national farmers’ organizations (OPN) in 39 countries, then led during its phase 2 to the creation of Pan-African farmers’ organization (PAFO) in 2019[3].

PAOPA’s activities revolve around strengthening the skills of Farmer Organizations as well as the formulation of more appropriate policies.

In addition, this strengthening of farmers’ organizations has resulted in the provision of strategic tools such as statutory texts and databases for the registration of affiliate members, the provision of personnel, equipment and resources as well as training.

The “participation in the formulation of appropriate policies” component has carried out studies and analyzes on their agricultural policies, organized meetings aimed at identifying common positions of principle and thus carrying out advocacy and lobbying activities with the authorities. Official. These organizations are gathered in four regional networks in Africa:

  • East African Farmers Federation (EAFF);
  • Sub-regional platform of farmers’ organizations dcentral Africa (PROPAC);
  • Network of farmers’ and producers’ organizationssouth africaOld onest (ROPPA); 
  • Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU).

Regional networks undoubtedly play an increasing role in the development of regional and pan-African agricultural development and food security policies. They are increasingly recognized as representatives of the peasant world. By supporting both regional and national FOs, PAOPA has therefore brought regional farmers’ organizations (RFOs) closer to their national affiliate members and has contributed to the coordination of national and regional initiatives aimed at promoting agricultural policy issues.’common interest.

The work has therefore made it possible to strengthen these associations, which now have more members and are therefore more present with governments and/or international financial institutions (World Bank, IFAD).

At the same time, old practices have been modernized. Following the sustained participation in these meetings leading to a connection of a large number of farmers and various stakeholders between them, a form of so-called contractual agriculture, pre-existing, could also be revived. This method of contracting for the production and/or sale of agricultural products between farmers and buyers allows family farming and business farming to work together in such a way that both parties can benefit from the relationship. Indeed, family farming is often limited in its production and marketing capacities, and it can have difficulty reaching local and international markets. On the other hand, business agriculture (agribusiness) often has the economic resources to increase production and reach markets, but it may not have sufficient land capacity and/or local knowledge of farmers family. Contract farming allows the advantages of both types of farming to be combined by creating a mutually beneficial system of collaboration and thus reducing the risks for small agricultural producers by providing them with a stable and predictable market for their products.[4].

Today, building on the activities, benefits and lessons learned from these programs, the FO4ACP program (Facility for Organizations in support of Agricultural Productivity and Competitiveness) is the result of the collaboration of all the actors concerned and is established this time on a global scale, in the countries of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP). This program was launched in 2019 for a period of five years and covers 79 ACP countries. Implemented by IFAD, it relies on the consortium of agri-agencies AGRICORD[5] (Brussels). Here again, it aims to strengthen the capacities of producer organizations, improve their governance, encourage their participation in agricultural policies and promote agricultural innovation, particularly in the production, processing and marketing of agricultural products.

In conclusion, the benefits of these types of programs are many; today, thanks to the support and development of these farmers’ organizations, “small farmers” have greater access to technical advisory or agricultural management services.’family farm experimentation and innovation, implementation of basic infrastructure projects or even training or literacy. Thanks to the creation of these groups, at the same time, they have facilities to orient themselves towards new economic activities, often marketing or production, collective supplies, thus actively contributing to an improvement in the economic conditions of producers.

On the political and institutional level, farmers’ organizations have gained legitimacy and have become essential in debates on public policies and laws concerning the agricultural sector. One of the great achievements of this consolidation is the recognition of the family farming as a real model for the development of the sector in the agricultural policy of these countries. These projects have also made it possible to strengthen so-called South-South cooperation. These exchanges of resources, knowledge, expertise and technologies between countries are a means of solving the problems that affect them, drawing on their own experiences and expertise. The benefits of this South-South cooperation include greater self-reliance and reduced dependence on foreign aid, increased capacity of developing countries to solve their own problems and achieve their development goals , as well as the creation of solid partnerships between these countries of the South.

*Camille Briel, Consultant, Agricultural EngineerISTOM economist, 38160 St Pierre de Cherennes, France




[4] to go further, read the legal guide on contract farming (UNIDROIT/FAO/IFAD, 2015);           


Benoit Thierry
Benoit Thierry
Director of IdealDev, international agency supporting rural development and local communities, 75010 Paris,