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Stronger together: The power of farmers’ organizations

Small family farms make up 85 per cent of all farms worldwide, and smallholder farmers make up the majority of the world’s rural poor. To mitigate the challenges that come with working in isolation − and to increase profitability and productivity − these smallholders often form organizations.

Working together makes it easier for small-scale farmers to access raw materials such as seeds, water and fertilizer and to aggregate their yields, enabling them to reach larger markets. This in turn allows them reduce costs and improve their bargaining power, better positioning them to improve their food security and move out of poverty. And when farmers thrive, other players in the food system benefit, too.

But to fulfil this role, these organizations often need tailored attention and support. IFAD recognises the central role of farmers’ organizations in smallholder development and is committed to supporting them in building their capacity and strengthening their ability to perform.

In 2005, IFAD established the Farmers’ Forum, a framework for the partnership between IFAD and organizations of smallholder farmers. The Forum facilitates the ongoing process of consultation between these producer organizations, governments and IFAD, with a focus on rural development and poverty reduction. Each global meeting of the Forum serves as an opportunity to reaffirm our mutual commitment to partnership and to coordinate our operations.

©IFAD/Francesco Cabras : A group of Jakun farmers gathers amongst some of their seedlings.

The Jakun people, a subgroup of the Orang Asli indigenous peoples of Malaysia, have long been conscientious stewards of the local forest. Today, their traditional livelihoods are at risk – but thanks to the IFAD-funded Indigenous Peoples Assistance Facility, they have a way to maintain autonomy. This unique financial instrument supports indigenous peoples by building on their governance systems, culture, identity, knowledge and natural resources. Local organizations of indigenous peoples submit project proposals based on their self-identified priorities and, after receiving funding, have full responsibility for implementation. The ownership of the initiatives is thus in their hands, with positive impacts in terms of sustainability as well.

©IFAD/Susan Beccio : Members of the Magemo community pause for a photo in Bungoma, Kenya.

The Bungoma region of western Kenya is rich in natural resources, ensuring large yields of highly profitable banana crops. Nevertheless, the area lacks local infrastructure, limiting farmers’ access to markets.

To counteract this problem, a group of banana growers in the Magemo community decided to form a community-based organization (CBO). They received training on key aspects of running a business, such as group marketing and record keeping, and were referred to other service providers who trained them on savings and loans. This increased visibility and awareness inspired other community members to join. Today, the members of Magemo CBO have seen their earnings from banana sales double.

©IFAD/Susan Beccio: Members of the Nimla village cooperative are pictured here with a lentil separator.

In Nimla, a small village in northwest India, a farmer’s cooperative has set up an implementation bank and training centre. Local farmers can also borrow equipment that saves time and labour, thus improving crop output. One example is the lentil separator, a machine that sorts lentils from pebbles and debris. It can process in five minutes the amount of lentils that would take a woman all day. The cooperative also provides organic fertilizer and other raw materials.

©IFAD/Joanne Levitan: Young farmers from the Sabeto Organic Papaya Association plant papaya seeds in Fiji.

Smallholders in Fiji have a lot to work with. Natural resources on their islands are plentiful, and demand for their agricultural products is strong. Yet the local value chains are underdeveloped and commercial relationships are weak, making it difficult for them to increase their crop yields and turn a profit.

As a way to develop their business, Fijian smallholders have begun organizing themselves into farmers’ groups such as the Sabeto Organic Papaya Association. The Association is made up of 20 young farmers who have been trained in growing organic papaya and who each have their own plot of land to tend. Organizations such as these play a crucial part in helping farmers to make the most of local resources – and provide agricultural employment opportunities for youth, as well.

©IFAD/Phan Chansey : Farmers grow organic water spinach in a small vegetable plot in Kampot village, Cambodia.

In three provinces of Cambodia, local vegetable growers have formed cooperatives with the assistance of IFAD’s Rural Livelihoods Improvement Project. Members of the cooperative are empowered to take the lead in testing new crops. Thanks to this support network, they were able to expand their operations to include water spinach, papaya, moringa, banana, jack fruit, guava, mung bean and lemons. Members also share their newly gained experience with each other, creating a transfer of knowledge that benefits the entire community.