The power of partnerships: Forging alliances for sustainable smallholder agriculture

ROME, Italy – The 36th session of IFAD's Governing Council convenes on 13-14 February 2013 with a focus on the power of partnerships to reduce poverty and ensure food security in rural communities worldwide.

Held annually at IFAD headquarters in Rome, the Governing Council consists of all of IFAD's Member States and is its main decision-making body. Against a global backdrop of unprecedented economic and environmental challenges, this year's Governing Council meeting is looking toward new and improved forms of partnership with governments and other donors, the private sector and smallholder farmers themselves.

The session kicks off with keynote speeches by His Excellency Hui Liangyu, Vice Premier of the People's Republic of China; His Excellency Vittorio Grilli, Minister of Economy and Finance of the Italian Republic; and IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze.

Among other highlights, a panel discussion sharing secrets of mutually beneficial and successful partnerships, features Tulio Garcia, Executive Director of Cooperative 4Pinos (Guatemala); Salah Hegazy, Chairman of Agrofood (Egypt); Mylène Kherallah, Senior Technical Advisor for IFAD on Private Sector Development; Tadesse Meksela, General Manager of Coffee Cooperative Orioma (Ethiopia); and Lucian Peppelenbos, Director of Learning and Innovation.

The power of partnerships: Investing in sustainable rural development a high-level panel moderated by David Nabarro, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Food Security and Nutrition explores the power of partnerships with James Mwangi, CEO and Managing Director of Equity Bank, Kenya, and a variety of technical experts.

In addition, representatives of the first global Indigenous Peoples' Forum, which immediately precedes the Governing Council, are scheduled to the synthesis of deliberations of the Indigenous Peoples' Forum at IFAD.

The agenda also includes a high-level roundtable with ministers from IFAD's Member States discussing the role of partnerships in financing agricultural and rural development. And in a nod to the importance of partnership between the three Rome-based United Nations food and agriculture agencies (FAO, IFAD and WFP), all three agency heads are coming together at the Governing Council to present an award for excellence for working together in the field.

A changing landscape

As the Governing Council convenes, the landscape in which agriculture operates is changing profoundly around the world, with new participants, challenges, alliances and risks. In addition to feeding a booming population, agriculture today is expected to serve a diverse and growing set of global objectives – helping to restore a fragile environment, managing dwindling natural resources, addressing climate change and providing decent livelihoods to the farmers of today and tomorrow. As agricultural markets are transformed and attract new entities and individuals, emerging configurations of power and development opportunities require the establishment of new alliances and more effective ways of working. This indicates the need for new or improved forms of partnerships.

The landscape in which traditional donors operate has also changed – with new public and private entities, new models of engagement between donors and recipients, and a new sense of mutual accountability. The Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, formed at the Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (November-December 2011), demonstrates this renewed commitment and sets the context for encouraging partnerships.

Whether formal or informal, a partnership is based on a common goal. It is an agreement to cooperate in order to advance the partners' mutual interests, mobilizing their strengths and resources in a transparent and equitable manner. Partnership requires letting go of top-down approaches and blueprints, while accepting that no single set of participants – not farmers, other private investors, researchers, governments or donors – has the solution to the challenges now facing agriculture.

Linking farmers to markets

Partnerships in agriculture and rural development can take the form of cofinanced investment projects, outgrower schemes, contract farming, public purchase programmes or joint share equity schemes. For smallholder farmers to participate, they must join forces with other smallholders in associations and cooperatives and then forge partnerships with other private sector entities. Creating the right conditions to connect smallholder farmers to dynamic markets requires farmers to be trained and organized and to have access to research and technology, an enabling policy environment and a receptive business sector, combined with effective partnership facilitation.

Though the various entities working in development increasingly see collaboration as a necessity, establishing mutually beneficial partnerships has its challenges. The success of partnerships and the benefits to smallholder farmers and rural communities depend on the equitable sharing of risks, responsibilities, resources and benefits. They also depend on the capacity of the State to enforce the rule of law.

Partnerships serve smallholder agriculture in many ways. They help poor farmers expand their operations cost-effectively and gain entry to otherwise inaccessible markets and value chains; encourage development of policies reflecting the needs of all stakeholders, large and small; support the protection of natural resources; provide access to knowledge, research and technology; encourage sharing of experiences among countries facing similar challenges; and improve access to financing. As reflected in the Strategic Framework (2011-2015), IFAD is increasingly engaged in partnerships with the private sector as part of efforts to help rural people overcome poverty and achieve food security.

Social media and webcasting

IFAD's Governing Council is an interactive event thanks to a number of social media components. Social reporters will keep the outside world informed through blogs, tweets, posting interviews and pictures on the following IFAD social media channels. You can follow the event via webcast and by following #ifadgc on Twitter.