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As the 43rd session of the UN Committee on Food Security meets in Rome this week they will finalize the negotiated draft recommendations on “connecting smallholders with markets”, developed with inputs from several hundreds of civil society organizations, including IATP. It has been a long process to get here.

At least since the food price crisis, if not from earlier, agricultural development initiatives have identified “connecting smallholders with markets” as an important strategy for ensuring the livelihood security of smallholder producers. However, most initiatives focus on integrating farmers and other smallholder producers into food value chains (vertically integrated companies that source, process and retail their products, such as Pepsi Co and Nestle), rather than exploring what kind of marketing channels would best fit the local needs of food producers, and consumers.

Unsurprisingly when the UN Committee on Food Security (CFS) convened a technical team to organize a High Level Forum on connecting smallholders with markets, it supported the dominant ideas about markets. The Civil Society Mechanism (CSM) of the CFS questioned that assertion. The CSM represents 11 distinct constituencies, including smallholder producers such as pastoralists and fisher folk. As result of CSM efforts, the experiences of small-scale producers’ organizations, consumers and the urban poor were fed into the background document, as well as at the High Level Forum itself in June 2015. In October of that year the CFS initiated a work-stream on “Connecting smallholders with markets”. The ensuing discussions during the CFS annual summit last year sought to recognize the multiple, invisible markets that food producers, especially in indigenous communities, use for sourcing and selling their products and produce.

A case study on IATP’s experience of working with small acreage farmers (also known as smallholder producers in international contexts) in Minnesota is one of the several case studies that the CSM gathered from around the world to demonstrate the multiple ways in which smallholders manage their markets in a way that is beneficial to themselves and the consumers.

The IATP case study  looks at a marketing initiative in two counties in Minnesota (MN), USA, which connects the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) with the Head Start Program run by the Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington Counties (CAPRW) in Minnesota. IATP’s experiences in this ‘Farm to Head start program’, demonstrate the need for targeted programs and policies to help these farmers access markets on their terms, and to ensure incentives for local food processors accommodate the distinct and locally specific needs of small acreage farmers. The multiple benefits include enhanced economic and social wellbeing of the communities; respect for the traditional food cultures of local communities, and ensuring that next generation is nurtured on healthy food habits.

Currently, marketing structures are dominated by vertically integrated multinational food chains. Both consumers and producers are looking for alternatives to the current marketing structures, and IATP’s purpose in sharing this case study was to show policy makers how new marketing channels are being explored in the United States. Examples from Minnesota include not only vibrant farm to institution networks (Farm to School; Farm to Hospital etc.) and farmers’ markets but also Community Supported Agriculture.

These case studies were shared with the world governments during an information session in the lead up to this year’s CFS summit, During the intergovernmental negotiations that followed, the CSM referred to the IATP case study along with those from Belgium, Brazil and France to show how food procurement policies can be tailored to support smallholders needs and their viability. In its report on the process, the CSM urged governments to continue to collect comprehensive information on local, national and regional food systems as a regular aspect of data collection systems and to make that information available to smallholders. 

The CSM publication that came out last week on the topic addresses many of the issues involves and concludes that, “The ‘Connecting to Smallholders to Markets’ process and negotiated text have illuminated the vital issue of the links between smallholders, markets, and food security and nutrition. It is important that the recommendations are treated with the seriousness they deserve and are followed up on, at the CFS but above all at local, national and regional levels, with smallholders in a leading role. [………]  To ensure effective follow-up and sound policies, it is vital to fill the existing gap of information and analysis regarding territorial markets. It is necessary to be able to map territorial markets and to better understand their functioning, their relationships with smallholders and food security and nutrition, the interplay between formal and informal markets, the links between territorial markets and sustainable agroecological production models. To this end, the negotiated recommendations call for:

Collecting comprehensive data on markets linked to local, national and/or regional food systems—both rural and urban, formal and informal – to improve the evidence base for policies, including age, gender, and geographic-disaggregated data, incorporating this as a regular aspect of data collection systems, and making this information available to smallholders(10i)

As the 43rd session of the UN Committee on Food Security meets in Rome this week to finalize the negotiated draft recommendations on “connecting smallholders with markets”, we are hopeful that these policy proposals will be integrated and mainstreamed not only within CFS but also in other UN processes, paving way for policies enabling fair marketing pathways around the world.