• Jonathan Parry Manager

Empowering smallholder farmers through Farmer Organizations

Laos - Earlier this month I was fortunate enough to participate in the Medium Term Cooperation Program Phase 2 (MTCP2) Expanded Regional Steering Committee Meeting in Laos. Funded by IFAD and led by regional farmers’ organizations, the MTCP2 aims to strengthen the capabilities of farmers’ organizations (FOs) in Asia and the Pacific thereby making them more viable, responsive and accountable to their members. The organizers of the Committee Meeting asked Grow Asia to present an update on our activities during a panel discussion and to explore the possibility of more in-depth collaboration. This was a great opportunity for us to explore how we can strengthen the role of smallholders, through FOs, in all our Country Partnerships.

During my two days at the Steering Committee Meeting, much of the discussion focused on the need to foster cooperation and coordination amongst the different FOs. Better coordination and sharing of best practice could support their ability to build networks, participate in policy dialogue, and provide technical training to members. Much work has already gone into building the capacity of FOs across the region, but progress will always be limited if MTCP2 is solely responsible for this. FOs stand to gain a lot from the experience and expertise of external organizations and can use their own role as the focal point of any smallholder-inclusive value chain to attract both financial investment as well as knowledge transfer. The challenge that FOs face is in developing a working model for engagement with government, private sector and civil society.

FOs, if well organized, managed, funded and received by the other stakeholders in the agribusiness environment, can make meaningful and impactful improvements in the lives of smallholder farmers. However, the task of reaching the millions of smallholders in South East Asia cannot be done alone .This is where the aggregator role of these groups is crucial. The result of the meeting was for the MTCP2 to maintain the training focus it has taken over the past year but also to move this to action on the ground, either by starting its own projects or engaging existing ones.

What I took away from the MTCP2 meeting was this: MTCP2 has a strong inward focus on farmers’ organizations and Grow Asia can offer a platform for FOs to learn from other stakeholders. MTCP2 could support the 'up-skilling' of FOs to take more active roles in some of our value chain partnerships and act as an aggregation point for smallholders to scale reach. Together, we can empower farmers’ organizations to improve operations, engage in policy dialogue that directly impacts them, and to measure success and attract further funding and investment.

Meanwhile, to support better engagement, Grow Asia has developed a primer on Farmers Organizations in ASEAN. The paper will focus on four key areas; a background on FOs, their scope, the case for agribusiness to engage, and finally a model for engaging FOs. The primer will be made available on the Grow Asia Exchange, an information hub for sustainable agriculture development in South East Asia, later in the year.

Jonathan Parry Manager, Country Partnerships (Mekong), Grow Asia jonathan@growasia.org

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