An important step for increasing peasant family farmer recognition in the global governance of food and agriculture
By Thomas Patriota
By Thomas Patriota
This entry is part of a special series of blog posts about the UN’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS): The Future of the CFS? Collectively reflecting on the directions of UN’s most inclusive body. Read more about this project here.
Today we inaugurate the fourth and last thematic cluster on “Emerging Issues at the CFS: How are they being addressed?”. Thomas Patriota comments on policy recommendations adopted at the last CFS: Connecting Smallholders to Markets (CSTM). Reviewing the discussions that lead to this instrument, he stresses that the CSTM represent an important discursive affirmation of the primary role of smallholders in agricultural investment and food security. He further argues that the adoption of the CSTM recommendations is a step forward in recognizing peasant family farming within global food governance.
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Increasing recognition of the central role of smallholders in food security and nutrition in the CFS
The policy recommendations on Connecting Smallholders to Markets (CSTM) adopted at the CFS 43 session last October are an important new addition to the gradual accumulation of policy dialogue and consensus-building on measures for the strengthening of peasant family farming that can be traced back to the 37th CFS session in 2011 – two years after the Committee’s reform.
That session’s policy roundtable on ‘How to Increase Food Security and Smallholder-Sensitive Investment in Agriculture’ saw the terms of multilateral policy debate on this issue crucially shifted (McKeon, 2015). The relative strength of the discursive affirmations enshrined in the CFS 37 final report regarding the primary role of smallholders in both agricultural investment and food security gradually intensified in the following years. This can be partly attributed to the strong evidence and argumentative basis provided by the HLPE report that was commissioned during that session and from which would emerge the policy recommendations on ‘Investing in Smallholder Agriculture for Food Security and Nutrition’, endorsed at the CFS 40 session in 2013.
These in turn eventually yielded the High Level Forum on Connecting Smallholders to Markets, held in 2015, for which a Background Document previously prepared by a technical task team comprising members of the three Rome-based UN agencies plus the Civil Society and Private Sector Mechanisms also contributed to deepening the quality of policy debate. The resulting CSTM recommendations adopted in July of the following year and their endorsement three months later at CFS 43 are the latest developments in this succession of debates and policy documents.
Investing in Smallholder Agriculture for Food Security and Connecting Smallholders to Markets
Whereas the first set of policy recommendations is framed with regards to investment by and for smallholders, and the second on strengthening smallholders’ access to markets, both documents cover a considerably wide range of interconnected policies, and how these relate to the roles of both state and private actors. But they also bring in a narrative that posits a greater degree of autonomy for smallholders both politically, with regards to the state (through the promotion of greater organizational strength for smallholders and more bottom-up direct participation of organizations in policy formulation and implementation) as well as economically, particularly in their interaction with larger and more vertically integrated transnational private actors (with which diverse forms of contract farming are only seen as potential opportunities for smallholders if and when properly regulated, so as to ensure a level-playing field in both contract negotiation and enforcement).
The CSTM policy recommendations in particular give special importance to ‘institutional procurement’ programs, reflecting an increasing consensus on the benefits for both consumers and small-scale food producers of using the structured demand of state institutions (schools, hospitals, social protection programs) to directly purchase food from smallholders. This increasing consensus on public procurement programs is not only reflected in CFS policy guidelines, but also in reports, programs and activities undertaken by FAO, IFAD, and WFP, as well as in other branches of the UN system – such as the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, through its Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.
‘Soft’ CFS policy recommendations, ‘hard’ WTO restrictions, and potential contributions of FAO in bridging the gap
Despite this growing recognition, public procurement and other forms of state support to smallholders in developing countries are considerably restricted by existing multilateral trade rules, as defined by the WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) and in particular its provisions on Public Stockholding for Food Security – an issue that has come to the fore since the Bali Ministerial Conference in 2013. Indeed, although WTO rules in principle allow developing states to purchase from their country’s family farmers to constitute national food security stocks, severe restrictions apply regarding any form of price support given to these farmers by the purchasing public institutions.