Failure to engage farmers in PPPs could exacerbate poverty, warns Fairtrade Foundation

Fairtrade sugar farmer in Malawi

Governments and international development partners must do more to ensure that smallholder farmers can play an active role in the design and development of agricultural PPPs

Governments and NGOs are increasingly partnering with the private sector to tackle global hunger and poverty, but a study published today by the Fairtrade Foundation warns that far from being a silver bullet, some agricultural public-private partnerships (PPPs) in Africa appear to prioritise commercial interests while ignoring the needs of the smallholder farmers they claim to help – and they could even exacerbate poverty.

Since the global food crisis of 2007-08, there has been a rapid surge in the number of agricultural PPPs in Africa, including high-profile initiatives such as the New Alliance for Food Security & Nutrition, which was launched at the 2012 G8 Summit by President Obama and promised $3bn in agriculture-related corporate investments, with the goal of lifting 50 million people out of poverty within 10 years.

'A seat at the table?’, the Fairtrade Foundation’s study of four agricultural PPPs in Ghana, Malawi and Kenya, found examples of PPPs failing to engage effectively with smallholder farmers, making assumptions about farmers’ needs while ignoring or overlooking their actual concerns and priorities, and treating farmers as beneficiaries rather than as equal partners. It found few, if any opportunities for farmers’ representatives to sit around the table with governments, companies and other PPP stakeholders, or to influence the design or development of the PPPs that claim to improve their position.  

For example, the Ghana Commercial Agriculture Project, a $145m framework PPP established by the Government of Ghana, World Bank and USAID, aims to increase productivity of smallholder farmers in the Accra Plains and SADA region, yet there had been just one occasion, in 2011, when smallholder farmers had an opportunity to express their views about it. The project takes a demand-driven approach, so funds are allocated according to private sector applications rather than an assessment of farmers’ needs.

“Being a farmer leader…and having direct contact with other producers across the country and the continent – I think that we should be the ones who add value to reshaping the way a project can work for the benefit of producers,” said Chief Adam Tampuri, President of the Gbankuliso Cashew Farmers’ Association, the largest farmer-based organisation in the SADA region’s Bole district, with nearly 1,000 smallholder members. “This project has come to change and improve the lives of farmers. But you cannot make a change if you do not have people working together,” he added.  

In the worst case, more than 250 smallholder farmers in Dwangwa, central Malawi claimed they were forced off their land, some alleging they were beaten by armed police and had their home destroyed, to make way for a sugarcane PPP that was funded by the African Development Bank and is now under the umbrella of the New Alliance. Another 32 smallholders claimed they were forced off land for an EU-funded sugarcane scheme, with one farmer saying he was offered just $23 compensation for a one-acre plot, while well-connected ‘outsiders’ linked to commercial interests were allocated land.

An EU review of the land re-allocation undertaken for the Dwanga sugarcane PPP noted it had a ‘negative effect on poverty’ and Fairtrade Foundation’s study found it exacerbated inequality, with some farmers becoming landless and hungry while others gained from higher incomes. A number of smallholder communities have resisted pressure to convert to the PPPs sugarcane schemes, with some resorting to night-time land patrols to prevent its expansion. “We don’t want to get into sugarcane, we are being forced,” said the Chair of the Mkhuto Food Security Club at Kasitu East. “Instead we want practical help with increasing our production through organic methods.”

Commenting on the study’s findings, Barbara Crowther, Director of Policy & Public Affairs at the Fairtrade Foundation, said: “Smallholder farmers are the backbone of our global food system and grow 70% of the world’s agricultural produce, yet they also make up half of the world’s hungry people. Agricultural PPPs could have the potential to improve lives, productivity and increase market access for communities. But there is a real danger that by allowing commercial interests to determine the direction of PPPs, the voice of smallholder farmers is not currently being heard and their genuine needs are being neglected.

“Governments and international development partners must do more to ensure that smallholder farmers can play an active role in the design and development of agricultural PPPs - or there is a risk that far from eradicating poverty, they could actually aggravate social and economic inequalities, create civil unrest and even exacerbate poverty,” Crowther added.

The Fairtrade Foundation is sharing its findings with government, parliamentarians, business leaders and NGOs, and urging them to adopt a number of recommendations for agricultural PPPs. These include directing government and donor funds to clear and measurable development goals; ensuring there is a clear and functioning land policy and legislation; ensuring there is a transparent and participatory design process; conducting rigorous social impact assessments; investing in capacity-building of producers; and striking a fair balance between market access needs and priorities of smallholders.

Fairtrade tackles poverty and injustice by working to secure a fair deal and a more sustainable future for 1.4m disadvantaged farmers and workers in more than 70 countries across the developing world.

'A seat at the table?  builds on the Fairtrade Foundation’s previous research on empowering smallholders in supply chains, which called for governments and decision-makers to increase farmers’ voice, influence and organisation, and to increase and target national and donor government spending on agriculture.


For more information, a copy of the report or images please contact Nicola Frame, Media & PR Manager on 020 7440 8597/ 07766 504947.

Notes to Editors

The Fairtrade Foundation is an independent certification body which licenses the use of the FAIRTRADE Mark on products which meet international Fairtrade standards. This independent consumer label appears on products to show that disadvantaged producers are getting a better deal from trade. Today, more than 1.3 million people – farmers and workers – across more than 70 developing countries benefit from the international Fairtrade system.

Over 4,500 products have been licensed to carry the FAIRTRADE Mark including coffee, tea, herbal teas, chocolate, cocoa, sugar, bananas, grapes, pineapples, mangoes, avocados, apples, pears, plums, grapefruit, lemons, oranges, satsumas, clementines, mandarins, lychees, coconuts, dried fruit, juices, smoothies, biscuits, cakes & snacks, honey, jams & preserves, chutney & sauces, rice, quinoa, herbs &  spices, seeds, nuts & nut oil, wines, beers, rum, confectionary, muesli, cereal bars, yoghurt, ice-cream, flowers, sports balls, sugar body scrub and cotton products including clothing, homeware, cloth toys, cotton wool, olive oil, gold, silver and platinum.

Awareness of the FAIRTRADE Mark continues to be high in 2013, at a level of 77%. Estimated retail sales of Fairtrade products in 2013 reached £1.78 billion, a 14% increase on sales of £1.53 billion in 2012.