1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Special Events

"Making Markets Work" for Small-Scale Farmers? A Series of Provocations

Date: 28 Sep 2010 - 24 May 2012

  • Time:
  • Location: Netherlands, Sweden, France, United Kingdom, Belgium
  • Counterpart(s): Hivos Knowledge Programme 'Small Producer Agency in the Globalized Market', International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)


This was a travelling series of provocative seminars examining the assumptions, impacts, evidence, benefits and risks of "making markets work" for small-scale farmers.

Much of the renewed interest in small-scale agriculture has focused on connecting producers to markets. The concept of pro-poor markets—whether global value chains, regional trade or new markets for environmental services—has gained traction in the development community and some businesses, partly as a result of the shortcomings of other poverty alleviation programmes. The expectation has been that through market inclusion, small-scale farmers can survive and even prosper in the face of major changes in agriculture and food markets ushered in by globalization, economic liberalization and the partial withdrawal of the state.

With some notable exceptions, policy and debate around the agenda of making markets work for small-scale farmers has been conducted at a distance from the producers themselves. This raises some challenging questions. Has the drive to make markets work for the poor—whether in the form of support for producer organizations, fair trade products, or subsidies for big business—perpetuated a tradition of excluding "beneficiaries" from the design of development interventions? Has enough attention been paid to the capacity of small-scale farmers to reflect on and shape this agenda to better suit their needs—in other words, producer agency? By placing economic (or market) inclusion at the centre of development discourse, has the development community downplayed other major social and political imperatives?

Billed as "provocations", each seminar in the series brought invited "provokers" together with local and international participants for three hours of debate, streamed and interactive on the web. Between September 2010 and June 2011, five provocations took place in European cities, with additional events held in 2012. Summary reports on each provocation are published online.

The series was supported by the Hivos Knowledge Programme, Small Producer Agency in the Globalized Market. The series is being organized by a consortium of research and advocacy organizations, led by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), Hivos and Mainumby. As a collaborating partner, UNRISD co-hosted a provocation on "Pro-poor business, development and smallholder empowerment" on 22 June 2011.

Seminars within the provocations series included:

1. Producer agency and the agenda to "make markets work for the poor". The Hague, 28 September 2010, co-hosted by Hivos and IIED. For further information, go here.

2. Rights-based versus market-based development: A false dichotomy for small-scale farmers? Stockholm, 3 March 2011, co-hosted by the Swedish International Agricultural Network Initiative (SIANI), the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and the Swedish Cooperative Centre (SCC). For further information, go here.

3. Making markets work for the poor: Contents and discontents. Paris, 30 March 2011, co-hosted by the Institut de Recherches et d’Applications des Méthodes de Développement (IRAM) and SNV Netherlands Development Organisation. For further information, go here.

4. Making markets work for smallholders or wage labour? Manchester, 25 May 2011, hosted by the Institute for Development Policy and Management (IDPM), Brooks World Poverty Institute (BWPI) and Capturing the Gains (CtG) University of Manchester, UK. For further information, go here.

5. Pro-poor business, development and smallholder empowerment. Brussels, 22 June 2011, co-hosted by Vredeseilanden and UNRISD. Click here for full details.

6. Rural youth today, farmers tomorrow?, The Hague, 24 May 2012, co-hosted by Hivos (Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation) and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). For further information, go here.

The book based on the provocations, Small Producer Agency in the Globalized Market: Making Choices in a Changing World, is available for download.