1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Special Events (2000 - 2009)

Pro-Poor Business, Development and Smallholder Empowerment

Date: 22 Jun 2011

  • Time:
  • Location: EU Parliament, Brussels, Belgium
  • Counterpart(s): Hivos Knowledge Programme 'Small Producer Agency in the Globalized Market', International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), Vredeseilanden


As part of a consortium of organizations led by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and the Dutch NGO Hivos, UNRISD co-hosted the fifth event in a series of debates on “Making Markets Work for Small-Scale Farmers”. Billed as "provocations", these events aim to prompt debate on the current agenda promoted by many international and bilateral development organizations. We are particularly interested in the implications of this agenda for small farmers and agriculture.

This event, co-hosted by UNRISD, Vredeseilanden and Richard Howitt MEP, focused on different models of pro-poor business and their implications for producers’ well-being and empowerment. The renewed interest in "markets that work for the poor" has promoted patterns of private sector development and governance that claim to be more inclusive of small farmers and rural communities. This agenda is reflected in a variety of terms and approaches such as fair trade, corporate social responsibility, the "bottom of the pyramid" and inclusive business models. While such approaches increasingly blend commercial objectives with goals associated with poverty reduction, livelihood security and empowerment, the extent to which they actually deliver on these goals is increasingly questioned. The nature of participation and empowerment varies across these different approaches and as they are scaled-up and mainstreamed.

This debate was held in the EU Parliament in Brussels. The video of the event is available online in English and Spanish.

This provocation brought together policy makers, academics and practitioners working at the interface between small-scale agricultural production, markets and development to debate the achievements, limitations and dilemmas inherent in pro-poor business models, particularly from the perspective of producer empowerment, and addressed the following questions:
  • Can business models ever be successfully adapted to be ‘inclusive’ of small producers?
  • Do fair trade, CSR and inclusive business approaches facilitate or enhance small-scale producer empowerment, or are corporations benefitting at the expense of small-scale farmers?
  • What role do farmer autonomy, voice and participation play in shaping or resisting the types of pro-poor business approaches being advocated?
  • How are relationships between NGOs and business changing as socially responsible business approaches grow in both number and influence, and with what implications for smallholder empowerment?
  • Does scaling-up and mainstreaming shift the focus of attention more towards issues of price, cost and quality, and less towards producer empowerment or livelihood security?

Speakers included:
  • Sanjeev Asthana, National Skills Foundation for India and former President and Chief Executive at Reliance Retail
  • Chris Bacon, Santa Clara University; co-author of “Confronting the Coffee Crisis: Fair Trade, Sustainable Livelihoods and Ecosystems in Mexico and Central America
  • Richard Howitt, MEP and European Parliament Rapporteur on Corporate Social Responsibility
  • Alberto Monterosso, Comercializadora Aj Ticonel, Guatemala
  • Merlin Preza, President of CLAC (Coordinator of Fairtrade Small Producers in Latin America and the Caribbean)
  • Miguel Mendez Castellanos, SNV Country Representative, Nicaragua
  • Facilitator: Carol Gribnau, Hivos

For information on the series of provocations, click here.

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