Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Ag Sector Council Recap: From Smallholders to Shareholders: Optimizing Private Sector Engagement for Smallholder Impact

October 22 Ag Sector Council

Individual smallholder farmers cultivate five hectares of land or less, but as a group, they are an economic force. An estimated 500 million smallholders feed close to 2 billion people worldwide. This joint seminar, hosted by the USAID Bureau for Food Security and the Office of Microenterprise and Private Enterprise Promotion, explored ways in which the private sector can effectively engage with smallholders to improve both livelihoods and global food security.

The seminar began with W. Robert de Jongh, of Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, challenging participants to think about common misconceptions that stem from working with smallholder farmers. He stressed that misconceptions regarding smallholder financing mechanisms can ultimately lead to project failure. He also presented findings from the recently published guide “From Smallholders to Shareholders,” which advocates choosing context-appropriate and inclusive business models to effectively engage smallholders. De Jongh emphasized that getting the business model right is fundamental to creating the groundwork for innovation and technological interventions.

Louisa Parker of AGCO Corporation added a unique private-sector perspective to the seminar by presenting AGCO’s efforts to leverage partnerships, link partners across the value chain, and introduce existing technologies to the growing smallholder market. Read AGCO's blog series to learn more about their work in Africa.

Tom Carroll, director of the Initiative for Smallholder Finance, focused his presentation on recent innovations in smallholder finance—including mobile loan repayment platforms, technology-assisted training initiatives, and a mobile application to connect and empower farmer group leaders. One such innovation was iCow, which sends tips and advice on handling dairy cows via text message to its subscribers.

Perhaps one of the biggest takeaways from this presentation was the need to better understand smallholder farmers. We know they are important to ensuring food security, but common misconceptions and generic development approaches have hindered effective partnerships. As the private sector increasingly becomes involved in agricultural development, there will be great need to adapt products and services to local markets. This brings us back to the age-old question of scalability: How can we scale interventions yet promote context-appropriate and local solutions?

As the event took place in person and online, lively discussion and resources were shared in the webinar chat room as well. Transcripts of this conversation are available here. Highlights of the online conversation include:

To watch the full recording of the seminar, please visit the event page.

In the below video, W. Robert de Jongh discusses the launch of the new publication “From Smallholders to Shareholders,” which highlights the importance of private sector partnerships and seeks to present relevant smallholder business models.