Promoting Access to Markets for Smallholder Farmers in Colombia

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Family farming in Colombia would benefit from more dynamic mechanisms to access markets because of a long chain of intermediaries that reduces the profit of smallholder producers.

This problem is widely-shared among many other developing countries, but some have found effective solutions to address this challenge. It is the case of Brazil for example, which has developed very relevant experience in connecting smallholder farmers to markets through over fifteen years of the implementation of the Brazilian national school meals programme. The Government of Brazil, with support from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), has developed a South-South Cooperation programme to promote its innovative approach to allow for an increase in income and business capabilities of smallholder families in other developing countries, by linking them to providers of public food-based social programs.

One of the countries supported by this programme is Colombia, through the Colombia-Brazil South-South Cooperation program (July 2014-April 2016). Beneficiaries of the programme were Colombian smallholder agricultural producer families, with incomes of less than USD 200 per month. The programme targeted twelve organizations of smallholder farmers and three hundred families from the Colombian municipalities of Grenada, Carmen de Viboral and Cáceres in the Antioquia region; and of Córdoba and Samaniego in the Nariño Region. The program supported ethnic communities and victims of violence in the zones affected by armed conflict, prioritizing women’s participation. The Brazilian methodology was shared through workshops that were developed locally between smallholder farmers and central and local government officials.

The project was a joint collaboration between the Government of Brazil, WFP and FAO, with the support and collaboration of the Presidential Agency for International Cooperation of Colombia. The Brazilian Government, in addition to contributing with its experience in institutional procurement models, financed this project in Colombia. The Government of Colombia involved the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Health, Education and Agriculture along with the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare, amongst others. These institutions provided technical support and follow-up to the initiatives generated locally. FAO provided technical support to participants and their families in the application of good agricultural practices in crops, carried out training in associativity and business methods for this sector. WFP developed procurement models for the producers involved in the project as well as provided marketing training and support in developing business agreements.

Ultimately, the joint Colombia-Brazil South-South Cooperation program achieved the commercial linkage of 1000 small holder producers to local markets.

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Zero Hunger , Empower smallholder farmers; connect them to markets , Partnerships for the Goals , End malnutrition, especially in children, women, elders , Safety nets for food security and nutrition , Encourage, promote public, private, civil society partnerships

In Colombia, smallholder farming represents 80% of the country’s agricultural production and employs 1 out of 2 people in the fields; however, its link with the markets remains weak and static. This is due to the long chain of intermediaries that makes the final profit received by smallholder farmers significantly lower than what is paid by the final consumer.

Smallholder farmers are usually linked to wholesalers through intermediary traders. Only in some cases, farmers bypass the intermediaries, taking responsibility for the marketing of their harvests. However, this is usually not the case because smallholder farmers do not have the necessary means to sell to wholesalers directly, due either to insufficient storage facilities or, more often, to poor infrastructure. In the case of vegetables, for example, it is estimated that only 17% of smallholder producers act as their own intermediary (OECD, 2015).

In Colombia, the integration of smallholders into agricultural value chains remains challenging due to the structural and complex set-up of the sector. Creating co-operatives has partially helped to increase the margins of smallholder farmers, but mainly for products such as coffee or milk. However, in most agricultural value chains, the significant number of intermediaries continues to reduce farmers’ profit.

The Government of Brazil has very relevant experience in addressing these challenges, building on its national social protection strategy that connects various social safety nets –including school meals programmes– with food purchases from smallholder farmers.

The Brazilian experience in public food purchases has proven its effectiveness in fighting rural poverty, increasing food security and the nutritional status of policy beneficiaries, farmers and their families, and valuing local food habits. Government food procurement from smallholder farmers creates a stable demand that favors increased and improved agricultural production and reduces the chain of intermediaries.

The Brazilian Government has developed a South-South Cooperation programme to promote its innovative approach with other developing countries. This programme, supported by FAO and by WFP, promotes smallholder farmers’ access to markets by linking them to providers of public food-based social programs.

One of the countries supported by this programme is Colombia, through the Colombia-Brazil South-South Cooperation program (July 2014-April 2016). This programme served to promote Brazil’s innovative solution amongst Colombian smallholder farmers to allow them to increase their income and their business capabilities.

The program included local governments and civil society. They actively participated throughout the following phases:

1. Diagnostic phase: Gaps between family agriculture and local markets were identified. Local public markets were identified and the productive capacity of the territories was defined.

2. Implementation phase: Family farmers were supported with the development of associative and entrepreneurial skills. Progress was made in the creation of a commercial network of “biotiendas” (organic food shops) and food collection centres. Political participation at the local level was strengthened to prioritize the local purchases of food particularly in food-based social programs (i.e. school meals programme).

3. Evaluation and government transfer phase: Best practices were documented and public policy recommendations were presented. An external evaluation was carried out and as a result, policy recommendations were made for the Colombian Government and its institutions to improve the impact of public procurement in the local context.

In Colombia, there had been few successful experiences with creating a direct link between smallholder farmers and local public procurement markets. This South-South cooperation program brought new knowledge on how to establish the linkages between food-based social programs and family producers while improving the nutritional quality of the food delivered to educational centres and schools.
Producers developed business and commercial skills and improved the quality and variety of foods offered in the market.

Photo credit to WFP/Olga Parra

Colombia , Brazil

Presidential Agency for International Cooperation of Colombia

WFP , FAO , Government of Brazil

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