Webinar [ID: 133]

Rural producer agency and agricultural value chains

In this webinar on rural producer agency and agricultural value chains, Dr. Lorenzo Cotula from the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) presented insights from the Empowering Producers in Commercial Agriculture (EPIC) project that aims to support and empower rural producers and their wider communities as they engage, in various forms, with agricultural value chains. In this particular context, agency is understood as the ability of rural producers and of members of the wider community to make informed choices about value chain integration, to take effective action, and ultimately to influence the realities around them. This includes the initial decision about whether or not to engage with a particular value chain and how to establish or influence the terms of their involvement.

Lorenzo began his presentation by outlining some empirical evidence from a case study of rural producers in Nepal. He subsequently presented a broader overview of the challenges faced by rural producers in relation to agricultural value chains as well as the key spheres of activity through which social-legal approaches are being implemented. The presentation concluded with the description of two case studies in which the implementation of social-legal empowerment initiatives had led to positive outcomes for rural producers. The first involved the negotiation of more favourable contract farming arrangements for banana growers in the Philippines. The second referred to the establishment of a constructive dialogue between green bean growers in Kenya, the exporter and a retailer in the UK.

Key conclusions from the presentation and subsequent discussion were:

  • Despite a tendency in public narratives to focus on formal value chains led by global agribusiness, the vast majority of producers rely on more informal value chains or local traders. In reality, rural producers’ involvement with commercial agriculture can take many different forms.
  • Rural producers’ participation in agricultural value chains presents both opportunities and risks and these tend to be unequally distributed.
  • Value chains typically involve actors with different and quite often conflicting interests, and there are often substantial power imbalances between farmers and agribusinesses. As such, the concept of agency is of high relevance.
  • Social-legal tools can provide entry points for farmers to renegotiate the ways in which markets affect their lives. This typically occurs through (a combination of) three key spheres of action: understanding, organising and engaging.
  • When initiating a social-legal approach, it is important to consider what the desired outcome is. For example, objectives of social-legal interventions may range from strengthening the position of commercial farmers that are already engaged in the value chain to broadening the livelihood opportunities for the poorer and more marginalised producers.
  • Time is also an important dimension when designing and implementing social-legal approaches. For instance, it can take a significant amount of time to build agency and the time frame of certain interventions may not be sufficient to sustain agency over time.
  • There are some structural factors associated with agricultural value chains that are very difficult to shift through legal empowerment approaches alone. However, it is possible under at least some conditions to make advances, though the outcomes can be very different depending on the specific issues and context.


Lorenzo Cotula | IIED

The webinar is the first part of a 4-webinar-series that the Global Donor Platform will be presenting to you until the end of the year.



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