FSD Hybrid Seminar: The Future of Smallholder Farmers in A Changing World

Hybrid Seminar

The Fair and Smart Data (FSD) spearhead held their third hybrid event on Friday 28th October 2022, with speakers from industry, academia, and non-profit sector, namely:

  • Shatadru Chattopadhayay, Managing Director of Solidaridad Asia
  • Jelmer van de Mortel, Head of Acorn at Rabobank
  • Freija van Lent, PhD candidate Data Analytics and Digitalisation at the School of Business and Economics of Maastricht University

A brief introduction

Smallholder refers to a farmer who typically operates a small-scale farm generally under 2 hectares. Over 85% of the world’s farms are managed by smallholder communities, involving the participation of over 2 billion individuals worldwide. Engaging with these smallholder farmers would significantly help in addressing the environmental and economic challenges that lie ahead of us. Furthermore, these engagements will also help alleviate social challenges, all while bridging the institutional gap between smallholders and the managers of global trade. Numerous parties, like governments, international organizations, NGOs, and other stakeholders, must act collectively to improve the living conditions of smallholder farmers.

What are the ways to improve farmers’ living conditions in the Global South?

This event followed a structured agenda around the topic “The future of smallholder farmers in a changing world”. The key question addressed was “what are ways to improve farmers’ living conditions in the Global South?”. During the hybrid event three experts presented their work on this topic of importance and engaged with the audience. Mr. Shatadru Chattopadhyay, Managing director Solidaridad Asia; Ms. Freija van Lent, Researcher at the Data & Analytics Department of Maastricht University; and Mr. Jelmer van de Mortel, Head of ACORN at Rabobank. Shatadru presented the key challenges facing Solidaridad in Southeast Asia, Freija demonstrated her work on a multi-level model for creating more equitable value chains, and Jelmer presented key insights from the ACORN programme.

How to break the cycle of “agricultural poverty”?

Presentation Shatadru

Shatadru started the presentation session by talking about the cycle of “agricultural poverty.” He demonstrated how our economic systems create barriers to the simple solutions that come to our minds. For instance, increasing productivity for smallholders leads to decreasing prices but helps bring new customers to business organizations. In pursuit of new demand, farmers usually resort to unsustainable farming practices. These unsustainable and demand-driven factors subsequently worsen poverty amongst the smallholders. Special highlights from field stories in Pakistan and other parts of the world showed how climate change presents further complexities. Some of the highlighted economic challenges related to smallholder farming were imbalanced power relations in supply chains leading to scrutinised data control and valorisation, unfair distribution of profits, lack of vertical integration, and ignorance about the importance of women in this entire ecosystem. Shatadru emphasized that the total value [CR(1] share of smallholder farmers in global markets decreased from 8.8% in 1996 to 6.5% in 2015 (decrease of 26%), while the production costs for farmers went up almost 72% during the same time. As a direction into the future, some key areas of improvement were suggested such as regenerative agriculture, higher collective bargaining power for farmers, alternative business models, fair data, and actual cost (incl. external cost) accounting.

Unfair distribution of value trend

ACORN, carbon farming using agroforestry: a win-win approach

Acorn in Tanzania

In the final presentation, Jelmer introduced the flagship project of Rabobank, ACORN. His presentation was a demonstration of a project-based intervention within smallholder communities and its findings. ACORN is an acronym for “Agroforestry carbon renewal units (CRUs) for organic restoration of nature”. In this project, the smallholders are provided with ‘high integrity CRUs,’ i.e., highly specific trees, in a bid to provide additional income and fight land degradation. It builds on the practice of agroforestry, which proves to have significant benefits for many farmers and their ecosystems. While strategies to reduce emissions are critical, reaching net zero requires the active removal of carbon, including historical carbon. Agroforestry in this regard has much to offer, in addition to helping the farmers with direct and key interventions. Furthermore, the farmers unlock the potential of earning an additional 80-120 euros per hectare per year from the voluntary carbon markets through this programme. Although thriving, these carbon markets are often much beyond the reach of smallholders but are made easier to access via ACORN. Through remote sensing capabilities, ACORN is also generating high-quality ecological data for greater use.

FSD, a space for sharing knowledge about current topics

Tackling the challenges faced by smallholders in the Global South requires an interdisciplinary approach, and this event provided a platform for experts from different fields to discuss and disseminate knowledge on the subject. After each presentation, the speakers interacted with the audience in the room and online. During the entire session there was a positive atmosphere of active participation and learning. Varied real-world examples from all three presenters made the discussion very interesting.

Rewatch it here

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