Natural Disasters

Public–private partnerships can help achieve sustainable agricultural development goals

Public–private partnerships in agriculture have the potential to modernise the sector and provide numerous benefits to smallholder farmers

By Deepanwita Gita Niyogi
Published: Friday 17 June 2016

Making agriculture sustainable in the face of climate change is the most challenging issue in today’s age. Increasing crop productivity and driving rural development can help us achieve the 2030’s Sustainable Development Goal of reducing hunger
Credit: US Department of Agriculture/Flickr

A report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations says that public–private partnerships can significantly contribute to sustainable agricultural development in developing countries.

Though such kinds of tie-ups are common in other sectors such as health, education and infrastructure, it is somewhat new to agriculture.

Talking about such partnerships, Marlo Rankin, agribusiness economist, agricultural development economics division, FAO, said, “…PPPs are not a panacea and should be considered as one of many approaches that can contribute towards the achievement of sustainable agricultural development goals. Findings show that when well-designed and monitored, agri-PPPs can deliver benefits to smallholder farmers and help them adapt to changing agrifood systems.”

A certain level of pre-existing skills and assets are required for smallholders to be suitable candidates for participating in agri PPPs. The results are, therefore, less promising in terms of the impact on the poorest farmers where this approach is unlikely to be suitable, Rankin, also the main author of the report, added.

Making agriculture smarter, better

Public–private partnerships (PPPs) in agriculture have the potential to modernise the sector and provide numerous benefits to smallholder farmers.

Making agriculture sustainable in the face of climate change is the most challenging issue in today’s age. Increasing crop productivity and driving rural development can help us achieve the 2030’s Sustainable Development Goal of reducing hunger.

Climate change “affects all of us, but especially the poorest and hungry people,” FAO Director General José Graziano da Silva had said at the time of CoP 21, underscoring how smallholders and family farmers are always “in the front line”.

A book, Climate Change and Food Systems, shows the impact of climate change on agriculture at both regional as well as global levels. Increased frequency and severity of floods and storms over the last three decades has put the agricultural sectors of many developing countries at risk of growing food insecurity.

Along with PPPs, e-agriculture strategy can also help countries boost agricultural development by improving farmers’ access to vital information.

Partnerships can help in four areas—develop agricultural value chains, conduct joint research focusing on innovation and technology transfer in agriculture, build and upgrade market infrastructure and deliver business development services to farmers and small and medium enterprises.

Findings from the review show that in several cases agri-PPPs helped to increase on-farm productivity for smallholder farmers through the increased adoption of new technologies, improved market access through closer relationships with agribusiness firms, reduction in post-harvest losses and guaranteed markets for farmers through contract-farming agreements.

“Environmental benefits were also reported in some cases where the PPPs lead to a reduction in the use of chemicals, reduced energy consumption and water savings through improved on-farm management practices,” Rankin told Down To Earth.

In Asia and Latin America, PPPs have long been applied in advanced agricultural research and development projects. These projects aim to address the complex problems limiting productivity gains such as pest and disease outbreaks, climate change impacts, post-harvest losses, poor product quality and food safety.

Benefiting smallholders

When it comes to small-holder farmers, several partnerships have showed the evidence of positive impacts on their net income.

The risk management function of PPPs is an attractive feature for the agriculture sector in developing countries dominated by uncertainty and risks, the report adds.

“PPPs can be used to develop and commercialise innovative technologies that help to address climate change impacts,” Rankin said.

An example included in the review was a partnership project from Pakistan that developed a drought-resistant wheat variety adapted to suit a specific geographical area where food security was a problem for the rural poor.

By working with a private company, the public research institute was able to commercialise the seed developed and ensure that farmers had access to the seed.

As part of the agreement, the company was required to multiply the seed and establish a number of distribution points in the remote areas. The price for the seed was fixed at a level that was affordable for the farmers for the duration of the project and as a result 46 per cent yield increases were reported.

Challenges ahead

PPPs face a number of operational and technical challenges depending on the objectives of the projects, the scale of investment and the skills of the partners involved.

“The success or failure of agri-PPPs is also highly dependent on the enabling environment and the governance strategy designed to support the implementation of these partnerships,” the author said.

Legislation and regulation concerned with protecting land rights, enforcing contract farming agreements, protecting intellectual property, ensuring food safety and sustainable natural resources management are all critical for the successful implementation of agribusiness PPPs.

There is often a lack of experience on both sides and limited guidance and support provided to public and private partners during the design phase of PPP projects. This means that important issues such as conflict resolution, risk sharing and mechanisms to protect small farmers are often overlooked.

The way forward

PPPs can improve the linkage between farmers and markets by helping the former build closer ties with agribusiness firms in a more equitable way under the guidance and support of the public sector and NGOs.

Partnerships on agriculture can help improve the access of poor, smallholder farmers to access productivity-enhancing technologies by ensuring that these technologies move from the pilot stages to commercialisation and are made available to them in remote rural areas at affordable prices.

Both public and private partners need to be held accountable for the roles they play in agri-PPPs. Public partners, in particular, need to uphold their roles as regulators and ensure transparency and due diligence when selecting private partners for inclusion in projects. They also need to make sure that unfair or unmanageable levels of risk are not transferred through the partnership to smallholder farmers.

Strategies such as improving the affordability and access to agricultural insurance schemes for farmers as part of the PPP design, ensuring responsible contract farming agreements and providing business management training to farmer organisations and small and medium enterprises so that they can negotiate with agribusiness firms as more equitable partners are vital in ensuring successful PPPs.

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