Farmers’ organizations (FOs) in Asia and the Pacific region are increasingly taking an active part in rural economic development, tackling the challenges of reducing rural poverty, improving food security, securing development opportunities for smallholders and developing agribusiness value chains. FOs seek primarily to represent the interests of a broad range of producers from various socioeconomic categories, providing a platform to their members to voice their views and expectations in the decision-making process and delivering a range of services in support of smallholder farmers. However, their influence and effectiveness of FOs in policy consultations is mostly at an early stage of development. Their institutions and operations must be strengthened to increase their effectiveness and recognition as a primary stakeholder in national, sub-regional and regional socioeconomic development.
Towards a Solution
The Medium-Term Cooperation Programme with Farmers Organizations in Asia and the Pacific Region, now in its Phase 2 (MTCP2), aims to strengthen the capacities of FOs in Asia and the Pacific to deliver improved and inclusive services to their members, engage in effective policy dialogue and actively participate in the implementation of development and investment programmes related to agriculture and rural development. The programme is articulated around four components:
- Strengthening FOs and their networks by improving the organizational competencies required to form an effective platform for policy dialogue and representation;
- Supporting participation of FOs in policy processes by promoting the creation of an enabling environment that will allow farmers and their organizations to realize their full potential to influence local and national agriculture-related policies;
- Supporting FO services and involvement in agricultural development programmes by ensuring that FOs deliver effective services to their members (training, production and value chain) and participate in existing agriculture projects; and
- Improving programme management and coordination by building in operational management and establishing a liaison unit in a regional FO to ensure overall coordination at the regional level.
MTCP2 has helped bridge the gaps in the assessment and provision of farmers’ technical capacities through technical learning exchanges between countries. Concrete outputs occurred mainly in the Pacific, including a technical exchange session between Fiji and Tonga in April 2015, which included a series of trainings on papaya production; an exchange visit from the Fiji and Solomon Islands National Implementing Agencies (NIAs) to the Vanuatu NIA, focused on learning from organizational management practices in Vanuatu FOs; and a ‘soil forum’, organized in September 2015, to gather as much information as possible about sustainable soil practices for the FO members.
At the policy level, in Southeast Asia, the ASEAN Foundation is helping to link MTCP2 with various ASEAN committees and processes related to rural development (i.e. ASEAN Ministers for Agriculture and Forestry; AMAF). In this context, the ASEAN Learning Route1 on Agricultural Cooperatives (ALRAC) was co- organized in March 2016 in Thailand and the Philippines. Its objective was to strengthen the role of small farmers and agricultural cooperatives in addressing challenges and opportunities of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).
One of the key strategic action areas related to the food, agriculture and forestry element of the ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint 2025 is to promote ASEAN agricultural cooperatives as a means to enhance market access. The agricultural commodity marketing system in ASEAN countries faces several challenges, especially for agricultural cooperatives. ALRAC provided an opportunity to learn, directly in the field, some of the best practices on: good management of agricultural cooperatives; development of cross-country market strategies and agreements involving public and private sectors; and public policies, national legal frameworks, programmes and mechanisms to support agricultural cooperatives within the framework of the AEC. Building on these best practices, the country-to-country sharing supported the design of innovation plans (IPs)2 for each participating country, which contribute to enhancing cooperative management and results of ongoing activities, complementing the current efforts made by the institutions and organizations to improve rural livelihoods.
- MTCP, through the Regional Implementing Agencies (AFA/LVC), has managed to mobilize various technical assistance providers to further expand Knowledge Management (KM) possibilities in the region;
- The LR methodology developed by ROUTASIA has proven to be relevant, effective and efficient for SSTC. The innovation plans (IPs) have been demonstrated as an appropriate vehicle for change in IFAD country programmes; and,
- The scaling up of the LR approach encompasses the training of regionalandnationalpartnerorganizations, leading to sustained and expanded partnerships beyond IFAD-funded projects