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Making agricultural transformation more inclusive

IOB dialogue May 31, 2018 - breakout session 2
IOB public dialogue - Food for thought
June 27, 2018 By: The Broker Image: The Broker

The IOB review “Food for thought” concluded that the Dutch food security policy has contributed to better availability of and access to food. Yet, the social inclusiveness effects of food security programmes seemed less positive and were a cause for debate. Participants in the breakout session “inclusive agricultural transformation and rural transition” presented various views on how improvements can be made. They discussed the usefulness of the farmer categorization the IOB proposed and generated ideas for making policies that already yield high results with commercial farming more inclusive and targeted to food security.

Categorize but in a more inclusive specified way

The session kicked off with an exchange on the main recommendation of the IOB review for improving inclusiveness of agriculture policies: to distinguish between three types of farmers, those ”stepping up” towards commercial farming, “stepping out” of farming or ”hanging in” subsistence farming. This could allow for a more targeted approach, tailored to the needs of each group. Yet several participants did not agree with the categories, particularly in regards to the “stepping out” farmers type: some participants argued that it would not be desirable to help or encourage farmers to “step out” of agriculture. Others disputed that due to population growth and economic transformation in other sectors, stepping out is a must for some farmers, such as in Ethiopia. Given the mixed livelihoods of many subsistence farmers, it was also stated that households might combine strategies to both “hang in” and “step out”.

The “hanging in” category was also contested, both in terms of terminology and content. Participants noted that this category points to the current situations of farmers rather than to their aspirations and might lead to neglect and exclusion rather than inclusion. The idea was also criticized by panellist Ben Addom, who commented that such a system would decide for farmers which category they belong to, instead of farmers determining their own aspirations and needs.

Nonetheless, participants saw having a distinction between types of farmers as useful, but the question brought up was what categories work, and how could they be used to tailor policies to specific objectives? Categorization should also take into account that many young people have aspirations outside of agriculture that do not match with the opportunities available. Hence when attempting to make agricultural transformation inclusive, much depends on whether, when, where and for whom it can be realized.

Inclusive policies: learning from examples

The question of what attention to inclusiveness means for food security policy was also discussed. Between 2012 and 2016, the combined focus on private sector development and food security led to the selecting of programmes that had the most potential for a combination of those objectives. Participants argued that as a result, production and income were prioritized at the expense of inclusiveness. Because of the focus on private sector development, farmers that had higher commercial potential were favoured over poorer subsistence farmers. Also, commitment to business development had not automatically led to better food security situations.

Referring to the review, several interventions that were considered effective for food security outcomes and the inclusion of vulnerable groups were suggested for potential future directions. Food fortification, supporting farmer organizations and agricultural research, and training of farmers were mentioned as good examples. Via such interventions, Dutch policy can simultaneously invest in farmers with high potential and in those focusing on subsistence. Participants noted that more inclusive policies may not provide the highest rates of return in terms of production and income. Where working with producer organizations with commercially-oriented, already better-off farmers has resulted in better services, higher incomes and access to markets, investing in more socially-oriented producer organizations has been less effective in terms of increasing sales or earnings.

Although the review outlined how some interventions aiming for private sector development and targeting smallholder farmers (such as investments in infrastructure and agricultural research) have in the past led to more inclusive and food security outcomes than others (for instance value chain development and farmer extension), participants agreed that this does not have to mean prioritizing one over the other. Instead, it was outlined how, for example, improvements can be made to make investments in value chains more inclusive. Projects that make explicit efforts to include vulnerable groups can have good results, such as the Sustainable Agriculture, Food Security and Linkages (SaFaL) programme of Solidaridad in Bangladesh. Also, certification schemes that require too large investments for poor farmers can be adjusted to include them.


What does this inclusive focus mean in terms of what should not be done anymore? In line with the above, panellist Nout van der Vaart (Hivos) argued that a value chain approach often prevents programmes from being inclusive because of existing requirements for inclusion. Currently, several small, often informal, businesses are not immediately considered profitable according to current parameters and are therefore neglected. Also, the value chain approach is quite linear, often leaving out surrounding aspects like governance, climate change, and rural – urban relations and neglects to include that a farmer is also a consumer. Thus a broader food system approach is preferred, where an inclusiveness and food security lens can be added in design decisions. Panellist Marleen Dekker (INCLUDE platform) suggested that by giving more weight to the impact on the local economy for instance, such a lens can better shift existing interventions towards the needs of vulnerable groups. Yet, inclusion of such groups and an increased focus on the local economy may occur at the expense of Dutch and/or export-oriented businesses.

Finally, it was agreed that inclusive agriculture is not a matter of additional prioritization only. Participants underlined the huge potential return of required improved coordination, saying embassies should be given a more prominent role linking up existing and new initiatives and explore their potential local effects by developing broader context analyses of food and agriculture systems. Based on such analyses, policymakers can carefully choose the highest investment potential and as such make significant efficiency gains in contributing to inclusive agriculture business development and food security.

Breakout session 2: inclusive agricultural transformation and rural transition

Facilitator: Hilke Jansen (Consultant/AgriProFocus)


  • Marleen Dekker (INCLUDE platform)
  • Nout van der Vaart (Hivos)
  • Ben Addom (Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation – CTA)


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