Pretoria, South Africa. Very little has changed in the past ten years for smallholder farmers in Southern Africa due to policy bias towards large-scale agriculture and challenges around market access, which left most smallholders in a vulnerable position. This is one of the central themes which came out of the first Solidaridad Southern Africa conference. The conference was held under the theme “Making Markets Work for Smallholders in Southern Africa.” The aims of the Solidaridad Southern Africa conference were to discuss and find solutions to market access barriers for smallholders and to increase their role and contribution in the agricultural commodity value chains in Africa and beyond.
According to Annie Sugrue, Solidaridad Regional Director, the gap between government rhetoric on assistance for smallholders, leaves much to be desired, as this seldom reflects in legislation and implementation. "Due to the market pressures on smallholders from all sides many prefer to be employed while others lease their land to large-scale commercial farmers. We need to continue our engagement with governments and relevant stakeholders to change the enormous power and policy imbalances against smallholders."
Karugu Macharia, Solidaridad Network East and Central Africa Director and Hans Perk, Solidardidad Network West Africa Director, also shared their regional experiences and successes around smallholder farmers with delegates. The conference was held in partnership with the Southern Africa Trust, a regional agency that supports the eradication of poverty and Idasa, an independent public interest organisation committed to building sustainable societies in collaboration with African and global partners.
Professor Andre du Toit, Director of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agragrian Studies (PLAAS) at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa warned against a process he called the "jobless de-agrarianization of small-scale producers."
"This is a process whereby people are pushed off the land and out of agricultural employment, without being absorbed into non-farm employment. The marginalisation of these producers is due to structural constraints. Although alternative markets are proposed for smallholders by some speakers, the politicising of agro-food systems will require partnerships for smallholder to get access into markets."
Smallholder were encouraged to organised themselves into regional networks or groups to increase their influence and bargaining power. The establishment of a continental support network structure comprising of NGOs, business, stakeholders and media to mainstream the challenges of smallholders was proposed.