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Making the Grade: Smallholder Farmers, Emerging Standards, and Development Assistance Programs in Africa

Published by:
Publication date
Type of Publication:
Focus Region:
Sub-Saharan Africa
Focus Topic:
Agricultural Value Chains / Agri-Businesses
Gender / Youth / Social Inclusion
Steven Jaffee, Spencer Henson, Luz Diaz Rios
World Bank

The report, published by the Agriculture and Rural Development Department of the World Bank, presents the results of a multi-year collaborative research program implemented by the World Bank, the University of Guelph, and a group of African researchers with financial assistance from the Government of the Netherlands (through the Bank-Netherlands Partnership Program [BNPP] Trust Fund Trade Window) and the Government of Canada (through the IDRC).

The report examines: (i) the challenges and opportunities associated with African smallholder compliance with emerging quality, food safety, and sustainability standards, and (ii) the varied forms, efficacy, and operational lessons learned from a growing array of development assistance programs targeting these issues.

The report challenges—both conceptually and empirically—the pessimistic school of thought which considers emerging standards as a major barrier to smallholder market participation. It also challenges another common, yet also extreme position, that the certification of smallholder production systems under one or another sustainability standard provides, in and of itself, an adequate response to the many technical and commercial constraints faced by African smallholders.

That is, emerging standards are infrequently the primary factor in smallholder market ‘exclusion’ and also not commonly a primary vehicle for poverty reduction and sustainable smallholder competitiveness. They are but one of many factors impacting success or failure. The report concludes that there is indeed wide scope for supporting incremental upgrades of smallholder production practices—and links with a range of domestic, regional, or international market segments—yet with standards-related measures being most effective when integrated with other investments and support for capacity building.