Doing Business in Agriculture: how do we create a positive policy environment for agriculture?

Commercial success in farming can transform the lives of smallholders and their families, drive agricultural growth and meet our demand for food.
But to build successful commercial enterprises, small-scale farmers need a regulatory and policy environment that helps rather than hinders their business.
What does a helpful environment look like? Both the African Smallholder Farmers Group and the World Bank have developed their own frameworks. Both emphasise the crucial role of infrastructure; access to seeds and fertilisers, credit and markets; and land policies but differ on the role of producer organisations, research and extension, gender and sustainability.

  • What kind of policies and regulations are needed for the agricultural sector to grow and flourish?
  • What needs do smallholders and larger agribusinesses share, and where do those needs diverge?
  • Can benchmarking best practice help promote positive policy change? What are the risks of this approach?
  • Which countries are leading the way in promoting commercial smallholder agriculture? What can we learn from them?

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This looks like a great discussion. I am interested to hear your thoughts on two things:

1. How can extension services and products for smallholder farmers (particularly women) be packaged up to provide real security and value to farmers. Sidai packages veterinary services to small farmers in Kenya, and it is a model that could potential translate?

2. There are conflicting messages around what does sustainable smallholder agriculture look like, particularly concerning agricultural inputs. Can you identify areas of common ground and where we need to work together.


Thanks, Rachael. Both are really important issues - though I am not an expert on either. We certainly feel that sustainability and gender, alongside greater attention to research and extension services, part of / mainstreamed throughout the World Bank's BBA - explained in Will's blog here. Our critique is here - and it looks at the issues you raise, extension services, gender and sustainability.

Can you share a link on the Sidai work? I am encouraging my fellow panellists to get back to you and we should pick up on these points in the discussion tomorrow. Hope you can take part.

Timely initiative on this important issue. The UN Committee on World Food Security is also discussing the need for agricultural investments that support small holders. The principles on responsible agricultural investment (rai) are meant to provide guidelines for all stakeholders: state, businesses and civil society on the issue of responsible investments in agriculture. This is in consultation and will be approved next October. how will the World Bank framework incorporate the UN CFS rai? Certainly it would seem this is necessary to ensure coherence.


Here is a link to Sidai, to stimulate discussion about packaging services.

And this is an intro to their franchise model:

Sidai Africa is a social enterprise operating in the livestock sector in Kenya. Our aim is to revolutionize the way that livestock and veterinary services are offered to pastoralists and farmers in Kenya creating a more sustainable model of livestock service delivery.
Founded in 2011, Sidai Africa Ltd is a registered company. By 2015 it aims to have established a a network of at least 150 franchised and branded Livestock Service Centres in Kenya. Each franchise will provide quality animal husbandry and health goods and services to farmers and pastoralists.
All Sidai centres will be owned and run by qualified veterinarians, livestock technicians and other livestock professionals. Quality standards will be overseen by Sidai so customers can be confident that they are buying quality products and that they will also experience the highest standards of professional service.

Thanks for picking up on this area. I look forward to reading the perspectives of the panel!


Thought it might be useful post to links to all the relevant blogs for the discussion:

- Kato Lambrecht's (Christian Aid) on the importance of the enabling environment for Doing Business in Agriculture: here

- Will Galvin's (Self Help Africa) on the Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture: here.

- Alison Griffith and George McAllister (Practical Action & Garden Africa) on What's Missing from the BBA: here

- Tina Chang (CAFOD) on what can be learned from the Doing Business project: here

Welcome to the live segment of this online discussion. We have a great panel joining us - and I'm really looking forward to the conversation!

So, to begin, let's discuss the first question:

Q1: What kind of policies and regulations are needed for the agricultural sector to grow and flourish?

Hi Zahid. It’s Robin here from Oxfam GB. Oxfam believes that Voluntary Guidelines on Land Tenure remains critically important to both protect small-scale producers and poor communities reliant on access to land and other resources, and to allow the commercial agricultural sector to flourish. This is an essential part of this question.

Currently, the BBA appears only to partially reflect the VGs. Can you confirm that steps will be taken to ensure that the VGs are incorporated in their entirety in the BBA - including securing equitable access to land and protection of communal land rights?

We just came across another source on this today - a report on the enabling environment for agribusiness from the FAO - Not studied it all but interesting para at the beginning:

"The general finding from the research is that enabling environments are forged by the traditional, broader macro-level forces (political, social and economic) that are relevant to other sectors of an economy. However, specific additional factors were also identified as essential for driving further development of the agribusiness and agro-industries sectors: efficient land markets and tenure systems; access to appropriate rural and agricultural finance and risk management products; specific regulatory provisions, consistent trade policies and access to global markets; availability of skilled human resources, improved technologies and adequate infrastructural facilities and utilities (particularly rural roads and storage facilities); and capacity for complying with food quality and safety standards. The priority ranking of these factors differs from region to region – reflecting each region’s level of development and the critical bottlenecks facing its strategic commodities. To some extent, priorities also differ among countries in each region, emphasizing the relevance of the country context in creating an enabling environment."

Good question Robin. I'll leave the BBA team to respond to your point. Can you share a link to the Guidelines?

The mental image we have of a modernized farming sector is certainly that it will be supported by a network of mainly SME type businesses which deliver products and services to an emerging cadre of those farmers who have the appetite and skills to become more market orientated. The BBA aims to make sure that there aren't policy or regulatory constraints to the emergent of these kind of businesses. The BBA came out of an earlier program called Agribusiness indicators (ABI)where we looked up nine Sub-Saharan African countries and gathered 54 indicators for comparison. This revealed very significant differences between countries. For example, Ghana and Kenya have five thousand and eight thousand input suppliers selling seeds and fertilizers etc. Both countries have had a pro-active policy of promoting these businesses. And there is evidence of increased farmers purchase of input-accessibility seems to matter. Other countries eg. Mozambique and Ethiopia there are real problems in the number of retail outlets of these important products.

Hi Robin. Thanks for joining us! We flagged up land issues in our framework - Would be great to get your comments on that too.

Hi Grahame. Any thoughts on Robin's question about land?

Grahame - for those not familiar with it, can you give us a brief overview of the Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture initiative?

Hi Rachael

Yes indeed, messages around sustainability are incredibly mixed – from the farmers to the development practitioners, through to policy makers. We can see this in the use (some may say co-option) of terms like sustainable intensification and, to some extent, how conservation agriculture is promoted & practiced in relation to inputs, though in reduced quantities, in different countries.

There is certainly a need to locate the common ground/language. Perhaps these may be found to lie a two distinct levels:

1) Ecosystem services upon which farmers depend, and the ability of this system to provide the same functions when subjected to change, and the degree to which it has the capacity for self-organisation once change occurs (affecting microbial activity in soil, as well as pests & pathogens etc). These also extend to off-farm realities, such as watershed and wider biodiversity management, and are not currently taken in to account within the BBA;

2) The human/farmer dimension within which s/he is able to take control over and manage on- and off-farm resources. This of course includes rights & access to improve and exchange genetic resources appropriate to his or her environment, without being tied to proprietorial or costly inputs. And of course the farmers ability to collectively build and increase capacity for learning & adaptation.

In this regard sustainability is linked to the level of social and ecological resilience (which itself opens a host of other questions). And of course both are intrinsically linked.

But within the context of the BBA, we would like to see more investment in appropriate and scaleable solutions, such as supporting farmers’ breeding skills to further adapt germplasm; improving and sharing locally appropriate seed; identifying and testing biological pest and disease controls for cultivation and storage. Increasing access to and sharing of genetic resources goes hand-in-hand with building adaptive capacity – with effective, locally available resources traded by agri-dealers with shorter supply chains - linking the economic to social and environmental sustainability. In a rapidly changing environment these strategies are critical to the future sustainability of local food systems and trade.

There are many other points which link here – and it would be great hear from others on this.


One of the issues that I've seen with the BBA initiative is that it doesn't appear to answer many of the concerns of those groups focussed on smallholder agriculture. There is a concern that the initiative is too focused on more commercial farms. What would you say to this?

Thanks for getting the discussion going Rachael. I think your first question highlights one of the big challenges for a global iniative like BBA that is trying to provide data about agricultural systems that are both complex and highly context specific. That's why BBA should put emphasis on process, both as they develop the indicators and as they collect data. This means looking at how the process enables actors within the key agricultural systems to work out what are appropriate models and where the attention of policy makers is needed to create better enabling environments (by removing barriers or putting things in place). The perspectives and needs of smallholder farmers in this process are critical if they are to benefit from a better enabling environment i.e. to determine what they consider to be 'value' as you suggest.

We agree that how farmers get and use advice and information and develop their skills is a vital area. More on this via the blog on what we'd like to see the BBA look at here

By focusing on process the BBA could avoid the pitfalls of a 'one size fits all' approach.

Look forward to hearing from others



Hi Zahid and all. It is Alice Martin-Prével from Oakland Institute (California) here. I have a question on the BBA's overarching aim:

What is the objective of the BBA beyond leveraging policy reforms that create an enabling environment for private investments in the agriculture sector? What problems or gaps is this instrument supposed to address? Is it targeted to specific audiences?

I would agree with Robin on the importance of the VG's on land tenure and their inclusion.

I also would like to share the following It's the high level panel of experts report from the CFS on investing in small holder agriculture.

It has many relevant points to consider on the subject including the need to invest in local markets for local economic development. Of all food/ ag produced globablly, only 16% physically crosses international borders, the remaining 84% circulates in national/ regional and local markets.

I would also like to ask if and how the BBA will include the results of the rai consultations and their subsequent adoption in October 2014? This is an important discussion which seems to me should feed into the development of any framework on smallholder investment