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Walking tightropes: Supporting farmer organisations for market access

Briefing/policy papers

Despite their mixed record in the past, Farmer Organisations (FOs) are being asked to play an increasing role in supporting commercial agricultural development among smallholder farmers in Sub Saharan Africa. As NGOs, donors and governments encourage both scaling up and diversifi cation of FOs’ activities and membership, this paper draws on research on FOs in Malawi to suggest principles for policy and practice in support to FOs. With limited resources and facing a very challenging environment, these FOs generally need external support for start-up, but getting the balance right between external and internal resources, between accountability and leadership, between flexible and effective structures, and between over- and under-ambition means that FOs and their supporters walk a difficult set of tightropes. External support needs to be skilled, sensitive, consistent and patient if FOs are not to be another development disappointment at the start of the 21st century.

Ephraim Chirwa, Andrew Dorward, Richard Kachule, Ian Kumwenda, Jonathan Kydd, Nigel Poole, Colin Poulton, Michael Stockbridge