2, October, 2014

Recognising the Diversity of Smallholder Farmers in Latin America: A New Era in Rural Development

New institutions, differential policy and public-private partnerships are just some of the mechanisms being used by Latin American governments to promote sustainable development among smallholder farmers.

Smallholder farming is the predominant sector in the rural economy of Latin America where it is characterised by large heterogeneity and represents an important source of rural employment and food security. Although the last decade has been a historic period of prosperity and growth in Latin America, the persistence of high poverty levels and low productivity continues to limit smallholder development across the region. Today, the globalised economy presents additional challenges to smallholders who must operate in new market structures with demanding requirements.  Likewise, as global demand for agricultural land has increased, a new land grabbing phenomenon is threatening the very survival of smallholder farmers. This Guide examines recent efforts by Latin American countries to support smallholders in this new context by analysing a range of interventions aimed at reviving the institutions and strategies for achieving sustainable rural development goals.  Latin American experiences demonstrate some key success factors that will be of interest to policymakers and practitioners in other regions of the world.


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Key Lessons:

  • Although market liberalisation provides opportunities for certain categories of smallholders, overall policy should focus on improving access to domestic food markets rather than agro exports since the majority of smallholder farmers still depend on local markets.
  • It is important for policies to consider the territorial context in which smallholders operate; the Rural Territorial Development approach provides some useful tools that can aid governments with planning and coordination of multi-sector activities in a given area.
  • Participatory approaches that include smallholders in the design and implementation of policy and programmes can improve the relevance, impact and sustainability of efforts to promote rural development and reduce poverty.
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