“Putting people first” - Smallholder farmers take centre stage

“Putting people first” - Smallholder farmers take centre stage

General - 29 March, 2022

Men and women smallholders play important parts in efforts to combat poverty, food insecurity, deforestation, land degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change. But, there appears to be no consensus about the ways in which they could better address these global challenges and to help co-create climate-smart landscapes. During the seminar “The role of smallholders in forested landscapes – what did we learn?” on Thursday 24 March these issues were addressed by looking at three different narratives - are smallholders at the heart of the solution, just a part of the solution, or obstacle to development?

Organized by Tropenbos International, the event was also a fitting farewell to René Boot who is retiring after 20 years as director. The seminar focused on a topic that characterized his tenure, as he guided the organization to seeing forests for those who live there.

Three speakers stimulated thinking and lively debates amongst the 70-strong audience, after the Board Chair Edwin Huizing had set the scene. Mark van Oorschot (PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency) opened by comparing scenarios for achieving global objectives on climate, biodiversity and food security, and examined the implications for smallholders in each of these areas. Annelies Zoomers (Utrecht University) then took the smallholder perspective and described how this has changed over time, from being full time sedentary farmers and foresters to becoming more transient and adaptable as opportunities have arisen. These views were rounded off by Pablo Pacheco (WWF international) who spoke about realities on the ground, and the strengths and weaknesses of the ‘smallholder business model.’

These three presenters also presented their views in a book that was launched at the seminar, ‘The future of smallholders in forest frontier areas: A compilation of perspectives’. This includes 11 different and sometimes contrasting interviews that will be published on the TBI website in the coming weeks.

What did we find out? Smallholders, and the small and medium-sized entrepreneurs who process and market what they produce, form the backbone of rural economies. They are never an obstacle. But paradoxically, they are also more likely to be poor and undernourished, have limited access to resources, and are more vulnerable to climate and market changes. The seminar concluded that to meet global goals, it is essential to ‘put people first’ and listen to and engage smallholders in bottom-up landscape approaches.

René Boot also explained how in daily practice and especially in its Working Landscape programme, Tropenbos International already supports smallholder claims to land and user rights, builds skills, improves practices and participation in decision making, and facilitates their access to finance and markets. And speakers and gathered experts stated that Tropenbos International should continue this focus, craft new partnerships, and further synthesize and share knowledge and lessons learned to promote the scaling up of successes.

The event included present and past board members, those from TBI’s donors the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Agriculture, and partners including IUCN NL and Milieudefensie/Friends of the Earth Netherlands amongst many others.

Watch the three presentations


Banner photo: Milagro Elstak 

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