Policy & Advocacy

Farming that works

More of the world’s people rely on agriculture for their survival than any other occupation. But three quarters of the world’s poorest people are farmers, confirming that agriculture simply isn’t working for the vast majority of them.

We help people build farming systems that connect nature (climate, land, water, plants and animals) with people (culture, economics and society). Agroecology can enable smallholder farmers to achieve a decent standard of living, whilst protecting the environment and building natural resources.

This offers a sustainable alternative to intensive agriculture, with the potential to transform the lives of millions of families.

Our approach and priorities

There is a growing body of evidence that shows agroecological approaches have potential for improving both the productivity and resilience of smallholder farmers.  Such approaches use the resources smallholder farmers already have (the land, crops and knowledge) combined with scientific knowledge and information.  They are accessible, innovative and sustainable.

Currently most smallholder farmers and the rural poor tend to be excluded, bypassed or further marginalised by the commercial focus of current agriculture and development policies and strategies. That’s why Practical Action promotes the benefits of agroecological approaches to governments, development agencies and the private sector as an essential part of national strategies for food security, economic development and poverty reduction.

Like many others, we believe that market systems, and the resources and resourcefulness of the private sector are needed to achieve change at scale.  However, agroecological (or low external input) approaches do not align well with conventional strategies to improve markets or private sector investment.  We believe this should not dissuade us from working with markets or the private sector, but rather increases the need for investment in action research and learning on how agroecological approaches can be adopted by the private sector and incentivised through market systems.

Our key policy objectives

Our policy and practice objectives relate to improving the understanding and use of agroecological methods by national governments, donors, development agencies and the private sector.

Through engaging with market systems we help to ensure that smallholder farmers, especially those in hard to reach rural and marginalised communities, are able to make innovative use of existing agroecological knowledge, practices and technologies which might otherwise be out of reach, as well as preserve their environment for future generations.

Specifically, our work is aimed at improving smallholder productivity through agroecology in order to assure national food security, rural livelihoods and economic growth. We also work to improve smallholder resilience and their ability to adapt to a changing climate and overcome other shocks and stresses, such as commodity price fluctuations or extreme weather events.  To achieve this we call for:

  • Agriculture and development policies that purposely include smallholder farmers and the marginalised rural poor, especially women smallholder farmers, working towards the SDGs in a way that is inclusive and works for the majority.
  • Climate adaptation funding that supports developing countries to innovate truly climate smart agroecological solutions, not business as usual commercial monoculture, but those with more emphasis on multi-commodity and systems research.
  • Research and investment in agroecological approaches as a means of improving both smallholder productivity and resilience through the co-generation of locally relevant and adoptable solutions to productivity and coping with the changing climate.
  • Governments, donors, development agencies and the private sector that work through market systems and the private sector to provide a means of achieving scale – in particular to incentivise the adoption of agroecological practices in markets by the private sector.

Our agriculture expert

Chris Henderson is our Senior Policy and Practice Advisor in Agriculture. He provides technical advice and support on agriculture development policy for national and regional offices in Africa, Asia and Latin America, as well as for the organisation in UK.

As an agricultural researcher, development worker and programme manager he has spent over 25 years in developing countries where he has worked for NGOs, donors and National Governments. He has been an agricultural researcher in Ghana and the Solomon Islands and supported National agriculture and rural development policy and planning in Ghana, Namibia and the Philippines. He has led country sector programmes for donors in Namibia, Jamaica and Nigeria.

Chris is currently applying his experience to making agriculture work for small-holder farmers in a changing climate. This builds on the fact that smallholder farmers, especially women and marginalised groups, are an important part of the solution to national food security and poverty reduction.

Our key partnerships

IKEA Foundation


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