Missing Out on Small is Beautiful: The EU’s failure to deliver on policy commitments to support smallholder agriculture in developing countries (Briefing paper)

from Oxfam
Published on 30 Jun 2017 View Original

With the world on the brink of an unprecedented four famines, donor countries must urgently step up efforts to tackle the structural causes of hunger and poverty. Food security and sustainable agriculture are among the European Union’s key priorities for development cooperation. The EU is committed to longterm solutions, including empowering smallholders, in particular women, and supporting environmentally sustainable approaches in agriculture. In practice, however, its development aid to the agricultural sector does not live up to its commitments. An Oxfam analysis of more than 7,500 EU-funded projects reveals a significant lack of transparency in reporting, casting doubt on the accountability of the EU’s aid. Based on the reported data, only a small portion of the EU’s agricultural development aid complies with the aim of targeting small-scale producers and women. Funding is also biased towards industrial and export crops and countries of strategic interest, at the expense of smallholders and countries most in need.


In 2017, less than 10 years after the 2007–08 food price crisis, the world stands on the brink of an unprecedented four famines. Famine has already been declared in South Sudan, while Nigeria, Yemen and Somalia are also facing the risk of mass starvation.

These are just four of the dozens of countries confronting acute and widespread food insecurity.1 Globally, an estimated 795 million people – one in nine worldwide – are still going hungry.2 The reasons for this are many, including high food prices, low agricultural productivity, abnormal weather patterns and conflict. Yet the scale of food insecurity points to deeper problems in the global food system that have never been adequately tackled. Social and economic exclusion, structural poverty, lack of access to productive resources such as land, and imbalances in power are consigning millions of people to hunger.

There is significant agreement on the need for greater commitment to address the longterm structural causes of food insecurity – and solutions are known. Empowering smallholders and supporting their efficient and environmentally sustainable approaches to agriculture is a proven long-term solution to reducing hunger and poverty and tackling power imbalances and inequalities. At least 475 million small-scale farms worldwide support around two billion people, and investing in the sector is known to have immense potential for reducing poverty. Women play a potentially transformative role in agricultural development, but they continue to face social, cultural and economic constraints that limit their potential in the sector.

European Union policy makers are aware of both the challenges and the solutions. The role of agriculture was recognized as being crucial for poverty reduction in the 2005 European Consensus on Development. Responding to some of the most severe global food price crises from 2007 onwards, the EU launched the €1bn Food Facility, with a specific focus on small-scale producers, in 2009 and the Food Security Policy Framework (FSPF) in 2010. Through the FSPF, the EU committed to a rights-based approach to support small-scale food producers, gender mainstreaming and ecologically sustainable approaches. Since then, it has made further policy commitments to reinforce priorities established in 2010; an Implementation Plan has been produced, and the European Commission has compiled consolidated EU-wide biennial progress reports since 2014. The new European Consensus on Development, adopted in May 2017, reiterates the central importance of smallholder farmers.

However, Oxfam’s analysis of the EU’s official development assistance (ODA) for agriculture reveals that its investments do not match its policy priorities. On average, the EU’s financial support for the three priority areas of smallholders, gender equality in agriculture and ecological sustainability is strikingly low. An analysis of preimplementation project data shows that less than one-quarter of EU aid for agriculture explicitly targets small-scale producers. Only 2–3 percent of EU funding promotes gender equality in agriculture, while ecological sustainability is largely missed out in planning documents altogether. Furthermore, with the exception of just one year, EU ODA has consistently supported industrial and export crops with significantly higher budgets than food crops.

Finally, Oxfam’s analysis of EU development funding for agriculture suggests that ODA is being instrumentalized to support EU foreign policy goals instead of responding to the actual needs of the most marginalized people. There is a clear bias towards supporting potential candidates for EU membership and the European neighbourhood regions, to the detriment of poorer regions elsewhere. For instance, the EU spends 3.6 times as much agricultural development aid in Europe as in sub-Sahara Africa.