Colombia’s Small Farmer Alliances Widen Market Access, Combat Poverty

July 27, 2010

  • Rural producers alliances help small farmers upgrade infrastructure, expertise to meet standards required by advanced markets
  • Colombia’s alliances reach about 12,000 households, are first in region to promote public-private partnerships.
  • Bank-supported producer alliances also active in Bolivia, Panama, Guatemala and Brazil; new projects slated for Honduras and Jamaica.

July 27, 2010—The cheep-cheep of newborn chicks is the sound of a growing livelihood to Adriana and Nalcy Banderas, smallholder farmers hard at work in a verdant Colombian village.

On backyard plots down a red clay road, the mother-daughter team has found unexpected success raising poultry. Without the chickens, the pair says they would have to travel more than two hours each way to the nearest city of Cali to earn money working in other peoples’ homes.

To grow their business, the Banderases joined a rural producers alliance, a new model supported by the World Bank that links struggling smallholders to larger markets. Climbing from below the poverty line, Nalcy and Adriana now earn about $450 a month each, well above the national average income.

Adriana has doubled her flock in four years, acquiring modern, open-air poultry pens to accommodate the growth. “My husband has a workshop but sometimes things were very tight, and these 600 chickens allow me to contribute and solve things,” she says, standing tall in her black rubber work boots.

She now has her own money and pays for a share of household costs, including food and school items for her two children.

Nalcy also enjoys a newfound sense of empowerment. “I feel like a useful woman. I feel like a woman who can be productive,” she says.

Public-Private Model

The Banderases’ story is not unique to poultry in one corner of rural Colombia; similar stories can be found across Latin America and include products such as honey, fish, plantains, milk, coffee and cut flowers. But the Rural Productive Partnership Project in Colombia was the first of its kind to promote a public-private partnership model in the form of the rural producers alliance.

The model works by helping organizations of small farmers upgrade their infrastructure and expertise to meet higher quality standards required by more advanced and lucrative markets.

To tap these markets, the program offers capital, free managerial advice, equipment and basic infrastructure, such as a packing house. Alliances win support through submitting a business plan, including planned contractual agreements with a buyer.

Those whose proposals are accepted—following a lengthy review process and independent feasibility study—receive funding and assistance from the Ministry of Agriculture.

For the first time, these small-scale farmers’ goods aren’t solely relegated to local food stands; they reach top Colombian super markets and, in some cases, are exported to foreign markets. Producers move up the value chain and are able to earn more income. Instead of selling unsorted products in bulk, they can sell sorted, graded and packaged products.

Alliances Found Regionwide

Rural producer alliances are active in Bank projects in Bolivia, Panama, Guatemala and Brazil, and new alliance are slated for Honduras and Jamaica. Bolivia has the largest program, hosting 295 alliances, which benefit 13,097 households. Colombia hosts 170 alliances, reaching 11,714 households. Panama and Guatemala have 32 and 30 alliances, which benefit about 1,500 and 6,000 households, respectively.

The programs are small and intensive, in order to create a “demonstration effect,” says Marie-Helene Collion, the World Bank’s lead agriculturist for the Latin America and Caribbean region. “The idea is for different actors in the countries like nongovernmental organizations, local governments, and chambers of commerce to pick up the approach and promote the model themselves,” she says.

Aiming for long-term sustainability, the projects promote scaling up and adoption of the alliance model in both public and private sectors. So far, some of Colombia’s largest cocoa and juice companies have taken up the approach, strengthening their commitment to small growers as part of their normal sourcing policies.

Fostering Social Cohesion

Whether producer alliances can deliver for both partners and alliance members often hinges on the ability of a diverse community to work together. Alliances not only rely on this social cohesion, but they can also help strengthen it.

In Colombia, Wilson Quiceno and María Elena Rincón manage a collective passion fruit farm comprised of traditionally vulnerable groups, including both internally displaced people and former combatants.

“It’s a new and very interesting experience because we have to learn to live together with displaced people that have trauma from a conflict, and also how to live with both victims and victimizers,” says Wilson amongst the rows of vines on his farm near Buga, Colombia. “It’s difficult to manage various ideas between a group of 39 families, but it gives you character.”

The alliance is run out of Rincón’s home. Decisions are made collectively, but each alliance member has his or her own hectare of land to grow passion fruit.

“It’s a source of pride to know how to be an administrator. To grow intellectually, that’s a goal,” says Quiceno. “The people can demonstrate to the Ministry and the national government that, yes, we’re peasants and we’re starting something new, but we’ve been able to move forward.”