Over the past decade, public-private partnerships (PPPs) have become an increasingly common instrument in the development toolbox. This has seen their function extend beyond their traditional role within large-scale infrastructure projects to be adopted across a variety of sectors and for the purposes of fulfilling a range of socio-economic objectives.
The multiple appeals of PPPs have led to a rapid surge in the number of such initiatives in African agriculture, both at the macro-policy level, and at the project level. Many of these initiatives claim to help improve the position of smallholder farmers. However, relatively little analysis has been conducted on how successfully agricultural PPPs are engaging with smallholder producers by incorporating farmers into the design, development, implementation and evaluation of these partnerships.
A newly published report by the Fairtrade Foundation sought to investigate this precise issue – that is, if and how smallholder food producers are engaged as equal partners within agricultural PPPs in Africa. The evidence gathered through the process suggests that a number of agricultural PPPs in Africa are paying insufficient attention to the interests, needs and priorities of smallholder farmers. Few, if any, meta-level fora exist to enable smallholders to sit around the table with representatives from governments, agribusiness companies and other stakeholders and direct the evolution of PPPs as equal partners. Within specific projects, smallholders are often perceived as ‘beneficiaries’ of the PPP, but are largely peripheral in the management of these initiatives. In addition, partnerships seem to be largely driven by pre-conceived ideas amongst governments and donor partners about the requirements of smallholders. Interviews with farmers’ organisations revealed that there is often a disconnect between agricultural PPPs and the smallholders’ own priorities for investment.
A survey of coffee PPPs in Central Kenya found power imbalances in the value chain are preventing farmers from developing strategic partnerships to realise the potential value of their crop. The report recommended that in future PPPs in the coffee subsector it was important to establish more open and transparent relationships between coffee societies, government officials, coffee millers and marketers (whether public or private) that can empower coffee farmers and create the basis for more equitable benefit sharing. Government agencies and development co-operation partners should seek out and engage well-organised co-operative societies to develop supply-led partnerships, and to help to strengthen governance systems and professional capacity within coffee societies. It is also important to establish participatory fora at which smallholder coffee farmers can meet with national and county government officials, coffee millers and marketers, donors, NGOs and other actors to jointly discuss issues in the sector, and potentially create more equal partnership arrangements.