Farmers organisations are increasingly being asked to play a central role in driving agricultural transformation processes in Sub-Saharan Africa, despite their mixed record of success. They have become ever more involved in the design and implementation of policies and donors programmes. Nevertheless, national states and international donors could support them to address any structural weaknesses. Much of their success will also depend of the creation of synergies with the private sector, which has become a key player in African agriculture.
The panorama of farmer associations in Africa is characterised by a great diversity of group types, from small informal farmer groups to large farmers cooperatives, different sources and levels of initiatives and interventions, a variety of contexts, and changing policy approaches.
Many of the farmers organisations continue to share a common heritage the farmer-run cooperative which has been a mainstay of government policy for many years, but they have also adjusted to take on new responsibilities in areas such as extension and input provision. Some are now serving as key partners to the private sector, particularly in the production of high-value export crops.
Among the challenges that farmers organisations have to face in the future is lack capital to grow in scale and complexity, particularly in terms of investment in physical assets for value addition through processing and manufacturing. Other areas to be addressed include the lack of management capacity and good organisational governance; competition in markets against economic forces that confound their traditionally bureaucratic and unresponsive structures and strategies.
In a market-driven economy, farmer cooperatives must operate in a business-like fashion or perish. Government extension services are increasingly limited in scope, thus farmers organisations will have to assume more of these responsibilities in the future. Market entry demands (e.g. grades and standards), access requirements (e.g. transportation and credit) and adding value to production (e.g. packaging, processing, and quality control) are still difficult for many under-resourced farmers organisations to address. Although independence for farmers organisations is seen as a positive, it also means becoming more self-sufficient, often when funding is scarce.
Sound public policies should promote sustainable intensification and provide farmers organisations with the support required for them to be competitive and inclusive. They need to be better organised, show increased governance and inclusiveness and develop knowledge systems allowing them to share knowledge and experiences on production methods, markets and policies.
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