AVSF supports smallholder families and smallholder organizations in four major areas and also in post-emergency situations.
Many smallholder families suffer from economic exclusion and exclusion from markets. The open-market and trade deregulation policies implemented over the past thirty years have exacerbated the unfairness of competition between highly productive, subsidized farming in the North and smallholder farming in the South, where farmers lack access to land, water, credit, and technical support. It is often difficult for smallholders to gain access to local markets due to the lack of adequate infrastructure and the scarcity of transparent information on prices. Due to the strengthening of certain supply chains and the weak negotiating power of smallholders, most of the wealth generated in the South goes to the many small shopkeepers as well as to certain large agri-industrial businesses and retailers. AVSF therefore works to create local food supply chains and export chains that are shorter and better controlled by organized smallholders. AVSF’s projects promote supply chains that: provide better remuneration for smallholders, encourage environmentally-friendly smallholder production systems, improve the food security and sovereignty of people in the South, and support local, healthy, and high-quality agricultural products.
AVSF supports the direct sale of organic and processed foodstuffs (fruits and vegetables, grains, dairy and meat products). In order to do so, AVSF helps organize smallholder markets and points of sale, partnerships between producers and urban consumers to distribute weekly food baskets, and partnerships with businesses, the government, and local authorities in terms of public procurement for school lunches. AVSF also helps organize local storage systems such as grain banks.
Local market in Madagascar (Photo: J. Mas)
AVSF supports many producer organizations (of coffee, cocoa, quinoa, bananas, mangoes, litchi, vanilla, sesame, cashews, and fonio) from the Andes, Central America, Haiti, Senegal, Mali, Togo, and Madagascar in their efforts to directly export to organic, gourmet, and fair trade markets. AVSF, a co-founder of the Max Havelaar France initiative in 1993, continues to work with this labeling authority in conducting impact assessments and prospective studies. AVSF is a member of the Technical Committee of the Ecocert référentiel ESR (in Fair Trade, Social Partnership, and Responsibility), which integrates organic farming and fair trade. AVSF also supports the référentiel "Petit Producteur", which was created by smallholder organizations in Latin America in order to identify products coming from small producer organizations as opposed to those coming from agro-plantations and contract farming.
By working to provide structure for fair and sustainable supply chains, AVSF is aiming to strengthen smallholder organizations. AVSF works with the producers, helping them build the capacities they need in order to manage the collection, quality, certification, and sale of their products. AVSF also works alongside the producer organizations to set up services for technical assistance, input purchasing, storage, processing, and credit. Finally, AVSF supports these organizations in their efforts to defend smallholder interests and influence development policy.
Two of AVSF’s priorities in the coming years are: promoting innovative supply chains, and developing regional activities focused on sharing experiences and strengthening networks, platforms, and national unions of smallholder organizations.
AVSF’s work has long been focused on animal health and production. Today, AVSF works in these areas with a view to: increasing the productivity of smallholder livestock farmers in developing countries, improving the economic valorization of animal products for smallholder families, and protecting public health.
In the least-developed countries, livestock farming plays a crucial role in the survival of smallholder families. In particular, it helps them get through the periods where there is no harvest (by providing food and money to buy other foodstuffs). Eggs, milk, and meat are good sources of protein for the smallholders, especially for children and pregnant women.
Cattle, horses, and camels play a significant role on agro-pastoral farms in terms of providing labor, transport, and soil fertilization (thanks to the manure they produce). As for revenue, small livestock (poultry, small ruminants, pigs, etc.) provides an easily available source of cash. Large animals, on the other hand, serve as a type of capital. In the Sahel, for example, large animals play a key role in ensuring the survival of herder populations living in inaccessible regions.
Livestock farmer in Mali (Photo: P. Rocher)
Securing smallholder livestock farming is a priority for AVSF and involves helping livestock farmers overcome the problems they face, the biggest of which are related to zootechnics (food availability, reproduction, habitat improvement, etc.) and animal health.
Animal illnesses have a significant effect. Economically, direct losses (deaths, fall in productivity) and indirect losses (commercial consequences, particularly on exports) lead to an often significant loss of revenue for livestock farmers and their families. But at the regional and national levels, such losses lead to low productivity in the livestock farming sector and have a negative impact on the balance of trade.
These animal illnesses can have serious consequences for human health as well: contaminated foods, zoonoses (animal illnesses that are transmissible to people) such as rabies and brucellosis, and illnesses transmitted by insects, the rate of which is significantly increasing as a result of climate change and the free circulation of goods and people. It is estimated that: 60% of all known human infectious diseases are of animal origin, 75% of emerging human diseases are of animal origin, and 80% of pathogens having a potential bioterrorist use are of animal origin.
On the ground, the effectiveness of monitoring animal health depends on three fundamental and complementary pillars:
Smallholder communities experience great inequality in terms of access to resources. Competition is increasing in terms of accessing and using water resources, arable land, pastures, and forests. Unequal access to resources is a major problem that often leads to food shortages in the South and is mainly due to growing urbanization, the development of mining and forestry operations, intensive agro-industry, and the rise in land and water grabbing. Smallholders are rarely organized and therefore sometimes have trouble defending their right to access these resources. AVSF supports smallholder organizations that band together and take a stand to defend their rights to access and use these resources that are so important to their production.
In many countries, growing demographics and land pressure are causing families to overexploit resources and move into fragile ecosystems. What follows is a gradual degradation of resources, leading to erosion, changes to soil fertility, decreased soil fertility, and in some instances, destruction of farmland, water contamination, and loss of biodiversity. AVSF helps smallholder communities establish or improve regulations and practices with respect to the efficient and sustainable joint management of these resources in conjunction with local authorities and all other local actors. The objective is to increase production without: increasing land use, cutting down trees, or degrading fragile ecosystems. This objective is achieved by stabilizing newer activities, implementing a development plan for pastoral areas, rationally managing irrigation and of soil fertility, etc.
Agro-ecological planting in Brazil (Photo: R. Sena)
Over the past few decades, the “Green Revolution” model has been the mainstream of agricultural development in Southern countries. This model entails modernizing agriculture via productive intensification based on models involving high levels of chemical inputs and so-called “improved” seeds and animal species. Stagnant yields, higher fertilizer prices, an expected fall in available phosphates, the financial and environmental cost of animal feed, and the impact of these models on water pollution are all factors that have now led to the realization that there is an urgent need to promote a different type of modernization for smallholder farming.
There needs to be a return to the basics of agriculture: making optimal use of ecosystems and using natural techniques to increasing productivity. Many smallholders around the world still adhere to these fundamentals. AVSF therefore promotes agro-ecology (a necessary path for the future), which has already proven to be effective in terms of producing higher yields in the South. Agro-forestry, the integration of crop and livestock farming practices, sowing under plant cover, and crop combinations are all practices that help: limit the introduction of external inputs (petroleum, fertilizer, pesticides); preserve soil fertility, soil life, and biodiversity; and contribute to supplying healthy, high-quality foods to cities and rural areas. Finally, by promoting shorter supply chains, agro-ecology helps create a more local agriculture that is rooted in the region itself and that has a more direct commercial link with consumers.
When it comes to dealing with the effects of climate change, smallholder families are the most heavily affected. Since 2008, AVSF has been integrating this relatively new issue into its work via innovative projects, in-depth studies, and advocacy activities.
Smallholder farming, though not responsible for the increase in climate variability, is strongly affected by it. The rural communities with which AVSF works are already noticing increased dryness, increasing frequency of cyclones and flooding, and above all, rain cycles and temperatures that are much more unpredictable than they used to be. These changes have multiple consequences: lower yields; loss of harvests, livestock, and infrastructure; environmental and soil degradation; and growing conflicts over the use of resources.
Historically, smallholder crop and livestock farmers have always been able to find ways to adapt when faced with extreme and changing conditions. But they are having difficulty dealing with the climate phenomenon today because they are hampered by big economic and structural obstacles.
AVSF launched a “climate change” program in 2009 in order to better define the impacts of climate change on smallholder farming, to understand the smallholders’ spontaneous responses to the phenomenon, and to ensure that it attributes greater focus to climate change in its actions de coopération.
Reforestation using agro-forestry techniques in Peru (Photo: AVSF)
In the countries where it is active, AVSF also strives to work with the local communities to develop strategies for adapting to climate change that respect the smallholders’ needs and their traditional know-how. Doing so enables smallholders to become more resilient to climate change, improve their economic situation, and help limit greenhouse gas emissions.
AVSF experiments with specific projects, such as:
Finally, working with its partners in France, Europe, and the South, AVSF lobbies national and international authorities for greater consideration of the needs of smallholder farming in the face of climate change, for very strong support for the ecological intensification of crop and livestock farming (agro-ecology), and for any form of relocalization of agriculture onto local land.
Since its creation, AVSF has always engaged in activities to provide immediate assistance to populations affected by the great Sahelian droughts and by storms or cyclones in Latin America. Recognized since 2010 as a partner of DG ECHO, and after the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010, AVSF strengthened its activities in the areas where it is involved to help those populations facing catastrophe and crisis situations get back on their feet.
In situations like these, AVSF’s goal is to quickly restore, to the affected populations, the means and ability to continue production so that they can feed themselves and ensure that their most vital economic needs are met.
AVSF participated in 2012 in projects to assist populations impacted by flooding in Ecuador and Cambodia. The projects consisted of distributing seeds and other resources to help the victims get their activities going again, constructing / developing areas of refuge, etc. AVSF is currently focusing most of its post-emergency efforts on northern Mali, in the wake of the 2013 crisis, by distributing food aid, combatting malnutrition in women and children, providing animal health services, saving rural farmland, recapitalizing livestock for displaced populations, etc.
Supporting the 120 member families of the yak farming cooperative in the Khangai Mountains in the production and sale of combed yak fiber.
Strengthening the capacities of 1,000 male and female Vélingara livestock farmers in terms of the production and sale of milk; strengthening the processing capacities of small dairies.
Supporting animal health and production (poultry, cattle) in eight villages within the Ratanakmundul district by building the capacities of livestock farmers, service providers, and other actors in livestock farming.