Access of the poor to agricultural services: the role of farmers’ organizations in social inclusion

Access of the poor to agricultural services: the role of farmers’ organizations in social inclusion

How farmers’ organisations help poorer farmers gain access to agricultural services

Farmers’ organisations (FOs) in Sub-Saharan Africa play an increasing importance role in allowing farmers to access agricultural services. But are poorer and disadvantaged farmers always able to participate and gain equal access to these services? This paper explores these issues drawing on several case studies, and considers what steps could be taken to better facilitate social inclusion of disadvantaged groups or individuals in FOs to enhance their access to agricultural services.

The authors note that there are significant risks that individual farmers and groups are being excluded from agricultural services, as well as many farmers who do not join farmers’ organisations. Sometimes this is because they are particularly poor or belong to vulnerable groups, such as female-headed households and widows, and in other cases because they are from a minority social or ethnic group, or disabled, such as HIV/AIDS-affected households. 

Drawing on case studies carried out in 2005 with farmers’ organisations in Benin, Rwanda and Tanzania, the paper offers a conceptual framework of issues relevant to an active social inclusion strategy.

The case studies show that:

  • different types of FOs have different ways of dealing with the question of social inclusion, depending on the organisation’s background and membership profile, as well as purpose and organisational structure
  • these differences can have important consequences for the provision of services to both members and non-members
  • strong social capital does not guarantee social inclusion since norms within an organisation may still hamper certain groups (such as women farmers or minority ethnic groups) from accessing services

Preliminary conclusions include:

  • FOs should develop membership profiles to help take membership diversity into account and measure how far the organisation is representative of the community.
  • social inclusion can be enhanced by low thresholds for entry of new members, active policies to include all types of rural households, and a concentration on more socially mixed groups.

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