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Smallholder Supply Chains

Honey production in Ethiopia


An estimated 1.5 to 2 billion people worldwide are dependent on smallholder agriculture. According to recent research by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) these smallholders include half of the world's undernourished people, three-quarters of Africa's malnourished children, and the majority of people living in absolute poverty.

Investment that can increase the productivity and incomes of smallholders - particularly female smallholders - remains the best opportunity for these people to feed themselves and trade their way out of poverty.

Our aim is for private sector investment in smallholder agriculture to result in a number of key outcomes:

  • Poverty reduction and reduce smallholders risks

  • Development of viable sustainable livelihoods

  • Women's empowerment

  • Strengthening the role of smallholders in future agricultural development

  • Develop smallholder linkages into a mix of markets

Our strategies for smallholder integration into supply chains includes:

  • Helping global and domestic companies to analyse their impacts on farmers and developing solutions that bring business benefits to all.

  • Facilitating learning between the development community, governments, and the private sector in different parts of the world.

  • Improving markets systems access for smallholders - independent of Oxfam's involvement.

Linking business to smallholders

Large companies in the food and drink sector have long tried to improve efficiency and minimise costs by simplifying and standardising their supply bases - which often reduces opportunities for smallholders.

But now is the time for a rethink.

Smallholder farms have relatively low production costs and can manage labour-intensive crops. Smallholder suppliers can provide competitive opportunities to increase production while contributing to rural development.

But while many companies are starting to realise the sourcing potential of smallholder-based supply chains, Oxfam recognises that these companies also struggle with the challenges of linking diverse smallholders to formal markets.

Oxfam's Briefing for Business Think Big Go Small focuses on these challenges and aims to show how domestic and global companies in the food and drinks sector can deliver value for their business so that smallholder suppliers gain value too.

What is Oxfam's role?

The focus of Oxfam's agricultural market systems work is supporting the development of smallholder enterprises that create linkages with multiple markets, whilst developing these markets by:

  • Working within specific projects, to broker linkages and support different market actors, to develop new activities and adapt their business models to trade with smallholders.

  • Support the development of innovative financial and agricultural services for women and other marginalised producers and their enterprises.

  • To highlight the importance of and advocate the need for integrating women's economic leadership into market-based initiatives.

  • Develop smallholder's ability to influence governance and regulation of Agriculture, together with support for smallholders capacity and farm productivity.

  • Intervene in smallholder households, farms and producer organisations to increase women's inclusion and increase smallholders power in markets.

Our current work includes:

  • Country level agricultural market development programs and value chain projects that identify and support opportunities to link women and other marginalised smallholders into a mix of sustainable value chains. 

  • Corporate engagement through partnership projects, for example with Unilever in Azerbaijan to Katani Ltd. in Tanzania, on integrating women and other marginalised smallholders into their supply chains.

  • Tools and case studies.  Oxfam is currently developing tools and methodologies to support programme staff to design and develop appropriate markets systems projects in the countries where they are working.  Relevant aspects of this toolkit and more detail on Oxfam's approach to integrating smallholder farmers into market systems will be available here in the future.

  • Scaling the level of investment in smallholder agriculture by supporting the development of learning materials on investing in smallholder agriculture. Oxfam also supports different organisations seeking to work on sharing good practice.  See for one learning platform that Oxfam contributes to.

  • Oxfam also supports learning journey events for key corporate leaders to be able to visit key projects and discuss and share opportunities and challenges with NGO practitioners and lead thinkers in the field of New Business Models.

For further information please contact David Bright,