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Feeding the Market
South American Farmers, Trade and Globalization

Feeding the Market
South American Farmers, Trade and Globalization
by Jon Hellin and Sophie Higman 
Kumarian Press, 2003

Authors Jon Hellin and Sophie Higman traveled the backroads of South America for 12 months visiting smallholder farms and researching the access they have to national and global markets. 

Their journey, made primarly by bicycle, provided the grist for this detailed report on the effects of economic globalization on the average South American farmer.

As this book demonstrates, small-scale producers in Latin and South America want to participate in the global marketplace, but they face serious impediments: production and transportation costs, quality and quantity demands, cultural and economic restrictions. 

To date, economic globalization has benefitted a few individuals and corporations in the world's most developed countries with little obvious return to the developing world. Finding ways to bring some of the benefits of globalization to rural South America and to help smallholder farmers derive a sustainable livelihood from their new-found access to world markets is the primary intent of this study.

"Only by working together with other farmers can smallholder farmers accumulate enough supply-power to fulfill the market demands for quantitiy and continuity of production," the authors point out.

In their survey of eight smallholder commodity areas -- bananas, coffee, potatoes, quinoa, coca, wine, sheep, forestry -- the most promising ventures discovered are cooperative efforts by groups of farmers. Fair trade programs, introduced by concerned consumer groups in the developed world, have had the biggest impact by offering farmers a just price for their produce in exchange for organic or sustainable practices.

"The fair trade market offers the best hope of decent prices for farmers because the prices does not drop with increasing supply," Hellin and Higman explain. "The answer may lie in making fair trade mainstream; taking fair trade out of its niche and ensuring that some of the principles behind the movement are adopted more widely."

Feeding the Market

If smallholder farmers are to take advantage of the market, they need to be able to seek out and develop opportunities. In particular, for them to benefit from the niche markets such as organic, fair trade, gourmet and FSC certified markets, they need marketing skills.
Farmers we met often complained during interviews that 'there is no market for our produce'. Perhaps a more accurate view is that there is no market for the quality and quantity of produce smallholders can typically offer.
Smallholder farming is linked to reductions in rural poverty and inequality. Acoording to the World Bank, growth in agricultural incomes is particularly effective at reducing rural poverty because it has a knock-on or multiplier effect on local markets for other goods and services provided by non-farm rural poor such as construction, manufacturing and repairs. Strong agricultural growth has been a feature of countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia and China that have successfully reduced poverty.

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