Dear Friends and Colleagues

Creating an Enabling Environment for Small-Scale Farmer Innovation

Small-scale farmers, including fisherfolk, forest dwellers and pastoralists, contribute between 50% and 70% of the global food supply.A policy brief by the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) consolidates lessons learned from an in-depth literature review on small-scale farmer innovation systems and a two-day expert consultation on the same topic. 

Farmers adapt their farm management practices and actively enhance agricultural biodiversity to suit changing conditions. Women play particularly important roles in on-farm innovation relating to conservation and nutrition. Small-scale farmer innovationis described as both a process and an output which covers: (1) technical and institutional innovation; (2) the application of local (traditional) knowledge to changing circumstances; (3) the maintenance, use and development of agricultural biodiversity and farm management practices; (4) adaptation to environmental and socio-economic stresses; and (5) the adaptation of ‘modern’ technologies to suit specific local needs.

The policy brief provides recommendations for creating an enabling environment for small-scale farmerinnovation. It calls on formal research institutions to recognize the legitimacy of traditional knowledge and farmers as innovators, rather than solely as recipients of research results.

National innovation strategies that reflect the realities of small-scale farmer innovation systems are deemed more effective in nurturing innovation in agriculture than conventional strategies that focus on encouraging private sector investment. The overarching policy framework should include investment in rural infrastructure; the promotion of producers' cooperatives, local and regional markets, including barter markets, and niche markets for agrobiodiverse products; and farmers’ participation in decision-making.Aligning public policy incentives with farmers’ motivations to innovate will encourage the type of innovation that yields public benefit, promote diversity, and contribute towards a more resilient global food system.

The full paper can be downloaded from

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