Most research into the market opportunities for small farmers in developing countries is actually not used by those farmers in their efforts to influence policy in their country.
For this reason, the international programme Empowering Smallholder Farmers in Markets (ESFIM) experimented with an alternative, collaborative research set-up: National farmers' organisations in eleven developing countries were given the opportunity to determine the thematic focus of the research so that it fit in with their advocacy strategies.
This resulted in research on themes such as the role of cooperatives in the innovation policy in Uruguay, small farmers and electronic trade in the Philippines, and legal and fiscal regulations for economic farmers' organisations in Bolivia. LEI was responsible for the coordination of this five-year research programme, which was carried out in cooperation with CIRAD (French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development), the Natural Resources Institute (NRI) of the University of Greenwich, and local researchers and consultants.
Monitoring advocacy capacities
On the basis of these experiences, ESFIM has published a book and a peer-reviewed article in the professional journal Food Security. The article looks at whether this new research set-up has genuinely strengthened the advocacy capacities of farmers' organisations. In order to underpin the findings, they used a method whereby the board of the national farmer organisations carried out a self-evaluation based on the five core capabilities needed for their advocacy capacity. It seems clear that the ESFIM supported studies and activities have contributed, though not to the same degree in all regions. Often, other factors and actors had an important influence. In addition, many lobby processes build on activities in the past, meaning that the results cannot be attributed only to ESFIM.