The key competences of farmers’ organisations
Farmers’ organisations are well aware that it is important to keep a strong and broad membership base. It provides the necessary political and economic leverage. To be effective agents of change, they need active members who are informed, motivated and keen to participate in their organisation’s governance. Sound financial management, and proper monitoring of external support are inevitable prerequisites for strong relations with donors and partners in general.
All this is reflected in the seven key competences of farmers’ organisations:
- Representativeness: having a genuine mandate
- Participation: members are involved in decision-making
- Accountability and transparency
- Inclusiveness: gender equality, youth and vulnerable groups
- Professionalism: maintaining high standards
- Financial sustainability: solid financial management and income diversification
- Networking: building relations with relevant stakeholders
1. Representativity: truly mandated by members
In Farmers Fighting Poverty it is crucial that the farmers’ organisations are of, by and for farmers, and that both women and men are represented. The more farmers a farmers’ organisation represents from a certain area or in a certain value chain the more legitimacy it has. Successful development of this competence will be reflected in
membership recruitment and payment of membership fees;
retention strategies and a solid membership database;
the organisations’ influence in terms of lobbying and advocacy, towards government and civil society;
its overal audience, sometimes reflected in election results (agricultural chambers e.g.) or its participation in steering committees of agricultural development programmes.
2. Participation: involve members in decision making processes
A farmers’ organisation involves the members in decision making processes, in line with the principle that a farmers’ organisation is of, by and for farmer members. Plenty of organisations do work for the farmers, but are not membership based, or treat the farmers as clients or as target groups. In farmers’ organisations the farmers are actors of their own change. They elect their leaders, and these leaders allow the members to participate in decision making processes.
3. Accountability: to be transparent and accountable
Participation of farmers can lead to well informed decisions of farmer leaders, setting the strategic direction of farmers’ organisations. On that basis, elected leaders will be able to present and defend a political agenda, which genuinely reflects the concerns of the majority of its members, but also reflect gender specific needs and interests, and/or business plans that duly result from internal consultation. Similar consultations allow for proper monitoring of farmers’ problems and challenges.
4. Inclusiveness: gender equality, youth and vulnerable groups
Farmers’ organisations operate in contexts in which women and youth are very often left aside. Rapidly changing contexts strike the most vulnerable first: displaced people, women and men farmers in conflict zones or hit by natural disasters.
Although most farmers’ organisations are male dominated, they do request support to lower barriers for women to participate. The integration of young professionals in agricultural development is high on the farmers’ agenda. More and more farmers’ organisations become well aware of the importance to consider gender aspects as an imperative and a practical necessity to increase productivity, commercialization and food security in rural areas.
Successful development of this competence means that the farmers’ organisation is able to detect the specific needs and interests of women and youth, to integrate empowered women and youth in its structures.
5. Professionalism: improving and maintaining a high standard of services
Markets and changing environments (including environmental/climate changes) are continuously challenging the quality of the services delivered to farmers. Hence, the organisation will respond by adapting and improving its professional capacity and maintain the necessary standards.
The successful development of this competence will a.o. depend on successful recruitment procedures, on training and motivation of staff, on steering by current and future leaders. It will show in appropriate (SMART) planning, monitoring and evaluation, and likewise in the quality of internal and external communication, in well-functioning infrastructure and, obviously, in member satisfaction.
6. Financial Sustainability: solid financial management and diversification of income
Decent financial management and diversity of sources of income are two of the aspects of the financial sustainability competence.
Farmers’ organisations need to be autonomous in its decisions, and in particular avoid dependency from one or more major (external) sources of funding. Avoiding dependancy of grant funding is a permanent challenge. Grants are considered as seed money, not as a structural source of income, certainly for economic activities. Grants are often a crucial element to overcome structural barriers, and remain necessary for the development of farmers’ organisations over a longer period.
To a large extent, farmers’ organisations remain dependent of external (grant) funding. There is increasing interest for service delivery (services paid by farmers), for economic initiatives and business-type ventures, some of which could contribute to self-financing. In the General Assembly of AgriCord, the issue of self-financing of farmers’ organisations is a regular theme.
7. Networking: building relations with relevant stakeholders
Regular consultations and alliance building with other farmers’ organisations (so-called “binding”) increases the number of informed farmers, and the overall strength of the lobbying and advocacy positions.
Linking, or “bridging”, with other actors, also increases the influence of a farmers’ organisation upon political processes and changes. For lobbying and advocacy at different levels (local, national, international), as well as for defending the interests of farmers in agro-food chains, farmers’ organisations need to link with other actors and stakeholders. Constructive and pro-active interaction with other players is crucial: line ministries and other government bodies, agro-businesses, NGOs, local authorities, etc.
 “Financing and autonomy of farmers’ organisations – the wrong question?”, Meeting document, AgriCord General Assembly, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands/DGIS, 5 and 6 June 2014.