One step closer to a global definition for Professional Farmer Organizations

Joanne Sonenshine sits down to discuss the role of smallholder farmers in the supply chain and why a global definition is so important for professionalization.Joanne Sonenshine sits down to discuss the role of smallholder farmers in the supply chain and why a global definition is so important for professionalization.Joanne Sonenshine sits down to discuss the role of smallholder farmers in the supply chain and why a global definition is so important for professionalization.Picked to lead the International Workshop Agreement process to develop a global definition for professional farmer organizations, Joanne Sonenshine will be the IWA Chair for the Agribusiness Market Ecosystem Alliance (AMEA).

A ScopeInsight Initiative, NCBA CLUSA, along with six other agribusiness and farmer development organizations founded AMEA in 2016 to bring together cross-sector partners to standardize metrics for assessing farmer performance and developing a training system more closely aligned to farmer needs.

The global definition of farmer professionalization will be an important baseline in developing these goals. AMEA sat down with Joanne Sonenshine, who is tasked with leading the stakeholder definition process.

Read her interview and AMEA’s press release below:

AMEA is proud and happy to announce the selection of Joanne Sonenshine as the IWA chair who will lead the development of a global definition for professional farmer organizations.

AMEA initiated an International Workshop Agreement (IWA) process, led by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), to establish a common definition for professional farmer organizations accessing markets. The definition will identify the core capacities of a professional farmer organization at a generic level and will be flexible in its use. It will focus on the needs of organized smallholder farmers in emerging markets and developing economies.

This will allow aligning objectives and smoother collaboration between parties involved in building sustainable and reliable supply chains. An IWA is an ISO document produced through a workshop meeting. Farmer representative organizations, buyers and other stakeholders working with farmer organizations, in over 160 countries, are invited to contribute their content knowledge, comment on and inform the draft definition in the year long process. Find FAQs on the global definition here

AMEA received applications for the position of IWA chair and has selected Sonenshine because she is a recognized bridge builder, great facilitator and well suited to lead the development of the global definition.

Can you please introduce yourself?
My name is Joanne Sonenshine and I am a Washington, DC-based partnerships advisor, mom of two active boys, wife, and author of ChangeSeekers: Finding Your Path to Impact (in no particular order!). My company, Connective Impact, which I founded in 2014, helps nonprofits, companies, and governments partner to achieve longer lasting results around social, environmental and economic development. I am a development economist and have devoted my career to shifting economic and sustainability paradigms.

Why did you apply for the position of IWA Chair? What will you gain?
When I learned about AMEA after it was first launched, I was enthusiastic and optimistic about the effort helping to professionalize farm organizations, in large part because the need is so vast, and I truly believe farmers will benefit from this initiative. Much of the work I do with food, agriculture, consumer goods and apparel companies (and their NGO partners) I do to help improve the lives of farming communities. There is so much opportunity for knowledge share, economic growth and innovation among small farmers. I believe AMEA will help unlock that potential. I also applied to the position so I could help AMEA bring in some of the other voices that may have not been as involved in the past (groups like the export community, direct trade entities, certifiers, auditors, and other NGOs). I also hope to link brands, small and large, to this effort, and frankly that was a big part of my intent from the beginning. As for what I will gain, I don’t see this effort being about me. I really see it as being about the small farmers and their families. Being able to experience their growth will be very rewarding.

What is the role of the IWA chair and how will you lead the development of the Global Standard Definition for professional farmer organizations?
As the IWA chair, I hope to both spread the message about the work of AMEA, and get the right people engaged in the dialogue, and even more, ensure there is consensus and agreement on the specific terms of the standard. Recognizing that working from one voice to carry the standard forward is not going to be easy, I also hope to tap content experts from members and participants to be sure the standard correctly reflects the needs of both AMEA members, but also and equally important, the farmer communities.

How is AMEA changing the game for smallholder farmers in emerging markets?
Small farmers are critical to the future of sustainable agriculture, sustainable sourcing and the supply of food and inputs for the entire planet. This is becoming more and more of a reality to companies and buyers that depend on small farmers for their purchasing. If farmers can’t continue to produce, either due to financial constraints, climate change, or other social, environmental or economic issues, food supplies will dwindle, land will become increasingly degraded, and the potential to build a viable economy around small farming will simply cease to exist. Instead, by professionalizing small farm organizations, AMEA is creating an environment under which farmers gain the business acumen, institutional backbone and support to compete fairly and competitively. This will hopefully support a fair market system for small farmers, and provide a level of confidence to commodity buyers that small farmers are just as viable an option as any producer. For years the risks associated with producing agricultural commodities have fallen on the shoulders of small producers. With the AMEA program underway, small farmers can receive more targeted support, and compete from the same starting line when it comes to how farm organizations operate.

In your opinion, who should be involved in developing the IWA global standard definition?
Any actor that operates in a supply chain, or that supports the development of small farms by purchasing, training, providing technical assistance, regulating, advocating, or communicating.

Why are professional farmers so important for the reliable supply chain?
Supply chains can be complicated, so there’s no one easy answer to how effective supply chains must operate to ensure a competitive market, fair prices, lucrative enough wages to keep farmers in the business, and low enough prices at point of sale to sell final products. That all said, the farm organization is just as much a key component of an effective supply chain as any other actor (including the processor, aggregator, exporter, buyer, retailer or brand). If anything, without a strong basis at the farm level, there may be a lack of transparency, ineffective market dealings, unclear market signals and ultimately an economic inequality that will lead to too many unintended consequences in the supply chain.

What is your outlook on the agribusiness supply chain in the next five years?
For agribusiness to stay resilient, and continue to thrive, its corporate leaders must think about their supply chains and the actors within, as they would any employee or partner. For a farmer, producer, exporter or technical assistance implementer to succeed in both producing high quality commodities, and staying loyal to the business, being well supported, financially rewarded and having the appropriate level of business support is crucial. Being mindful of the challenges company employees face, all throughout the supply chain, and addressing those challenges as holistically as possible, will be really important. Also, agribusiness may need to start looking outside its own sector to address some of the challenges that make farming more difficult in certain geographies. I’ve often encouraged businesses with whom I work to look to a different sector, to consider non-traditional partnerships, to think creatively about how communities can benefit from many actors working together in concert to invest, shore up resources, provide technical assistance, respect the land and advocate for appropriate government policies. I have a sense that the agribusiness sector will recognize opportunities to form alliances with companies in the mining sector, for example, or healthcare, technology, or infrastructure. I’ve always thought that a producer is never just a one-commodity producer. Nor is land only suitable for one type of investment. Additionally, communities have voices too.  Helping farming communities see the potential for their own land, their families and their future means agribusiness investors must be patient, creative and resourceful along with them. This is challenging, but also super exciting to think about!


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