Sustainable smallholder agriculture
Title: Programme for sustainable natural resource management (PMRN)
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Lead executing agency: Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock
Overall term: 2000 to 2016
Agriculture is the major driver of development in Paraguay. It employs almost half of the workforce and accounts for 80 per cent of exports. Ninety per cent of agricultural land is in the hands of around 1,000 highly developed large farms. By contrast, around 230,000 small-scale producers have farms of up to 50 hectares, representing only four per cent of the country’s arable land. These smallholdings often fail to generate sufficient income for the farmers’ families. They do, however, fulfil an important function and have the potential to make a significant contribution to the population’s food security as they produce around three quarters of the country’s staple foods.
State and private agricultural extension services are unable to offer on a broad scale services that are designed to tackle the challenges facing these family farms. Current estimates suggest that only around 30 per cent of the smallholdings receive agricultural advice, some of which is not geared towards the needs of the producers or their families.
The environmental, economic and social sustainability of family farms has improved.
The programme’s key partner is the state Agricultural Extension Service (DEAg), which is closely involved in the activities, including the management of the programme. This cooperation enables the staff of the extension service to manage their own projects more effectively. Together, the partners examine the quality of the agricultural advisors, both those employed by the state and by private operators. With support from the programme, the Agricultural Extension Service coordinates the various extension providers, including those of the regional provincial governments and district administrations.
Training courses enable the employees of the state agricultural extension services, as well as those of cooperatives and from the private sector in five provinces, to acquire the necessary expertise to manage their institutions and companies and to offer tailor-made services to the smallholders. An additional 12,000 family farms in the regions covered by the programme are set to benefit from this knowledge. The agricultural advisors disseminate a strategy for sustainable farming. They also focus on selected value chains to enable the families to increase their production and income. Women play an important role in the smallholder families because they often make the business decisions. Consequently, they are the primary points of contact for the agricultural extension workers.
Cooperation arrangements with agricultural universities and schools ensure that teaching is adapted so as to include sustainable agriculture. This also applies to the training and continuing professional development of young people, advisors and producers.
First of all, the family farms rehabilitated their soils, enabling them to increase their yields significantly. Today, the smallholders are farming approximately 16,000 hectares with soil-friendly methods and using around 8,000 hectares as forestry land. Assuming an average of four people per family, the modified cultivation methods have so far benefited around 75,000 people.
Over 200 professionals and managerial staff from the Agricultural Extension Service (DEAg) of the Ministry of Agriculture and advisors from private sector institutions have brought their knowledge and skills up to date, including for management purposes. They are now able to provide efficient and effective extension services.
The Ministry of Agriculture has adopted a comprehensive training strategy for current and future extension officers and has begun implementing it in part. Guidelines for providing agricultural advice with differentiation according to gender have been drawn up, and quality standards for advisors to family smallholdings have been developed. Politicians and decision-makers in the programme regions are taking an informed approach towards addressing the problems associated with soils that have been degraded as a result of inappropriate soil tillage technologies. Decision-making committees are meeting in the municipalities. The state Agricultural Extension Service (DEAg) is competently coordinating the various support measures for small-scale farms.
Relevant value chains have been identified and described with a view to marketing surplus yields. An analysis of the situation at the agricultural schools is available and is being used to develop a specific strategy that accommodates the needs of the rural youth.
The most important value chains are manioc, maize, beans, milk and sesame. The soil-conserving cultivation methods are capable of increasing maize yields by up to 25 per cent. The link with the processing businesses, which are managed by the relevant farmers' cooperatives, enables these additional yields to be placed on the market.
The programme is supporting a special value chain, namely the supply chain for providing rural state schools with daily school meals. Smallholders grow vegetables, maize and beans and deliver these to the schools in their region. In addition to the producers, the agricultural advisors and the local authorities are involved in the shortened value chain. The state-guaranteed prices and purchase quantities enable incomes to be secured.
An analysis of the situation at the agricultural schools revealed that no curriculum covered aspects of sustainable agriculture, soil conservation practices and value chains. In some cases, instructors and students were not familiar with the terms. Young people who wish to return to their family farms after their schooling require knowledge that will enable them to run their parents' farm successfully.
Approaches to environmental and economic sustainability must be communicated in parallel. The analysis is being used to develop a specific strategy that takes into account issues of relevance to the rural youth.