Strategic choices

Developing our global focus

How can we guarantee that coming generations retain access to affordable quality food? Ensuring global food security will be the defining challenge of our lifetime. The challenge is critical:

  • By 2050, the global population is projected to exceed 9.6 billion. Global food production will need to increase by 50 percent to meet this challenge, which will be particularly acute in rapidly expanding urban areas.
  • Soil quality and water resources are already depleting and the impact of climate change is further aggravating this development.
  • Low prices and poverty are forcing farmers from the land and young people are turning their backs on a future in agriculture.

At the moment, small-scale farmers produce 70% of all the food in the world. If we do not appropriately include them in food markets and as such improve their social and economic position, it will be impossible to achieve global change. Change on a global scale demands that food systems become more inclusive and offer value to all actors in the food chain. Rikolto is ready to meet this challenge, and fully subscribes to the global Sustainable Development Goals.

In March 2016, we developed our global Theory of Change, focused on three strategic priorities:

  • We empower farmers’ groups to become solid business partners and implement climate-friendly practices.
  • We connect farmers with innovators in the food industry to explore new ways of doing business and effecting change.
  • We develop new mechanisms to encourage trust and transparency throughout the food chain, enabling consumers to make future-proof choices.

Innovation through collaboration inspires sector-wide change

We bring together stakeholders from private companies, public administrations, banks and research institutions and create the collaborative space for them to develop answers to the challenges facing the future of our food. The challenges under discussion include: how do we share risk within food production more evenly so that everyone gets a fair share? How do we provide farmers and their organisations with loans to start their businesses? How do we establish proper monitoring systems to track quality and food safety standards? What are the most sustainable models for companies sourcing from small-scale farmers?

We apply our experience to engage with decision-makers, encouraging them to mainstream successful business practices and policies. We want farmers to have a voice in these networks, and a stake in enhancing change in the agriculture and food sectors.

Who are the farmers we work with?

Rikolto works with smallholder farmers that can build a living from farming in the long run. These are often not the most vulnerable poor farmers or landless farm labourers. This group has other needs: a proper social security system and access to decent labour. The expertise of Rikolto relies on bringing farmers, through their organisations, towards a higher level of professionalism in order to build sustainable livelihoods based on farming activities.

What commodities do we focus on?

Rikolto decided to concentrate on only a few commodities: coffee, cocoa, rice and fresh fruit & vegetables. Our main area of expertise lies in methodologies and approaches to strengthen farmers’ organisations as businesses and support them in building long-term relationships with other stakeholders inside and outside value chains. Yet these methodologies and approaches often have specific and different characteristics for each commodity, depending on the specifics of the market systems (stock markets, market players, etc.), production systems and policy environments for these commodities. If we want to remain relevant for farmer’s organisations and private actors, we need to develop our expertise in the specific context of the commodities to enhance learning between regions so as to have impact at local and international level.

In some cases, we still work with specific commodities other than those that we focus on (cinnamon in Indonesia, sesame in Senegal) for historical reasons or because of very specific opportunities.

Coffee and cocoa are two commodities that in large parts of the world are still smallholder crops offering good opportunities for farmers’ livelihoods. Although these traditional export crops have had a lot of attention in the past (as forerunners of the Fairtrade movement), there are still huge challenges in terms of sustainability (uncertainty of stock markets, which makes it difficult for smallholders to invest) and even survival of crops in times of climate change.

Rice is one of the biggest food commodities globally and, although it has low margins for smallholders, it is governed by numerous laws and regulations imposed by local to international governments/bodies because of its strategic importance in feeding a growing and increasingly urban world. For smallholder farmers, it is the basis for food and income in major parts of the world, mainly Africa and Asia.

Fresh fruit and vegetables as a group of products have become a major source of income for a significant number of smallholders. Because of their characteristics (fresh and perishable), in many cases they need to be produced close to the markets and sometimes offer opportunities as export crops. They generally also offer high margins for smallholders, but on the downside they present huge challenges: high risks (perishable) and high investments.