Rural producer agency and agricultural value chains: what role for socio-legal empowerment?

New public policies and changing economic fundamentals have spurred private-sector investment in commercial agriculture in low- and middle-income countries – from production to aggregation, processing and distribution. Growing numbers of policies and programmes aim to integrate small-scale rural producers into agricultural value chains, based on concepts such as ‘inclusive business’ and ‘shared value’. But significant questions remain over how best to: recognise the possibly divergent visions, interests and constraints of various actors, and the risks and trade-offs that can arise; address often substantial power imbalances that affect value chain relations; and ultimately support genuine agency among rural producers and their communities – that is, their ability to make choices, take action and influence realities around them. This report explores whether socio-legal empowerment – the combination of recourse to law with related change strategies such as collective action and gaining greater business savvy – might help address these issues. The report develops a conceptual framework to further understand, test and strengthen the contribution of socio-legal empowerment to enhancing the agency of rural actors as they engage with, or are affected by, commercial agriculture.

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