Socio-legal empowerment and agency of small-scale farmers in informal markets
Producers trading in informal agricultural markets in low- and middle-income countries make daily choices concerning their livelihood and marketing strategies. Different contexts present varying degrees of market power and knowledge asymmetries across value chains and trading relations. In general, however, producers face the greatest risks and downstream players reap the greater rewards. Recent decades have seen increasing recognition of the role played by informal agricultural markets in sustaining rural livelihoods, and corresponding public policy aimed at strengthening and supporting these markets. Even so, there remains a policy bias towards formal markets, with empowerment efforts and research typically focused on formal organised value chains and formal institutions. This is despite the size of informal markets and the central role they play in smallholder livelihoods. As a result, little is understood about how to address imbalances in informal trading relations between smallholders and downstream value chain players, as well as how external actors can best support empowerment processes that will enhance producer agency. This research — part of the Empowering Producers in Commercial Agriculture (EPIC) project — provides insights on what socio-legal empowerment (SLE) looks like for informal agricultural producers, and how it might be utilised to strengthen producer agency in relevant contexts.