Agency for Transformation (AfT) is a think and do tank working with smallholder farmers to transform East Africa. Why is it that at the root of this agenda- are farmers, their business, organisations and institutions? For countries across East Africa and Uganda in particular, farmers are crucial anchors of transformation because they produce food and wealth in rural areas. It is a simple, but so often forgotten truth: they establish new enterprises that bring forth employment opportunities for their children, who could also go to school because of their parents' entrepreneurship. Thus, the structural transformation of the economies in East Africa starts with farmer creativity and hard work. Indeed in for example, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi agriculture remains the most prominent economic activity and primary source of livelihood for over 70 per cent of the respective populations. Farmers/producers' organisations are of vital importance in this transformation, as they are powerful machines to disseminate new ideas, new technologies and knowledge over vast areas. These social aggregators are marketing interfaces to reach the bottom of the pyramid, the people who have to live on less than two dollar a day; they reach them because of their layered structure. At the same time, they are the social media transmitting the voice of the poor on a large scale. Importantly also, are public institutions that need to transform so that they can respond to farmers' reality rather than political expediency (see- www.aft-u.org)
AfT stemmed out of the provocations of a global learning network of the Knowledge Program on small producer agency in the globalised market. Run by HiVOS, IIED, Mainumby and a global network, the programme set out to map, elicit and integrate knowledge on the dilemmas confronting small‐scale producers in global, regional and national markets. Having been a key partner in founding a new debate that recognises small scale farmers as important economic actors rather than ‘poor’ and thus subject to social programmes, AFT sought to take forward the agency perspective to re-imagine the theory and practice relating to smallholder farmers and their role to contribute to economic growth and development in East Africa. Agency as a discourse is used to denote the capacity of individuals to act independently and make their own free choices. As thus, agency underpins the capacity of small holder farmers to deal effectively with external stresses and opportunities, and to manage risk and vulnerability, including adaptation to climate change, under conditions of extreme asset constraints. AFT therefore builds on this way of thinking and commits to initiatives that enhance smallholder capacity to make choices in the face of new power structures and powerful external agendas.
We believe information is critical for farmers’ agency and agricultural policy needs to be more inclusive of various strategies small holders choose to participate in the market