Contracts in commercial agriculture: enhancing rural producer agency

In commercial agriculture, contracts coordinate production and trade, linking input suppliers to producers, all the way to end buyers. A better understanding of these chains of contracts can enable development practitioners and policymakers to increase scope for rural producer agency. This requires examining how contracts are made and how their terms affect producers’ ability to advance their own vision and priorities. It also requires exploring how contextual factors — from the value chain’s structure to differentiation within families and communities — shape both contractual practices and agency. In analysing a pool of 40 contracts, this research takes an agency perspective to examine the extent to which producers have a voice in contracting and related policy processes; how contracts affect options for rural producers; whether buyers’ obligations (and means for producers to enforce them) create opportunities for farmers to exert agency; and how arrangements affect producers’ ability to respond to risk. The findings provide pointers for enhancing rural producer agency at local to global levels.

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