Global Guidelines for

Professional Farmer Organizations

By NEN Magazine

The original text (in Dutch) can be found here.


Photo credit: NEN

The Agribusiness Market Ecosystem Alliance (AMEA) approached NEN (Dutch Standardization Agency) to facilitate the development of an International Workshop Agreement (IWA) on behalf of ISO (International Organization for Standardization). This IWA will provide global guidelines for professional farmer organizations and is particularly relevant for smallholder farmers in emerging economies. The guidelines provide recommendations for the core capacities of professional farmers organization at a global and generic level and will be flexible in use. The editors of the NEN Magazine talked to the Chairman of the IWA, Joanne Sonenshine, and the Chairman of the AMEA Board, Alan Johnson, about the development of these guidelines.

Could you introduce yourself?


Joanne Sonenshine: I am a Washington, DC - based partnerships advisor and author of ‘ChangeSeekers: Finding Your Path to Impact’. My company, Connective Impact, which I founded in 2014, helps non-profits, companies, and governments partner to achieve longer lasting results around social, environmental and economic development. I am a development economist and have devoted my career to shifting economic and sustainability paradigms.

Alan Johnson: I work for IFC agribusiness advisory services in Ethiopia. IFC is the International Finance Corporation and is part of the World Bank Group. IFC is an international organization that supports private sector development in emerging economies. I lead an IFC program called stronger smallholder supply chains which focuses on helping commercial firms build inclusive and sustainable supply of their key agricultural commodities.

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What is AMEA? What are the main objectives of the organization?

Alan: AMEA, or the Agribusiness Market Ecosystem Alliance, is a grouping of 21 different organisations who share a common objective. Global Agriculture needs some fundamental changes to feed the world in a more sustainable way and to meet the climate change challenge.  We see more professional farming as key to this.  Our main focus is on smallholder farmers in emerging markets. The purpose of AMEA is to work together to scale up the development of professional farmer organizations so that smallholders can access market opportunities and improve their livelihoods in a sustainable way.

Why was NEN approached to facilitate the development of the IWA?

Alan: AMEA is a Netherlands registered foundation.  Many of our stakeholders are also based in the as Cargill Cocoa and Chocolate, CTA, iCRA, ICCO, IDH, Rainforest Alliance (UTZ) and SCOPEinsight. It therefore seemed logical that NEN would be a good choice to help us with the development of the IWA.  NEN also gave us a very clear description of what the process involved - including the challenges as well as the opportunities.  That helped to convince the board that this was the right choice.

Why did you apply for the position of IWA Chair?

Joanne: When I learned about AMEA after it was first launched, I was enthusiastic and optimistic about the effort helping to professionalize farm organizations, in large part because the need is so vast, and I truly believe farmers will benefit from this initiative. Much of the work I do with food, agriculture, consumer goods and apparel companies (and their NGO partners) I do to help improve the lives of farming communities. There is so much opportunity for knowledge share, economic growth and innovation among small farmers. I believe AMEA will help unlock that potential. I also applied to the position, so I could help AMEA bring in some of the other voices that may have not been as involved in the past (groups like the export community, direct trade entities, certifiers, auditors, and other NGOs).

Alan, what is the reason you became Chairman of the AMEA Board?

To avoid becoming the Treasurer! No but more seriously, I strongly believe in the mission and purpose of AMEA and felt that I could contribute meaningfully by taking on a leadership role.

The objective of the IWA is to define what a professional farmer organization is. For which parties is this definition an important development?

Alan: We have adopted an inclusive approach and believe that the definition or guideline for a professional farmer organisation should be accessible and used by the many parties who interact with smallholder farmers. So we hope that this guideline will be part of a common language that is used by private companies, banks, training providers and government agencies all of whom have economic engagements with smallholder farmers. The IWA is an important means to increase the number of professional farmer organization in an effective way.

What is an IWA?

An IWA (International Workshop Agreement) is published by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and is a prelude to a full ISO standard. An IWA is developed in a year and is therefore extremely suitable for innovative subjects or when there is a rapid need for a standard. More than 220 people from all over the world contributed to the development of the IWA 29 Professional Farmer Organization. IWA 29 Professional Farmer Organization is expected to be published in early 2019. IWA 29 will be available through all 162 ISO sister organizations of NEN around the world.