Erika Balzarelli : Platform Dedicated To Enable Smallholder Farmers Become Sustainable – The Platform Includes Thought Leadership, Advisory and Field Co-creation Services

The Sustainable Smallholder is an innovation platform dedicated to enable smallholder farmers become sustainable – the platform includes thought leadership, advisory and field co-creation services.

The voices of the smallholder farmers often go unheard. At The Sustainable Smallholder we believe that a sustainable solution – economically, socially and environmentally sustainable – can only be developed in co-creation with the smallholder farmers who farm the land.

We co-create with smallholder farmer communities and our clients; no project is done without boots on the ground to deeply understand the smallholder eco-system. Deeply listening and understanding smallholder farmers will reveal the solution and ways to increase adoption, season after season.

Tell us about yourself?

I am a purpose driven thought leader in agriculture, ex-corporate marketeer, entrepreneur and consultant. With over 20 years’ experience in agriculture, I worked in corporates, NGOs, governments, consultancy, and start-ups. I also hold an MBA (Netherlands) and an MPA from Harvard University.

During the last 20 years I worked across Europe, Africa and APAC developing and implementing impactful projects in climate smart agriculture. Mid 2021 – amidst the pandemic – I founded The Sustainable Smallholder consultancy studio offering services to private sector, social enterprises and start-ups to help transition to sustainable, profitable, innovative agriculture models.

Instead of navigating the politics for the private sector and the bureaucracies of the public sector I decided it was time to shift my energy from managing politics to doing something useful for smallholder farmers.

Decarbonisation and food security dont have to be opposites and its intersection can spur many innovative models for smallholder farmers to produce more food, more nutritious whilst regenerating the land and increase profits.

Prior to setting up my own company, I lead the rice business at Corteva Agriscience and have worked in different capacities for IFAD (Ethiopia), Agricultural Transformation Agency (Ethiopia), Dalberg (India) and Syngenta (USA, Switzerland, Singapore, Indonesia).

If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

To decompress, to stress less – I have always had a choice. We often think we do not have a choice and hence remain stuck in old patterns. Money and status do not dictate happiness.

Finding and pursuing purpose do. So my advice to myself: trust in myself, in that little voice and know that once you start making decisions out of purpose rather then out of a limited space controlled by fear, status and money, you actually start living the live you really want.

When I was brave enough to leave the corporate job for my own company, I felt I could breathe, I felt I started to become myself.

What problem does your business solve?

We solve for smallholder farmer bottlenecks to become more sustainable – economically (as in higher profits), socially (as in more inclusive) and environmentally (as in less emissions, healthier soils, less water waste)

What is the inspiration behind your business?

I have travelled to many rural parts in India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, China, Rwanda, Ethiopia … I have worked hand in hand with smallholder farmers and have seen and witnessed their pains. I could not sit back any longer and watch these communities have these hardships.

This inspired me to reschool myself to learn how to transform rural communities and to start working for organisations – NGOs, local governments, multilaterals – to learn how private sector can work together with them to achieve lasting transformation. This has inspired me to keep working within the agriculture smallholder space since 20 years and to finally start my own business within the space.

What is your magic sauce?

The voice of the smallholder farmer needs to be included in understanding how to transform agriculture based systems.

Once we start listening and observing rural communities, how they farm, what is their legacy, how their ancestors took care of the soil, what is their vision – then we actually already have the solutions.

The magic sauce is co-creation with the smallholder farmers. The Sustainable Smallholder applies an award winning framework to co-creation which has delivered many lasting and successful innovations and transformations.

What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?

I would like to further build out my business – meaning?

Have more clients – ideally NGOs that would like to transform into social entreprises, start-ups that are working on the sweet-spot of food security and decarbonisation and private sector who is dedicated to increase access to good seed, biological products and other regenerative tools (solar irrigation, soil testing, drones, affordable finance, market access) for smallholder farmers.

I’d also like to set up my own business delivering a new mechanism to bring regenerative farming to the smallholder farmer masses. This is work in progress and a surprise to come 🙂

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?

Having patience. Transforming rural smallholder farming communities is a very long process – long and full of ups and downs.

Once one part of the puzzle is solved, another bottleneck surfaces. I do not think there is one silver bullet in agriculture transformation.

There are many and their journey is long. Patience is difficult to have as the issues we are facing are acute.

However we need to keep having patience and keep working every day towards touching more smallholders farmers lives.

How do people get involved/buy into your vision?

I want any organization that has the vision to transition smallholder farmers into a more sustainable and equitable future to reach out. Grassroot NGOs, social entreprises, start-ups that want to scale, private sector that needs to increase adoption of new technology.

I want to work with all of you, on discovering the different silver bullets and to making smallholder farmers lives a bit better, season after season.

Written by Mark Fitz

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