Hivos International

Hivos has a long history of working on food, agriculture and biodiversity. Our approach pays attention to soil fertility, agricultural biodiversity, climate mitigation and adaptation, green knowledge development, a decent living for farmers, and gender inclusiveness. Research has and continues to underpin many of our projects in the field.

A large bulk of research in this dossier stems from two thematic knowledge programmes. The first programme was founded in 2009, when Hivos and UK-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) started the Small Producer Agency in a Globalized Market Knowledge Programme. The aim of the programme was to integrate knowledge, raise debate, and empower a new generation of opinion leaders around issues of small-scale agricultural producers, often operating in informal markets. International, formal markets have been seen as a way out of poverty and food insecurity for these small-scale producers. However, increasing volatility and stringent requirements in these markets, as well as international trade agreements, present smallholders and their organizations with multiple opportunities and risks. For three years, Hivos and IIED linked up with existing networks and like-minded actors and initiatives to ensure strong policy impact for small-holder agency. Research has touched on informality, on smallholders under socialist governments in Latin America, and on specific crops such as coffee. Challenging conventional wisdom, the Programme concluded that informal markets have distinct advantages, especially their greater flexibility to respond to new opportunities in domestic and regional trade. They are resilient through the active choice of producers and consumers, and are central to rural and urban food security, livelihood generation, and job creation. These insights are currently taken forward in the Hivos-IIED Food Change Labs.

Oxfam Novib and Hivos initiated the Agrobiodiversity @Knowledged programme in 2011 after a partnership of over eight years managing the Biodiversity Fund. The three-year Knowledge Programme aimed to break through the barriers that limit the scaling up, institutional embedding and horizontal extension of valuable knowledge and insights of both practitioners and researchers in agricultural biodiversity for resilient food systems. At the heart of the programme is a global knowledge and experience community of organizations, working with millions of farmers worldwide. It generated, shared and tested evidence and insights on how the much needed transformation towards resilience could be accelerated. You will find publications on changes in livestock management, food for thought on how change happens, casestudies highlighting agroecology successes in Africa and studies on nutritional values of rice varieties. Topics that have gained momentum in the agricultural biodiversity community and are expected to further influence debates in the public domain are ‘open source seed systems’, ‘community resilience assessment’ and public tools for policy transformation such as data carriers (wikiseedia).

A last bulk of research contains Hivos’ long standing work in the coffee sector. Coffee is regarded as a lead indicator for sustainable commodity crops; it often sets the pace and others follow. Together with partner organisations, we publish the bi-annual Coffee Barometer, which discusses recent developments in the coffee market, focusing on sustainability standards and certification. Another research, together with Utrecht University, concludes that shaded organic systems have great potential to combine the twin challenges of local socio-economic development and biodiversity conservation. Yet in another publication, Hivos and IIED conclude that, based on fieldwork in Kenya, Indonesia, Peru and Nicaragua, ‘Payments for Ecosystem Services’ (PES) can offer a viable financing strategy for smallholder agriculture, if well aligned with the smallholder enterprise and if the right price is paid for carbon.

Other Knowledge Dossiers

Citizen Action

Citizens are central actors in public and political arenas. Their ability to hold governments to account and to participate fully in democratic processes is contingent upon the opportunities to freely assemble, associate and express opinions. Around the globe citizens are claiming their rights, rising up to injustices occurring and proposing alternatives. They use “old” methods of social movements and “new” instruments such as social media. Increasingly citizens are also reaching out to a global constituency; think of Occupy, the protests against Monsanto and TTIP.

Gender and Sexual Rights

In the field of Gender and Sexual Rights, Hivos has a long and remarkable history.  We were one of the first organisations that campaigned for sexual rights, including lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBTs), but also men who have sex with men (MSM) without considering themselves to be homosexual. In the field of women’s rights, we have been supporting women all over the world to organise themselves and become a countervailing power in their societies. In both domains, we seek new ways to bring about change in people’s mindsets.

Green and Inclusive Energy

Climate change and sustainable energy production are high on the political agenda. However, public debate generally focuses on how the use of fossil fuels can be reduced. Much less attention is given to the lack of energy access for people living in developing countries. Remarkably, the solution to both issues is the same: renewable energy. In its projects, Hivos aims to demonstrate that green and inclusive energy is not a pipe dream or an alternative, but simply the best choice. Our research informs our stance in the debate and reflects on our projects in the field.

Methods of Change

Understanding how change happens is crucial to increase the effectiveness of development interventions. Our thematic Knowledge Dossiers show how Hivos thinks change can happen in specific areas. This dossier showcases the methodologies that can help us become more effective change agents.


Pluralism and diversity are essential ingredients of a dynamic society. Yet, ingrained values, acquired privileges and established power structures often limit the acceptance people have for different values, identities and religions. In too many places around the world, people are faced with intolerance. Where belief or value systems become absolute - leaving no room for alternative interpretations - and are imposed on others, we speak of 'fundamentalism'. Fundamentalism threatens the peaceful co-existence of people belonging to different ethnic, social, religious or cultural groups.

Transitions in the Middle East and North Africa

Since the outbreak of the revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in 2011, the region is undergoing tectonic shifts. The pace, quality and quantity of political and social changes are unprecedented. In short, the MENA region is the scene of historic revolutions and counter-revolutions. In such a rapidly changing context, conventional wisdom about static societies and states in the MENA do not make sense and are out of context. There is no shortage of knowledge produced in the West about MENA.