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The Responsible Sourcing from Smallholders (RSS) framework enables supply chain companies to engage their smallholder suppliers on responsible production.

Responsible supply chains

RSS: Responsible Sourcing from Smallholders

A growing number of retailers, manufacturers, processors and traders in the food, feed, fuel and fibre sectors have made commitments to responsible sourcing of agricultural commodities. Many are developing purchasing policies and sourcing guidelines which seek to ensure that the agricultural products they use are responsibly produced. As a result, farmers and producers are increasingly being asked to demonstrate that they have good social and environmental practices in place.

One of the mechanisms most widely used by companies to implement their responsible sourcing policies is voluntary certification schemes. Certification works well in many circumstances as a mechanism to demonstrate that products are from a sustainable source and there are already many millions of hectares of certified production and millions of certified products available. However, for small producers who lack human and financial resources, the process of achieving sustainability certification can present major barriers. As a result, there is a growing risk that many smallholders will be excluded from sustainable international supply chains.

RSS offers supply chain companies a toolkit to engage with smallholders

Smallholders often face additional challenges in securing land tenure and access to information and financing, in raising yields and in accessing effective institutions for collaborating and operating as a group. These issues can affect producers' ability to carry out good social and environmental practices, and therefore meet responsible buying standards, but also affect livelihoods in smallholder communities.

To address these challenges, members of the SHARP partnership have developed the Responsible Sourcing from Smallholders (RSS) framework. RSS offers supply chain companies a toolkit to engage with smallholders in their supply base.

  • It sets out minimum core sustainability issues for responsible production by smallholders, consistent with those in responsible sourcing policies;
  • It requires active support from companies to smallholders to help them with further development and improvement of production practices and livelihoods;
  • It will provide transparency and increased traceability in supply chains, allowing provision of targeted support without requiring full traceability to individual smallholders.

The unique approach of the RSS is that it combines two components or ‘pillars’, both of which must be implemented.

  • Pillar 1 on core sustainability issues, provides for assessment of risks relating to these core issues in the smallholder supply base and identifying measures to mitigate them.
  • Pillar 2 on farmer support needs focuses on the active support that supply chain and producer companies commit to provide to smallholders. This support relates to implementing better agricultural practices, improving livelihoods, building robust smallholder institutions and increasing yields and food security. This can then provide the basis for long-term improvement and sustainability.

During implementation, the two pillars of the RSS framework are combined in a series of steps: preparation and scoping, assessment of risks and needs, development of an action plan to address identified risks and needs, implementation and reporting, and monitoring and review.

The RSS framework is presented in full detail in the RSS Field Guides (see left hand side of this page). A presentation on 'Putting the Theory into Practice - The Case for Investing in RSS' may be accessed here.

RSS in Action

RSS case studies from around the world.

Case Study 1 - Palm oil production company, Jambi, Indonesia

Case Study 2 - Palm oil farmer organization, Riau, Indonesia

Case Study 3 - Palm oil cooperative, Riau, Indonesia

Case Study 4 - Palm oil production company, Honduras

Case Study 5 - Natural rubber production company, Ghana

Case Study 6 - Soy round table sustainability standard, Brazil

Case Study 7 - Palm oil production company, Ghana

Case Study 8 - Natural rubber farmer group, Jambi, Indonesia

Find out more about RSS


What is RSS? A simple leaflet
available in English | Portuguese | Spanish

RSS Field Guides

download icon small The RSS field guides have been developed by the SHARP Partnership for use in the field to guide companies, farmers and supporting partners in implementing the Responsible Sourcing from Smallholders framework. The field guides are freely available to download.

Overview English | Portuguese | Spanish

Step 1: Preparation and Scoping English | Spanish

Step 2.a: Risk Assessment English | Spanish

Step 2.b: Needs Assessment English | Spanish

Step 3: Developing an Action Plan English | Spanish

Step 4: Implementation and Documentation English | Spanish

Step 5: Monitoring and Review English

RSS Interview

download icon Meet Jose María Madrid

A participant of the RSS process in Honduras

English | Spanish