Inclusive Agribusiness learning exchange
On November 14, 2019, the Science for Global Development Programme (WOTRO), of NWO (the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research) and Food & Business Knowledge Platform (F&BKP) organized a conference in The Hague. The conference gathered representatives of 14 finalized Global Challenges Programme projects. The objective was to communicate and discuss synthesized project research results, insights and lessons learned, aiming to inspire practices and policies in the field of Inclusive Agribusiness (IAB) and to scale promising solutions. Learnings were shared and discussed in round table sessions with private partners of the F&BKP network and policymakers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MinFA), Ministry of Agriculture, Nature & Food Quality (MinAgri), Ministry of Economic Affairs & Climate Policy (MinEA), and the MinFA Policy and Operations Evaluations Department (IOB). The outcomes of this learning event are shared in this news item.
The MinFA funded the Food & Business Global Challenges Programme (GCP) which addresses international, regional and global challenges on Food and Nutrition Security (FNS). Research is carried out in consortia consisting of Southern and Northern scientific and non-scientific partners. The focus area of the first call for proposals was “Food chain efficiency and sustainable increase of quality food”, the second call focused on “Inclusive business and regional trade for food and nutrition security”. In total fourteen projects are part of the GCP first and second call.
Key synthesized research results
Researchers focusing on IAB for FNS in low and middle income countries presented key findings from their research projects. Associate Professor Nicky Pouw of the University of Amsterdam synthesized these results and presented the key findings:
- Food quantity, quality and flows produced and marketed by and sold to the Base of the Pyramid (BoP) consumers are not monitored. As a result, formal business, policy actors and institutions overlook the contribution of BoPs to local food systems, as well as their priorities and needs (including access to food, food hygiene and safety, and the nutritional value of food).
- IAB by and for BoP consumers moves in very small steps which is a result of the multiple thresholds (like limited availability of time and access to credit, labour, farm inputs, and land). BoP entrepreneurs have to overcome these thresholds to be able to professionalize and scale their agribusinesses. Moreover, BoP entrepreneurs do not develop their business in a linear way as they often have to take two steps back before they can take one step forward.
- BoP entrepreneurs operate at the interface of the formal and informal economy, they face many “hidden costs” that limit their income earning opportunities and render their “businesses” unprofitable, including economic, social and political “costs” (for example time and mobility costs, market fees to obtain favorable spots, brokering costs to access institutions, lack of negotiation power).
- Scientific innovations benefit the BoP when they are affordable, applicable and accessible (AAA). Their added value should be mutually validated by both scientific research and the user group.
- It is possible to align a viable business with social and environmental sustainability. Scaling and professionalizing sustainable projects requires government and/or business support. Support can help to identify feasible strategies for diminishing trade-offs between economic, social and environmental aspects and can help make head way with IAB.
- Social learning platforms create an enabling environment for IAB. Platforms can bring diverse interests and motivations together and create mutual understanding of the needs of BoP consumers. They can lower entry barriers into the food value chain. Platforms can flip perspectives (bottom-up approach to issues), stimulate actors to think about translating research into concrete instruments and actors, and remind actors to come up with context and actor-specific innovations.
Recommendations for the public and private sector
The synthesized research findings and key discussion points, which were mentioned during the presentations and roundtable discussions, can be translated into the following policy recommendations:
- Support two distinctive business approaches: To improve the livelihood of both BoP consumers and BoP entrepreneurs, one business model should target small-scale initiatives (to help them to overcome entry-barriers and thresholds). To develop and scale innovations, the other business model should target large-scale companies.
- Create context-specific, multi-stakeholder dialogues and partnerships that acknowledge diversity (including young people and women), different kinds of knowledge, different rationales, and different aspirations. As there is no ”golden bullet-approach” to improve BoP consumers’ livelihood, policy makers should initiate programmes based on the local needs, context and culture.
- Incorporate intermediaries, such as knowledge brokers, in programmes to effectively enable actors to reach inclusive outcomes and environmental sustainability.
- Be aware of trade-offs between tackling the issues of today and the issues we foresee to play a role in the future.
- Realize that “small money” can travel far: Seed money can be enough to trigger and scale innovative IABs.
- Focus on countering unsustainable practices and exclusionary mechanisms instead of optimizing IAB initiatives to reach sustainability and inclusion targets.
- Make sure technical and social innovation moves hand in hand: To reach the SDGs and scale innovations, the government should stimulate new ways of working, for example encouraging inter- and multidisciplinary research and implementing different business approaches simultaneously.
- Address the terms and conditions of “inclusion” from the point of view of the BoP. This requires ex-ante attention to ownership arrangements, voice, and (sharing of) risks and rewards.