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Key findings and lessons from Dutch publicly funded horticulture initiatives in LMICs

Valuable Vegetables Synthesis Paper
Key findings and lessons from Dutch publicly funded horticulture initiatives in low- and middle-income countries – Valuable Vegetables Synthesis Paper
June 30, 2020 By: F&BKP Office Image: WUR
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A stronger horticulture sector in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) is expected to contribute to (inclusive) business development, profit and income generation, employment creation, enhanced Food and Nutrition Security and economic growth. As such it has the potential to contribute to many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This has motivated the Netherlands to substantially invest in horticulture initiatives in these countries over the last years: a quick inventory showed that since 2009, at least 160 projects in 47 different countries were supported with a total value of €210 million of public investments. This synthesis paper was written to develop an overview of the most important insights and lessons from these initiatives, with the aim of contributing to improved policy and practice of future horticulture development initiatives. The synthesis paper will be used to inform and inspire further multi-stakeholder exchanges in the context of the Valuable Vegetables initiative.

The Food & Business Knowledge Platform (F&BKP), under its Valuable Vegetables initiative, commissioned Wageningen University & Research (WUR) to conduct an initial synthesis study to collect the key findings from Dutch publicly funded horticulture initiatives in LMICs. This Synthesis Paper collected these findings with the aim of summarizing general lessons learned and contributing to improved policy and practice of future horticulture development initiatives. The overall objective of the Valuable Vegetables initiative is to learn from ongoing and completed programmes in the horticulture sector and to communicate the lessons learned with the wider Food and Nutrition Security network.

The first part of the report provides an inventory of 160 Dutch publicly funded horticulture sector initiatives since 2009 in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East with a budget exceeding €10,000. Dutch public institutes contributed €211 million to these projects through a variety of funding mechanisms. These projects fall into four categories: 1) studies, fairs, events and trade missions; 2) value chain and sector development; 3) education, capacity strengthening, training and demonstration; and 4) private sector investment. These 160 projects provide an extensive picture of Dutch investment in the horticulture sector.

The second part of the report consists of a quick analysis of eight selected projects to extract key findings and formulate general lessons learned. The sector transformation model developed by Aidenvironment and its slightly adapted components were used as a basis for the quick analysis of the eight selected horticulture projects, which offered a structured holistic methodology for the analysis. Yet, it is important to note that this study is not an impact study or evaluation of Dutch publicly funded horticulture projects and programmes. It is qualitative in nature, providing general lessons from horticulture initiatives to initiate further discussions and learnings and does not provide detailed quantification or evaluation of outcomes and impacts.

Lessons about linkages, partnerships, and capacity strengthening

The eight projects analysed have all contributed to development of the horticulture sector in LMICs, each at different scales and with different impact. The analysis generated interesting lessons for future interventions and investments and raised a number of remaining questions and challenges. Firstly, the creation of linkages, partnerships – particularly visible between farmers and service or input providers – and information flow between various actors within the value chain or in the horticulture sector has fostered adoption of technologies and created better trust among actors.

Secondly, evidence-based and practice-oriented capacity strengthening, peer-to-peer learning and face-to-face interactions appeared to be key for the adoption of new technologies and good agricultural practices. However, with regard to training approaches, it is still not clear to what extent relatively short training interventions can bring behavioural change, and how continuous learning can be incentivized.

Opportunities to enhance inclusiveness and reach scale

Using the selected sector transformation components was an effective approach to gather lessons on several key aspects of the projects, though not all aspects. At times, there was a lack of clear data and indicators on, for example, quantifying the impact with respect to the profitability component. Regarding the resilience, sustainability (beyond the environmental dimension) and inclusiveness components, we noted that while projects were working on these elements, few projects seem to have worked holistically or to have been designed to address these issues. For example, many of the end beneficiaries of these projects were smallholder farmers, including women. However, in most cases no clear inclusiveness objectives or strategies had been defined, apart from reaching or participation of a targeted number.

Another observation was that projects often do not have their exit strategies clearly defined; in particular, the involvement, roles and responsibilities of public and private sector actors in continuing to develop the sector after the project finishes is not clear. Despite the suggestion of positive developments in the horticulture sector, some projects still have a limited reach that is considered insufficient to take sector transformation to scale. There is no doubt that other sector actors, both public and private, will have to intensify their efforts and commitment to continue improving the horticulture sector after these projects end. For example, while public bodies and authorities are considered important actors for helping projects develop at local levels, they have often proved to cause delay at higher levels due to the bureaucratic nature of these institutions.

In general, and in line with ongoing discussions about development cooperation and horticulture sector development, implementing organizations and public and private actors are looking for ways to achieve more systemic impact at sector and/or food system level. Future projects and programmes are being challenged to address these systemic impact issues in their designs and approaches.

Valuable Vegetables: multistakeholder learning to boost impact

The Valuable Vegetable initiative, led by the F&BKP, will organize a series of learning events, using the lessons from this paper as the agenda. Based on the findings and outcomes described here, the authors suggest the following themes for the future Valuable Vegetables exchange and learning activities:

  • Resilience: How can strategies be improved to enhance the contribution of projects to resilience in the horticulture sector?
  • Inclusiveness: How can strategies be improved to enhance the contribution of projects to inclusiveness in the horticulture sector?
  • Sustainability: How can strategies be improved to enhance the contribution of projects to environmental, social, economic sustainability in the horticulture sector?
  • Review of current horticultural extension and capacity strengthening models: How can the impact of agricultural extension and capacity strengthening methods and approaches be sustainably improved in the horticulture sector?
  • Systems change: What systemic approaches can be taken towards horticulture sector development / sector transformation? How can systemic bottlenecks be addressed?
  • Matching grants funding instruments: Do matching grants have the desired effect and impact on the ultimate target groups? Are matching grants the most efficient instruments to get the desired impact according to the value for money principles of economy, efficiency and effectiveness?
  • Effective exit strategies: How can a short-term project incorporate an effective exit strategy? How can multiple actors – both public and private – engage in this at an early stage of project development?

Valuable Vegetables: webinar series (save-the-date)

During August-October 2020, several international webinars will be organised on particular aspects mentioned above:

  • Thursday 17 September, 11 am CET/Netherlands
  • Thursday 8 October, 11 am CET/Netherlands

Other dates for online learning and action events will be announced later.

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Looking ahead

As of 2021, AgriProFocus and F&BKP merge into the Netherlands Food Partnership (NFP), which will continue the support for the horticulture sector and for other sectors where Dutch knowledge and expertise can have a meaningful contribution to SDG2. NFP specifically aims to support coalitions that have transformative propositions at the system level and represent a strong collective with a clear direction. The NFP is ready to support stakeholders to connect to people and knowledge around innovations with the potential to scale. This will allow coalitions to get started and accelerate their contribution to SDG2. Ideas for coalitions or transformative ideas on areas highlighted by the Synthesis study, can be sent to

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