Strengthening agribusiness Ethics, Quality Standards & ICT usage in Uganda’s value chains? (AGRI-QUEST)
Duration: January 2016 – January 2019. This project has been finalized.
Aim: Despite the benefits enshrined in embracing (i) ethical and (ii) quality issues with respect to accelerating transformation, competitiveness and sustainability of a vibrant food security program (Netherlands Embassy in Uganda MASP 2014- 2017, pg. 8) and a vibrant food game (Lucas Simons, 2014), there is a considerable lack of attention to these two issues in agribusiness value chains in Uganda. This henceforth raises a question: How can we have a better business climate that fosters a permanent or positive gradual change in practice & attitude towards agribusiness ethical behaviour and quality standards in food security initiatives?
Objective: The main objectives of the project are:
- Establish alternative ways of encouraging beneficiaries of agricultural development supported initiatives to engage in dialogue about introducing ethical agricultural standards.
- Develop and disseminate resources necessary to make informed ethical and quality standard-based decisions in support of a more just and equitable food and agriculture VC system.
- Ascertain how decision-making procedures in international food and agriculture policy and practices can be implemented by agricultural players at the bottom of the pyramid.
- Assist agricultural VC micro-players to adhere to basic Codes of Conduct.
- Review existing agribusiness quality standards, ethical dilemmas, & mobile ICT applications (mobile apps) to determine their appropriateness in sustaining a competitive agribusiness climate.
- Develop a website and mobile app which can be used as (1) reference point for agricultural standards and ethical practices; and (2) a “farmer-to-buyer” brokerage and market information access point.
Method: The complex nature of this project AGRI-QUEST can best be addressed with an approach of multi-stakeholder engagement of various agri-business players. So this research project will utilize engagement processes that include capacity building of farmers/value chain players, wide consultations and stakeholder engagement so as to ensure buy-in, uptake of research outcomes plus knowledge exchange. The project employs a “co-creation method” focusing on qualitative research methodologies.
Dutch policy goal: A better business climate.
Year 1: Agriculture remains a key sector in Uganda’s social economic development yet its competitiveness and sustainability has for long been hampered by unethical behavior and failure to meet quality standards. There is a considerable lack of attention to these two issues in agribusiness value chains in Uganda. AGRI-QUEST was designed to address the question of “how can we have a better business climate that fosters a permanent and positive gradual change in practices & attitudes in agribusiness towards ethical behavior and quality standards in food security and agri-business initiatives?
Year 2: AgriQuest research focuses on unearthing (un)ethical conduc in 5 selected value chains. It has established that actors in the value chains may be aware of the ethical stndards in some cases and in others are completely confused about the concept, unable to tell it apart from the concept of quality. Agriquest aims to change attitudes of value chain actors through consultations, dialogue and awareness building using various media and channels.
As actors sometimes confuse ethics with quality, and since one can chooses to serve a market segment that tolerates lower quality, the mentality is extend to the ethical side to the point that you can chose your ethical level of conduct depending on the market you serve. In a way this is borne out by the response of the market that continues to buy produce that clearly bears marks of poor post-harvest handling. This tends to leave out the actors from the lucrative value chains whch tend to prefer quality products.
Innovations being developed:
1. Many development initiatives take the value chain development (VCD) approach to addressing some of the income and food security issues faced by BOP actors. Naziri et al (2107) found that use of VCD guides was associated with broader partnerships and early engagement of support organizations such as NGOs, financing services, NARIs, multi stakeholder platforms (MSPs) and CGIARs. In this regard we advocate for, as an innovation, the incorporation of ethical conduct as a theme in VCD guides the same way markets, gender and technology uptake feature in those guides.
2. AGRI-QUEST’s ultimate goal of pursuing sustainability through enterprise level ethical conduct is to have viable businesses. Donovan et al (2017) report that the debate on Microfinance design and implementation in the last 15 years has tended to ignore the importance of building viable businesses as it is preoccupied with the focus on managing, saving, borrowing and moving money. We want to inject ethical conduct into the range of BDS available to the smallholder such as microfinance, micro-insurance, technical advisory services, product development and legal services. Donovan et al (2017) go on to expose a growing trend among researchers to revisit BDS and micro insurance themes, which we note is coming at a time when bold new concepts such as responsible finance and carbon offsetting are being tried in international value chains. AGRI-QUEST would like to advocate as an innovation, the building of a recursive business landscape on the theme of ethical conduct among agricultural value chain actors, by using the findings of this research to explore the opportunities.
Summary of the results: Ethical conduct is now popularized in Uganda as a device for creating and trading value for agribusinesses. AGRI-QUEST found that actors along the dairy, cassava, sunflower oil seeds, rice and potato value chains often engage in unethical practices fully aware of the implications, confusing ethics with the concept of quality, thereby choosing unethical conduct as a valid market penetration strategy and missing lucrative segments that prefer quality goods and ethical suppliers. Unethical conduct is driven by institutional voids in the agribusiness environment, inadequate competency of actors, poor infrastructure and technology as well as inadequate motivation for actors to behave ethically.
AGRI-QUEST’s innovation is incorporation of ethical conduct as a theme in value chain development guides, at par with markets and finance or; as a capacitation module in business development services similar to micro-insurance and standardization and; developing a business landscape recursive on the theme of ethical conduct among actors, as a lure for commercial opportunities.
Ethical conduct innovations should be delivered through agribusiness actors themselves, in small but adequately resourced programs to improve saturation, rather than large schemes that tend to be ineffective. Metrics to measure their impacts are needed while possible negative consequences must be identified and mitigated.