Community action, levers of change: Reorienting more inclusive & resilient local food systems

Abstract: Food and market systems consistently evolve requiring astute management by suppliers to remain competitive. To meet this challenge, World Vision invests in smallholder farmer entrepreneurship. Through training, mentoring and technical support to networks of market actors, World Vision catalyzes food and market systems change through intergroup collaboration and market-driven intragroup competition, leading to a more robust marketplace. Our intensive focus on community-based partnerships and systems has led to a new cadre of better equipped farmers who know how to better prepare for and manage market shifts, along with the technological, environmental, and political changes that influence food and market systems.

By Michael Brown, Senior Technical Advisor for Food and Market Systems & Serena Stepanovic, Senior Director, Food Security & Livelihoods sector, World Vision United States 

Food and market systems are competitive, dynamic, and influenced by power differentials that tend to favor large agribusinesses over smaller competitors. Within many low- and middle-income countries, local food supply chains offer relatively thin markets that can present significant barriers for smallholder producers to overcome. Yet the factors that shape local food environments (including climate and natural resources, infrastructure and technology, food price, social norms governing food preferences and demographic trends) often conspire to make food variety less affordable, accessible or desirable to poor and other vulnerable consumers. As a result, smallholder farmers are often sub-optimally engaged in food and market systems as sustainable producers. As consumer households, they also more frequently experience diminished purchasing power and choice for nutritious and diverse food. 

Despite these challenges, World Vision has witnessed success stories among poor producers in countries across the globe. Community-led efforts have been key to sustaining the outcomes of increased agricultural income and improved nutrition for households across the spectrum of development contexts. World Vision has partnered with community leaders (including faith leaders), entrepreneurs, and local government to address some of the most immediate drivers of food and market systems resilience, including climate change, access to financing and women’s economic empowerment and youth engagement. These efforts harness the power of cooperative action to shift social norms and to rebalance power within food supply chains. 

World Vision’s Approach to community-led, inclusive, and resilient food & market systems

World Vision recognizes that no lasting positive change occurs without the active participation of those for whom change is sought. Community-led efforts are critical to our inclusive food and market systems approach. World Vision has prioritized four key levers of systems change within local food and market systems to reduce poverty, increase food security and improve nutrition amongst the systems’ most vulnerable actors.

Through these levers our inclusive food and market systems development approach:

  1. Improves smallholder households’ ability to save – money and resources – to buffer against market shifts and downtimes
  2. Minimizes market misperceptions and strategy miscalculations reducing time and financial losses
  3. Strengthens management capabilities and selection of appropriate technologies
  4. Improves access to capital that in turn increase opportunities to scale.

Priority levers for local food & market systems change:

  • Mindset & norms
  • System capacity for self-organizing
  • Balancing & reinforcing loops
  • Buffers & other stabilizing stocks

Lever: Mindsets and Norms

Through our THRIVE/Honduras project World Vision partners with 16,000 rural families to significantly increase income from farming. Our approach includes a progressive series of targeted services that focus on key mindsets and behaviors ranging from savings practices to community-led capacity building for regenerative agriculture. Over a five year period, World Vision has supported Honduran farmers to increase climate-smart production of nutrient–rich foods with higher margin sales resulting in increased market access and smallholder farmer incomes. This trend has persisted despite the ravaging economic effects of COVID-19.  Chart, timeline

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Lever: Systems Capacity for Self-OrganizingIn the more fragile context of Somalia, World Vision and its partners foster resilience through productive and adaptive capacities at the individual, household and community levels. The Somalia Resilience program’s current five-year strategy focuses on a series of push and pull factors for promoting inclusive market systems development that will reduce hunger, improve food security and coping capacity and increase household income. Push strategies prioritize youth and women’s engagement and agency, farmer technical capacity building and access to capital and business services. Pull strategies put in place policy enablers and create mechanisms for risk sharing through cooperative action, thereby fostering more dynamic and diverse market systems that are also more accessible by a wider range of producers/suppliers.

Call to Action: Food Systems Innovation

At an industry level, international development has invested consistently in shaping nearly all drivers of food and market systems change, each of which is needed to unlock the potential that exists within LMIC communities. As we look to future priorities, we recognize that more is needed to promote food and market systems innovation, including technology and infrastructure. The rapid food technology transformation occurring across global food systems requires small producers to have improved access to innovation pipelines. 

To reduce the gap between smallholder farmer capabilities and the requirements necessary to access high-value markets, donors need to further invest in inclusive food and market systems interventions that facilitate the movement of innovation to reach historically marginalized communities. High impact solutions include innovations that seek to reduce food loss at various points within the food supply chain. 

Likewise, as implementing partners continue to reframe and design services using inclusive food and market systems models, we will see better return on donor-funded investments through broader adoption of climate-smart farm production, increased margins from market sales, and improving the nutritional value and safety of food.

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