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by Sara Gustafson and Karl Rich

Photo by Lincoln University/Jared Berends


From a broad range of actors to shifting consumer preferences to new technologies and government regulations driving changes to production processes - value chains are awash in complexities. These complexities present a significant challenge to researchers attempting to understand and improve value chain structure and functioning.

Over the past decade, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) has been working to overcome these challenges through the use of system dynamics modeling techniques to study livestock and other food value chains. System dynamics (SD) models present a more robust understanding of the many interconnections that exist within complex systems like value chains, as well as insights on how systems change and adapt over time. By using system dynamics models, ILRI researchers have been better able to predict and evaluate the short- and long-term impacts, both intended and unintended, of a variety of livestock interventions. This improved understanding can help researchers, policymakers, and value chain stakeholders themselves make more informed decisions regarding which interventions will be most effective.

ILRI’s SD models

ILRI’s SD models have more recently begun to incorporate group model building, a participatory process involving small focus groups of value chain actors. This technique increases collaboration and knowledge sharing among actors from various nodes of the value chain, enhancing understanding of past, current, and potential future problems and challenges.

A further innovation applied by ILRI incorporates the use of spatial group model building, which uses geographic information system principles to identify where certain value chain processes or changes occur on a physical map. This innovation helps both researchers and stakeholders gain a more detailed, well-rounded understanding of how a certain value chain functions to assist in the co-creation of common solutions to value chain problems.

Projects in India, Bangladesh and Myanmar

SD models are currently being used in ILRI projects in India and Bangladesh and Myanmar.

The first, the Market Intervention for Nutritional Improvement (MINI) project, aims to increase the availability of nutritious fruits and vegetables in markets in Bihar, India and Jessore, Bangladesh. The project draws on the LOOP fruit and vegetable aggregation system, established by Digital Green, which collects and markets produce from a variety of village farms. This aggregation technique aims to reduce market transport costs and let farmers reinvest the time and money they would normally spend transporting their goods to market into income-generating and recreational activities. The MINI project’s SD model, which used spatial group model building techniques, has helped researchers evaluate the LOOP program’s costs and benefits. ILRI hopes to translate the lessons learned from the MINI project’s work in India and Bangladesh to explore its applicability to poultry value chains in India and Ghana.

A second project, the Tanintharyi Regional Rural Income Livelihoods and Diversification (TRRILD) project, works with pig and rice paddy value chains in Myeik and Palaw, Myanmar. The goal of this project is to identify and implement programs that can increase and diversify the incomes of poor households. Participatory systems modeling has played an important role in identifying best-bet intervention options, which are then being piloted by development partners. These interventions have been facilitated through a combination of producer group formation and innovative micro-finance products. Through spatial group model building, improved team building and buy-in on proposed upgrading options amongst value chain actors has been achieved.

Training workshop

In May 2019, a five-day, hands-on training workshop on SD modeling was held at ICRISAT in Patancheru, India. A total of 22 researchers and students participated in the “Integrative value chain analytics supporting food systems transformation” workshop, which was led by Dr. Karl Rich of ILRI and Dr. Kanar Dizyee of CSIRO. The SD modeling work was also highlighted in ILRI’s 2019 Annual Report.

About Authors

Sara Gustafson is a freelance writer and Karl Rich is a principal scientist in Policies, institutions and livelihoods at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).