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By Sara Gustafson

 Photo credit: CGIAR 


In recent years, value chain development (VCD) in the agrifood system has been hailed as a practical way to expand market access for smallholder producers, reduce poverty, enhance environmental sustainability, and improve food security and gender equity. Despite significant investments in VCD from governments, donors, and NGOs, however, evidence regarding the effectiveness of VCD interventions in addressing these important development goals remains lacking. Many existing studies have focused on the design and outputs of VCD interventions themselves rather than on their outcomes and impacts. As a result, the true reach of these programs remains unknown, particularly for poor populations.

PIM webinar

A recent webinar from the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM) and IFPRI’s Food Security Portal examined several important findings from a new book, Value Chain Development and the Poor: Promise, delivery, and opportunities for impact at scale, that aims to fill this gap in knowledge. The book contains a collection of case studies and lessons learned from VCD interventions in Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia, with chapters written by researchers and development practitioners to provide an in-depth examination of VCD in both theory and in practice.

What we discussed

Erwin Bulte, Professor of Development Economics at Wageningen University, provided opening remarks and introduced the three editors who led the webinar presentations and discussion.


Jason Donovan, Senior Economist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), provided an overview of the rationale driving the book. He highlighted that over the past two decades, VCD has become a topic of strong interest for not only governments and NGOs but also private sector industry actors. During the same period, value chain approaches have been adopted throughout other development areas as well, including food systems, health and nutrition, economic development, and gender equity. However, fundamental questions surrounding what works and what doesn’t in terms of VCD remain unexplored.


Donovan also summarized several key topics from the book. The first, issue-attention cycles, stems from the field of political science and is used to understand how issues gain and then lose public attention. The book finds that in the arena of VCD practice, there tend to be more issue-attention cycles than in the research arena. He points out that issue-attention cycles can be positive when innovations stem from lessons learned during implementation and when there is knowledge sharing between researchers and practitioners. However, these cycles can be negative when issues remain unaddressed from cycle to cycle, when new approaches fail to address the true complexity of VCD, and when competition among researchers and practitioners impedes knowledge sharing and innovation.


“It’s okay for an issue to come and go as long as we’re sort of building over time our understanding of what works and what doesn’t work and how to do things better,” Donovan explained.


The second topic Donovan discussed was cooperatives and the expectations the development world has held for these groups over time. These include helping smallholders access higher value markets and agricultural extension services. He drew on a case study of four emerging cocoa cooperatives in Peru, which found that these groups face several daunting challenges, including difficulty establishing relationships between buyers and members, inability to provide higher prices to their members, limited capital and lack of access to financing, and difficulty completing contracts.


“This has huge implications for value chain development,” Donovan pointed out, “if the key link between buyers and smallholders is the cooperative.”


Finally, Donovan discussed VCD implementation, drawing from a case study of four interventions in Nicaragua. The case study looked at how international NGOs are leading the design and implementation of VCD programs, particularly how they use existing tools like the VC Knowledge Portal to address the complexities of VCD. The study found that NGOs take a formulaic approach to the design and implementation of VCD interventions. They tend to use a single tool, focus on technical assistance and training rather than relationship building, limited oversight of local NGOs and cooperatives, and limited engagement with other stakeholders (researchers, additional value chain actors, etc.). These findings highlight the need for a broader approach to VCD that combines multiple tools, encourages deeper collaboration across value chains, and focuses on evidence-based reflection and learning.


Jon Hellin, Head of the Sustainable Impact Platform at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), next presented on the topic of impact bonds in the context of coffee and cocoa value chains in Peru. Impact bonds use a pay-for-success contract that replaces upfront financing by donors and allows private investors and financial markets to share in the risk of a social development program. Hellin highlighted several important lessons learned from this case study. It takes a significant amount of time to prepare the design of an impact bond and to train staff in the more substantial project monitoring needed; as a result, these bonds carry high transaction costs. Despite these challenges, however, these bonds also drove a dramatic shift in the donor-implementer relationship, with more emphasis placed on safeguarding the rate of return and thus ensuring the success of the program. Ultimately, this benefits communities in which these programs are implemented.


“There are clear advantages of this model over conventional development projects and grants,” Hellin concluded, “but a lot of experimentation and fine-tuning is still to be done.”


Hellin also presented a review of seven tools for gender-equitable VCD, which has become a prominent topic in VCD over the past few years. The review that all of the guides effectively argued for the inclusion of gender equity in the design of VCD programs. However, several important gaps remain in the coverage of the methodologies used in these guides. These include examining how women and men participate in collective enterprises like cooperatives; how societal norms impact gender relations; how to use VCD to address inequities; and how to link gender-equity tools to other VCD tools and methodologies. These gaps highlight the need for both conceptual and methodological innovations to better address issues of gender in VCD design and implementation.

Hellin concluded the presentation portion of the webinar with a review of the book’s overall messages. One of the most important of these is the call for greater cooperation among VCD actors. “There is a need for deeper collaboration among practitioners and researchers in order to learn together how to address the ‘how’ and the ‘what now’ questions,” he said.


After a Q&A session, Frank Place, Director of PIM, provided closing remarks. “The topic of value chain development is very, very complex,” he reiterated. “The case studies in this book all provide insights into that. . . We need to deploy many types of tools and cast them wide enough to capture that complexity.”



by Alan de Brauw, Berber Kramer, and Mike Murphy published in Jun 11 2020

Photo by World Bank

This story is part of the EnGendering Data blog which serves as a forum for researchers, policymakers, and development practitioners to pose questions, engage in discussions, and share resources about promising practices in collecting and analyzing sex-disaggregated data on agriculture and food security.


Male emigration from rural areas could potentially become empowering for women, as it could change the distinctive roles men and women often play in agricultural production. This theme was pertinent as we developed a survey related to the Bangladesh Agricultural Value Chains (AVC) project. AVC planned to use inclusive value chains development primarily to enhance productivity and food security, but we agreed that the program could have positive gender outcomes if outmigration of male household members indeed strengthened women’s position in agriculture.

With that in mind, as part of our survey on jute value chains in the southern Delta of Bangladesh, we collected detailed gender- and task-disaggregated household and wage labor data instead of the normal, smaller set of statistics that are typically used to estimate labor costs in production; normally, agricultural production modules tend to ask about the total amount of household and hired labor, and total labor cost.

Gender disaggregated labor data

First, gender-disaggregated labor data revealed extremely strong gender segmentation in production of jute. A unique part of the survey was detailing labor inputs into specific tasks of the jute production process. For each type of field and post-harvest activity, we asked our respondents to specify:

  • how much male and female household labor they used for this activity;
  • how much male and female labor they hired;
  • what wages they paid to male and female laborers;
  • and whether they faced any difficulties in finding labor.

Figure 1 illustrates the degree to which there is gender segmentation of tasks in jute production. While male household members are involved in virtually every stage of production, female household labor is predominantly used for post-harvest activities. We observe even more pronounced gender differences in hired labor: male labor is hired for multiple stages of jute production, whereas female labor is effectively hired only for weeding and stripping the fiber from the stalks. In focus groups, women reported it was considered unsafe and inappropriate for them to work in the fields; hence their focus on post-harvest activities within the compound.

Interestingly, we observed an increase in the share of labor provided by women in households where other women had moved out, but not in households where men had moved out - and where in theory there would be more labor demand.

Figure 1. Share of Labor by Task in Jute Production, by Gender and Type, Bangladesh AVC Surveys


Second, we find a strong and persistent gender gap in wages paid to casual laborers (Figure 2). Male wages (green bars) are substantially higher than female wages (purple), regardless of production stage. Even for tasks often done by women, such as weeding and stripping, men are paid significantly more. And despite our hypothesis that over time, norms would become more accepting of women’s involvement in cash crop production, the gender wage gap worsened from 2017 to 2018. Neither outmigration of household members nor changes in perceived difficulties in finding labor are associated with changes in the gender wage gap.


Figure 2. Average Hourly Wages, by Gender and Task, Bangladesh AVC Survey


Finally, female outmigration, not male outmigration, is associated with an improvement in women’s empowerment in agriculture. We fielded the project-level Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (pro-WEAI) for a subsample of households. The questionnaire was completed by both a male and a female respondent. We use this data to link changes in household labor availability (members moving in or out) and in the availability of hired labor (i.e., whether a household reports difficulty finding labor) to changes in women’s empowerment. Women were generally less empowered than men, but this gap became smaller when another female member left the household. In these households, we also observed a modest but significant increase in the share of labor provided by women in jute production. Empowerment did not improve when a male member moved out, or when the household reported difficulties finding (mostly male) hired labor, perhaps because gender roles prevented women from taking over formerly male tasks.

Reflecting on these findings, what do we learn? Disaggregated data allowed us to:

  1. Examine gender roles in agricultural production, which in our case revealed limited opportunities to empower women through field-based tasks;
  2. Highlight gender gaps in the rewards from participating in the production process, with women earning substantially lower wages than men, even if doing the same tasks; and
  3. Nuance the hypothesis that outmigration enhances women’s position in agriculture; we found this hypothesis only to be true when female, not male, household members left.

What would we do differently if we could, or what else would we do? First, it would be interesting to deepen our understanding of the labor search process, and the role that gender plays here. For example, we could have asked whether households had difficulty finding male or female labor to hire and collected more detail on the demand for male versus female labor. Further, it would be also valuable to collect sex-disaggregated data on day laborers to better understand the stark differences in hiring and wages.

We would also like to see more research on how male versus female outmigration affects rural labor markets, and how this interacts with existing gender norms. As our research shows, while gender roles in agriculture may evolve with increased migration, it doesn’t happen rapidly. In traditional societies like Bangladesh, gender segregation continues to be the norm and gaps in labor use, wages, and empowerment persist. Better understanding these dynamics and nuances through analyzing sex-disaggregated data is key for inclusive value chains development. Related links:

Related links

About Authors

Alan de Brauw is a Senior Research Fellow, Berber Kramer is a Research Fellow, and Mike Murphy is a Senior Research Analyst in the Markets, Trade, and Institutions Division of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

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