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Market linkages: Empowering smallholders and strengthening supply chains

The importance of market linkages

As developing nations become increasingly urbanised and integrated with global economies, it is crucial for smallholders to build alliances amongst themselves and with larger enterprises to survive. Smallholders face many developmental challenges and threats to their livelihoods, such as financial pressures, price fluctuations and climate change. Without access to lucrative market opportunities, many smallholders cannot transition from subsistence farming to commercial farming. Finding ways to link smallholders to larger markets is key to increasing production, securing their livelihoods, and reducing rural poverty and hunger.

For primary producers in developing countries, both vertical and horizontal linkages must be considered. Vertical links between smallholders and larger companies can provide access to capital, technology, new skills, and specialised knowledge. These links are also key to improving the fragmented and disorganised post-harvest systems in these regions. Directly linking farmers with larger companies cuts out unnecessary middleman costs and reduces trading costs.

Furthermore, coordination between farmers and retailers can provide farmers with real-time market information regarding consumer preferences, which improves supply-demand forecasting and quality standards. According to USAID, inefficient marketing and logistics systems reduce incentives for commercialisation, as the price that smallholders receive from commodity sales often equals, or is less than, their costs of production. Improving market linkages, and by extension information access, will go a long way to tackling this issue.

Strengthening horizontal links between smallholders can also prove beneficial. Larger enterprises rarely deal directly with individual farmers due to low production volumes and the logistical complexities involved in coordinating with numerous small suppliers. By banding many smallholders together into associations or cooperatives, smallholders can grow and compete with large firms, benefit from collective efficiency, and break into larger markets.

Broader impact of market linkages

Strengthening market linkages is vital for reducing post-harvest losses, creating a more equitable distribution of power within the supply chain, encouraging investment, and generally advancing agricultural practices. It is also beneficial to all stakeholders across the food supply chain. Improving smallholder’s access to larger markets can bring new sources of supply and more diverse products. Consumers can enjoy more choices and access to fresh locally-sourced items, leading to healthier and more varied diets.

Meanwhile, retailers can enhance their supply chain resilience by diversifying their sources and avoiding dependency on any one supplier. Finally, larger companies who source their products from smallholders can enhance reputation, build corporate sustainability, and contribute to their sustainable development goals, and with consumers becoming increasingly motivated by sustainability and ESG concerns, sourcing from smallholders can also foster greater customer loyalty, open new market opportunities, and strengthen brand value by aligning with the ethical and environmental values of the consumer base.

Encouraging linkages

Establishing market linkages can be a complex process. Smallholders often wholly depend on their farms for their livelihood making them averse to change and the causes for smallholder isolation can vary from lack of access to finance and market information to inadequate infrastructure and  logistical challenges.

The vulnerability and subsistent nature of many smallholders often means that they cannot form robust market linkages themselves. Consequently, links between farmers and markets are primarily developed by governments and NGO’s. Governments must develop policies and institutional supports that improve market access, increase production capabilities, enhance their competitiveness in broader markets and ultimately enable smallholder farmers to succeed.

Group lending systems and producers associations can go a long way to empowering smallholders. Governments can also support market linkages by investing in rural infrastructure, securing land tenure and property rights, and enacting regulations regarding pesticide use, food standards, and seed quality. The private sector can also contribute to market linkages, though there must be a healthy and enabling environment to encourage this. Strategies to incentivise private sector investment include funding or tax credits for companies who provide benefits to domestic smallholders, creating public-private partnerships, and facilitating access to markets and supply chains for smallholder associations or cooperatives.

How we support linkages

Smallholders are the lifeblood of the food and agricultural industry, but without significant investment, coordination, and regulation they risk becoming isolated from larger and more lucrative markets. Successfully linking smallholders to markets requires a long-term and multi-faceted approach, ensuring that these vital contributors are not left behind in the rapidly evolving global economy.

At Farrelly Mitchell, our food and agribusiness consultants offer key insights into market linkages, institutional development, sustainability and ESG and more. Our experts are committed to empowering smallholders in developing countries. We help governments, multilaterals and NGO’s implement policy and regulation that supports smallholder integration, enhances supply chains and improves food security. Our team can also facilitate industry-wide integration by providing commercial, technological and sector-specific insights and analysis, that enable sustainable growth and development.

To learn more about our services and gain access to global and inclusive markets contact us today.


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