Market linkages: Empowering smallholders and strengthening supply chains
Smallholder farmers play a foundational role in global food supply chains. These small, often family-led entities serve as cornerstones for rural communities and contribute heavily to the economies of developing countries. According to USAID, there are approximately 1.5 billion smallholder farmers around the world, with the vast majority honing their trade in impoverished regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and South Asia. These smallholder farmers produce roughly a third of the world’s food, and are key to combating poverty and malnutrition in underdeveloped rural areas.
Despite their importance, smallholders are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain profitability. A key factor contributing to this problem is the lack of adequate market linkages. Many smallholder farms are underdeveloped and isolated from regional, national, and global markets. Their remoteness, limited production capacity, and lack of relevant market information means that they trade locally and are excluded from broader economic opportunities and larger markets. Improving market linkages helps to support investment, develop better farming practices, shift the power balance in the supply chain, and stem post-harvest losses due to better market co-ordination and logistics. This article discusses the importance of market linkages for smallholders, the impact that improved connectivity can have on supply chains, and strategies to improve market linkages.
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.
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.
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.
As Farrelly and Mitchell's co-founder and Managing Director, Malachy provides unmatched expertise. Working alongside CEO's, executives, and leaders from public and private sectors, Malachy empowers agribusinesses to fully achieve their potential.
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