February 10, 2012

Meeting the Challenges of Value Chain Development

An AMAP Capstone Learning Event

When asked about the legacy of the Accelerated Microenterprise Advancement Project, Alan Gibson, co-founder of the UK’s Springfield Centre, said, “Well, I’m here.”

He wasn’t being self-reverential. He was merely saying that because of AMAP, USAID leads the donor community in value chain development, and that this pre-eminence compelled his attendance at the Feb. 7-8 event at Washington’s Newseum to showcase project learning.

This is quite a statement from a key instigator of the Making Markets Work for the Poor (M4P) approach and a seminal thinker in his own right about systemic change. Gibson shared the final plenary panel with ACDI/VOCA’s Olaf Kula, who helped design the project, and USAID’s Jeanne Downing, who was its USAID overseer.

AMAP Was Comprehensive and Therefore a Milestone

AMAP has been one of the most important projects ACDI/VOCA has ever implemented. Now over nine years old (a longer-than-usual project span that Downing thinks is just about right) it thrust the company, USAID and partners into the heady role of pioneers. What resulted was a new, more complete way of facilitating economic development.

AMAP’s signature value chain approach is a comprehensive methodology that identifies growth opportunities, alleviates constraints and benefits participants all the way up and down a value chain, for example, from input supplier to poor farmer to crop aggregator to processor to end consumer.

By enhancing performance and thereby the competitiveness of micro and small enterprises along a value chain, as well as those providing services to the chain, projects adopting AMAP’s approach increase incomes in poor communities and promote inclusive economic growth. Value chain development projects are able to do this, and do it sustainably, by linking large numbers of enterprises to productive markets. To address growth constraints along the value chain, such projects cover solutions ranging from market access to product development, technology support and policy environment reform.

A Well-traveled Program

ACDI/VOCA’s AMAP consortium researches key issues in market development, disseminates best practices and provides training, technical assistance and evaluation services to USAID missions and others in the field. The AMAP-produced wiki is chockfull of tools, case studies and other resources to help donors and practitioners and generate more learning.

Newseum Learning Event Only the Latest But Perhaps the Best

Over the last nine years, USAID and its partners have generated a wealth of learning about the value chain approach and cross-cutting issues that affect it. Regular forums and training programs have helped spread the practice of value chain analysis and intervention.

The two-day Meeting the Challenges of Value Chain Development event was the ultimate opportunity to learn AMAP’s lessons and share ideas for further progress. Over 250 development experts from here and abroad, representing a wide array of donor, practitioner and research communities, learned about innovations and challenges in market system development, accessed the latest tools and resources, shared best practices in management and implementation, and connected with other professionals.

Keynote on Value Chains Feeding the Future

Tjada D’Oyen McKenna, Deputy Coordinator for Development for Feed the Future, delivered the keynote address on the importance of agricultural value chain development to lifting people out of poverty and bringing an end to food insecurity. She spoke to the growing appreciation among donors and practitioners of the need to take a systems approach to agricultural development, one that recognizes the importance of enablers of change, including improved access to markets, inputs, and finance, and incentives for change created by an enabling environment, sociocultural norms and a reasonable return on investment.

Diverse Workshops

At concurrent workshops, presenters and participants from a wide array of development backgrounds and settings discussed

  • Understanding Gender and Culture in Market Systems
  • Engaging the Private Sector
  • Creating an Enabling Environment
  • Integrating Food Security and Nutrition
  • Financing Value Chains
  • Reaching the Very Poor
  • Facilitating Sustainable Change
  • Learning and Evaluating Within Dynamic Systems

Look for reports on all the above and other materials from the conference soon at microLINKS's webpage for the learning event.

Takeaways and Challenges of Value Chain Orientation

The final session, chaired by Shari Berenbach, director of USAID’s Microenterprise Development office, covered takeaways and remaining challenges. Among the former, according to Kula, the promise inherent in the new tools for dealing with complex systems, tools that are being adopted in the important Feed the Future program. Gibson held that a systems approach frees development to tackle big-scale change. Downing was encouraged that systems approaches would lead to integration of the soft side, i.e., culture, social norms, what gives people hope, into facilitation and behavior change techniques toward sustainable business growth.

Under the category of challenges, she wondered how to best incorporate facilitation thinking into the design of USAID programs, whether through USAID's Automated Directives System, project indicators or otherwise. Gibson cautioned against “small scatterings of limited change.” He also thinks the developoment community needs to think more self-critically. Kula said it’s important that the role of the poor as consumers is considered. He also suggested that USAID force collaboration among practitioners as a deliverable.

The session ended with a ceremony marking the end of the long, productive AMAP endeavor. USAID’s Downing presented a large bouquet of flowers and warm sentiments to ACDI/VOCA’s Ruth Campbell, manager of the program, in appreciation for her role in making AMAP a success.

For More Information

Click for more information on the conference site.

Click to read more on ACDI/VOCA’s value chain approach.

Click to see photos from the event on Flickr.

Pictured at top left: USAID’s Jeanne Downing and ACDI/VOCA’s Ruth Campbell at the Accelerated Microenterprise Advancement Project learning event held in Washington, D.C.