Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Development Digest: Key Takeaways from “Can Public-Private Partnerships Actually Benefit the Poor?”

Authored by

Dana James
Dana James
Project Coordinator

Dana James is a Project Coordinator for the Microlinks and Agrilinks platforms, which are activities under the Feed the Future Knowledge-Driven Agricultural Development Project.

“Can Public-Private Partnerships Actually Benefit the Poor?” That was the question posed for January’s Microlinks seminar, featuring presenters Gary Gereffi, Ajmal Abdulsamad, and Shawn Stokes of Duke University’s Center on Globalization, Governance & Competitiveness.

The presenters’ project analyzed 135 different public-private partnerships (PPPs). Of those, they selected three specific case studies which illustrated the varied development outcomes that result when PPPs focus on different segments of the value chain.

Dr. Gereffi kicked off the presentation by outlining the global value chains approach and its key components: governance and upgrading. He emphasized that different types of governance structures in the global economy lead to power asymmetries between lead firms and local suppliers. These asymmetries have effects that ripple throughout the value chain, and they can be unintentionally reinforced if not carefully considered.

In order to achieve both economic and social upgrading, Dr. Gereffi noted the importance of understanding the positionality of a firm within a broader value chain. Once its positionality is established, interventions can be tailored to align that part of the value chain with pro-poor outcomes.

Dr. Abdulsamad followed with three case studies that provided examples of unique PPPs working toward pro-poor development outcomes. Using the studies (from agricultural value chains in Kenya, Rwanda, and Indonesia), he highlighted three main concerns around PPPs:

  1. The alignment of business and pro-poor development interests;
  2. The actors and institutions that determine how the system works; and, 
  3. The outcomes that can be achieved.

The presenters concluded by stating that PPPs do not automatically benefit smallholders despite their positive effect on growth at the industry level. They reinforced the need to begin by assessing power asymmetries in the value chain as well as listed other key conditions for PPPs to be successful in promoting poverty reduction. These included the need to:

  • Promote affordable product certification schemes;
  • Help small farmers develop productive capabilities to adjust to dynamic markets; 
  • Support off-farm income flows through skills training; and
  • Encourage bargaining power to protect worker rights.

For more key takeaways from this seminar, watch the recording here. Only have time for the highlights? Watch the presenters recap their main findings in the video below.