The Market Corner: Agricultural Market Systems Development—Crop Agnostic or Value Chain Specific?

November 16, 2023


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This blogpost is one in a series of blogs sharing insights gained from the Market Systems Symposium 2023. The MSS blogpost provides a brief snapshot of key insights shared across a number of different sessions in MSS 2023 held in Cape Town between 13-15 November 2023.

In agricultural market systems development (MSD), a crucial debate has emerged—whether to adopt a crop-agnostic or a value chain-specific approach. Day 2 of the 2023 Market Systems Symposium explored this debate with insights from experienced professionals, shedding light on the complexities and considerations within this strategic decision-making process.

Crop Agnostic: The Case for Diversity and Resilience

Drawing from the challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, advocates for a crop-agnostic perspective highlight the vulnerability of value chains tied to specific crops when faced with external shocks. The argument revolves around the idea that farmers need diverse sources of income for increased resilience.

The call for a crop-agnostic approach resonates with the pursuit of sustainability rather than just livelihoods. The underlying principle is that a singular focus on one crop reduces a typical poor household's resilience, especially during times of crisis. However, interventions need to be contextualized on understanding the communities to avoid over-focusing on a single crop.

Value Chain Specific: The Power of Focus for Success

On the other side of the debate stands the value chain-specific approach. The crux of this perspective is encapsulated in one word—focus. Proponents of this approach drew parallels with successful initiatives like the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) initiative, emphasizing the power of concentrating efforts on specific issues for impactful results.

While acknowledging the importance of diversity and resilience, discussants contend that specialization can lead to success, especially for farmers. Specialization, they argue, aligns with the future trajectory of developing countries towards increased international trade. Drawing examples from developed countries, they highlight the trend of specialization contributing to increased efficiency and productivity, ultimately promoting trade.

Synthesizing Approaches: A Holistic Perspective for Impact

The debate between crop-agnostic and value chain-specific approaches is not an either-or scenario. A nuanced perspective is presented, advocating for an initial focus on making households more resilient by encouraging diversification. As households become more successful, there is room for specialization and a return to specific value chains.

This debate within the market systems development community underscores the need for thoughtful consideration and flexibility in approaches. The ultimate goal is to strike a balance between promoting diversity and resilience while recognizing the potential success that comes with focused interventions within specific value chains

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