5.6.9. Tools for integrating food security and the value chain approach


There are various resources that are relevant to the integration of the value chain approach and food security. A selection is provided below, under the following headings:

  • General
  • Pre-Value Chain Selection
  • Value Chain Analysis
  • Design and Implementation
  • Monitoring and Evaluation
  • Utilization
  • Cross-Cutting Issues
  • Case Studies


Written in 1992, this policy determination outlines USAID's definition of food security: "when all people at all times have both physical and economic access to sufficient food to meet their dietary needs for a productive and healthy life."  Three distinct variables are recognized as important to the achievement of food security: availability, access and utilization. Contributing factors and definitions are provided for each of these variables. 

Smallholder commercialization, Interlinked Markets and Food Crop Productivity: Cross-Country Evidence in Eastern and Southern Africa is a paper published by Michigan State University that aims to determine whether the commercialization of smallholder crops also stimulates the productivity of food crops, and, if so, how this occurs and could be encouraged. It tests the argument that there is an inherent trade-off between cash crop and food crop production among smallholder households, and that any increased attention to cash crops increases risk. The paper largely rejects this thesis, finding that there is generally a positive relationship between commercialization and food production. A major contributor to this relationship is the greater access to inputs that are facilitated when smallholders participate in organized cash crop production, as a portion of these inputs are generally applied to the household's food production. Nevertheless, the impacts are highly variable depending upon the nature of the cash cropping:  access to inputs, production information, market information and other factors all play a significant role.   

Intra-household resource allocation is an important factor influencing household food security. Households with adequate caloric and nutrient intake in aggregate may still include malnourished individuals, owing to unequal distribution among household members. Yet while this is well understood, many practitioners lack accessible and affordable tools to understand these dynamics.  Comparing nutritional status among household members is particularly costly. A Menu of Options for Intrahousehold Poverty Assessment attempts to address this gap by reviewing and assessing existing analytical approaches. It recommends a pilot to test the incorporation of questions analyzing intra-household resource allocation into the USAID-supported Poverty Assessment Tools.

In an effort to identify appropriate interventions and policies for improving food security, Patterns and Trends in Food Staple Markets in Eastern and Southern Africa provides a synthesis of recent research into the behavior of producers and consumers of staple food crops in Eastern and Southern Africa. With respect to smallholder farmers, the report finds that the average land size is declining to the point in some areas and countries that significant productivity upgrades will be required for continued viability, maize continues to be important for farmer incomes but that fruits and vegetables are growing in importance, the sale of traditional cash crops is positively correlated with farm size, and the supply of basic grains is concentrated among relatively few sellers; rarely do more than 40% of farmers sell grain in an average year. Several changes in urban consumption patterns are relevant for food security.  Increasing wheat consumption threatens to disconnect urban consumers from rural consumers. Markets for basic grains have become more efficient and marketing margins have narrowed significantly, though grains are often not available for sale at certain times during the year. The report concludes that shrinking land sizes threaten to create a structural maize deficit among Eastern and Southern African countries. Investments that reduce risk and increase opportunities for market players in basic grains and other cash crops will be essential for improving the food security situation.  The role of the public sector in addressing these issues is found to be critical, and yet the policy environment for basic grains is characterized by extreme instability. 

Smallholder Commercialization: Processes, Determinants and Impact, written by the International Livestock Research Institute, reviews the available literature on smallholder commercialization. Of particular interest, the paper discusses the arguments for smallholders to scale-up and commercialize existing food crops versus beginning to produce completely new crops specifically for sale. The production of high-value crops typically generates greater returns for producers, but also typically implies greater risks and barriers to entry. In general, commercialization is found to be positive for families, though the impacts vary. In particular, commercialization can lead to negative or positive impacts on household nutrition.

ACDI/VOCA's two-page brief on value chains and food security, titled Linking the Poorest to Economic Growth: Value Chain Approach Enhances Food Security, outlines the process that it uses to link vulnerable populations into dynamic value chains.   

The presentation What Kinds of Agricultural Strategies Lead to Broad-Based Growth?, made by T.S. Jayne and Duncan Boughton of Michigan State University to the USAID Bureau for Food Security, affirms the necessity of focusing on smallholder farmers to achieve broad-based, equitable economic growth. This strategy, they advocate, must be based on increasing assets among smallholder farmers and improving the productivity of those assets. The presentation concludes with a series of recommendations about the strategies that will best support this process. 

Lessons Learned From 25 Years of Food Security Research, Capacity-Building, and Outreach provides a coherent and helpful summary of the Michigan State University (MSU)’s Food Security Group’s research, primarily from Sub-Saharan Africa. Lessons are presented in four areas: the first, Agricultural Growth and Food Security Strategies, suggests that small shrinking farm sizes in many countries will prevent many farmers from escaping poverty from on-farm production alone. Investments in education and non-agricultural sectors will be important. The second, Use of Improved Technology, suggests the priorities and approaches that can best support increased intensification and higher agricultural yields among smallholder farmers. The third area, Market Institutions, Market Reforms and Private Sector Development, identifies the implications of a negative enabling environment and supportive policy options.  The final area is Improving the Food Security of Vulnerable Groups.  It presents the linkages between agricultural growth and poverty alleviation, interventions that can address food insecurity, determinants of nutritional improvement, and the role of HIV/AIDS on agriculture.

Do's and Don'ts of Managing the New Food Price Environment in Countries with Food Insecure Populations is a presentation by David Tschirley and Nango Demélé of Michigan State University. It analyzes changes in food price levels and volatility in the period leading up to 2011 and synthesizes the implications for policymakers. Importantly, the paper also provides short-term and long-term recommendations on how to deal with food prices, as well as suggestions on what responses to avoid. 

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)'s Food Security Portal provides information on current events, price movements in major staples, country profiles, and policy analysis tools. 

Village Savings and Loan Associations and Food Security:  Exploring Linkages in Sierra Leone and Tanzania is a website that reports on the findings of one year of research into how two savings groups initiatives managed by CRS and Floresta are impacting upon food security. The results regarding how and when loans and savings are used for different purposes (e.g., agricultural investment, food purchases, business investment) suggest that savings groups can have a positive impact on food security. The site includes recommendations for how practitioners can best support food security through savings group promotion; these include tailoring savings and loan products to lean periods and introducing complimentary training. 

Pre-Value Chain Selection

CHF International created the Urban Food and Nutrition Assessment (UFANA) in mid-2011 as a reference to guide food and nutrition assessments. It is intended for a dynamic tool that will evolve with application. Six tools are currently included: Food Systems Mapping, the Urban Household Economy Approach (HEA), Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA), Intra-household Resource Allocation Assessment, Food Utilization and Caregiving Practices Assessment, and Market Analysis. UFaNA briefly describes each of the tools and explains how and when it should be used. Value chain analysis is one of the market analysis tools that are listed. Finally, UFaNA presents a five-step process that links the selection of the aforementioned tools to use in program design.  

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net) provides livelihoods analysis in over thirty food-insecure countries. FEWS Net reports on the results of five core analysis tools: zone maps, livelihood profiles, baselines, attribute maps, and seasonal monitoring calendars, though not all tools are available for all countries.  

FEWS Net's Markets and Trade section provides market-related information to inform food security monitoring, assessment, and analysis. Resources include regularly updated bulletins on price trends, trade reports and production, and market flow maps of crops important to food security (e.g., maize, beans) for many food-insecure countries.  

The Bosasso Urban Household Economy Study provides an example of the application of Household Economic Analysis (HEA) to an urban area in Somalia. The HEA included a wealth ranking process that identifies significant differences in wealth among the studied population as well as an analysis of food consumption patterns.  From the data that are captured, implications are drawn for broad interventions to address the identified food insecurity issues. 

Value Chain Analysis

Does the Value Chain Approach Have Relevance for Food Security? The Case of Rice in West Africa was the topic of the 46th installment of the Linking Small Firms to Competitiveness Strategies Breakfast Seminar Series sponsored by the USAID Microenterprise Development office. The presentation, by Ruth Campbell and David Neven, helpfully discusses the advantages and challenges of applying value chain analysis to examine food security issues. It walks the viewer through a regional value chain analysis that was conducted in West Africa on rice, and presents the value chain upgrading strategy that was developed as a result.  

Design and Implementation

Food aid has been a traditional response to addressing acute food insecurity. However, cash-based approaches are becoming increasingly widespread. Market Information and Food Insecurity Response Analysis (MIFIRA) provides a question-based framework to guide practitioners in determining whether to use food-based or cash-based support. The paper also presents the conditions under which each of these responses is most appropriate. 

Food Aid and Food Security in the Short and Long Run: Country Experiences from Asia and Sub-Sarahan Africa, produced under a primer series on social safety nets, assesses the role of food aid in improving food availability and food access. It is based on a synthesis of experiences in four countries: India, Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Zambia. It concludes that food aid does not have to create negative impacts, particularly if it is tied to the development of infrastructure that supports production and market linkages, avoids creating negative price effects for food producers, and reaches the food insecure. Regardless, other vehicles including cash transfers are often more effective in addressing food availability if the necessary market conditions exist. 

The presentation Maximizing Nutritional Benefits of Agricultural Interventions: Do good, but first do no harm by the Infant & Young Child Nutrition (IYCN) project seeks to dispel the notion that increased income alone is adequate to improve nutrition. It advocates for the identification of the nutritionally vulnerable and the incorporation of a nutrition focus in the project design process. A process for assessing the potential nutritional impact of various intervention strategies is presented and explained.  

Monitoring and Evaluation

Household Food Security: Concepts, Indicators, Measurements provides an overview of monitoring and evaluation approaches for food security. Written in 1992, the guide provides an introduction to M&E for food security but does not cover the food security indicators that have been developed since its publication. It is not written specifically from a value chain perspective, but the information it provides is nevertheless relevant and helpful.


Growth is Good but Not Enough to Improve Nutrition is a brief of a longer paper that presents several important findings of relevance to value chain programs. First, work in the agricultural sector will have a greater impact on nutrition at higher levels of poverty but becomes less important as it declines, when development of other sectors will be more important to nutritional gains. Second, economic growth alone is insufficient to address all aspects of child malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies. Examples of Malawi and Yemen illustrate how the development of agricultural value chains that would be appropriate in the former case would have little impact on nutrition in the latter.

Improving the Nutrition Impacts of Agriculture Interventions: Strategy and Policy Brief, written by the Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance (FANTA) project, identifies four ways that programming in agricultural value chains is likely to have greater nutritional outcomes: i) the incremental income is earned or controlled by women, ii) the stream of income is regular or frequent, even if the absolute amounts are small, iii) the income is in-kind (i.e., in the form of food), or iv) training in health and nutrition is provided. Several guidance questions are offered to assess the context in which the are working and consequently reduce the potential for harm to be created by encouraging cash cropping. The brief ends with several program recommendations on how agricultural interventions can have better impacts on nutrition, including focusing on working with women; developing staple crop value chains; improving year-round access to food through small-scale agro-processing, crop diversification, and storage and inventory credit schemes; developing and disseminating simple nutrition messages; and selecting complementary indicators to measure the program's impacts. 

Nutrition and Food Security Impacts of Agriculture Projects: A Review of Experience synthesizes the findings of a number of studies of agricultural projects conducted over the previous 30 years, including those funded by the United States Department for Agriculture, the United States Agency for International Development, and the International Food Research and Policy Institute as well as several independent studies. It finds that agricultural projects rarely measured the food security impacts that they aimed to achieved. As a result, the impacts of many projects on food security were not clear even following completion. Nevertheless, the evidence suggests that agricultural projects are more likely to improve access to adequate food than to impact nutrition. The document analyzes both food access and nutritional impacts and highlights risks and opportunities to enhance both through programming. These would be particularly helpful for practitioners seeking to design their projects in ways that enhance food security. 

This short brief, The Nexus Between Agriculture and Nutrition, examines the international evidence on the influence of economic growth on nutritional status. It finds conflicting evidence on the relationship between the two. The role of growth of agricultural subsectors in nutritional status varies depending upon several factors: the sector's linkages with the rest of the economy, its initial size and geographic concentration, its growth potential, and market opportunities.  A number of conditional factors also play a strong role, including land distribution patterns, women's status, rural infrastructure and the health status of the population. The brief concludes by suggesting a couple of strategies and policies that respond to the findings.

Turning Economic Growth into Nutrition-Sensitive Growth reviews the available evidence for the link between economic growth and improvements in nutrition. It reaches the conclusion that economic growth is necessary but not sufficient to impact nutritional status.  Further, growth in agriculture is generally more beneficial for nutrition than growth in non-agricultural sectors, though this depends upon the size of the sector, the resulting impacts on food availability, and the extent to which food security is a challenge. Finally, investments in health, education and family planning are all important to improving food security impacts. 

Value Chains for Nutrition provides an important overview of the theoretical and actual application of the value chain approach to improving nutrition. It outlines the pathways through which the two can interact, and then summarizes eight case studies in which value chain-related initiatives have addressed nutrition. While the document notes that there are few existing examples that exist, and that none of the examples measured the nutritional impacts of their food security interventions, the case studies nevertheless help to inform the paper and suggest what may be promising approaches.  From these cases, a series of nine principles are synthesized to guide practitioners. 

Responding to Health Risks Along the Value Chain offers a helpful overview of the key health risks along the value chain, trends that are driving greater scrutiny of food safety, and the challenge of exclusion from safe food value chains faced by poor consumers and producers. It puts forward a modified risk analysis framework to address food safety concerns while also supporting market access by smallholder farmers. Finally, the authors offer several potential solutions to address food safety issues created by information asymmetries, inequities in market power and abuses of power.  

A Causal Analysis of Malnutrition, produced by Save the Children, provides an example of the application of this methodology to a food-insecure location in North Eastern Kenya. This study also calculated the minimum cost of a healthy diet. 

Cross-Cutting Issues 

This short brief, Gender: A Key Dimension Linking Agricultural Programs to Improved Nutrition and Health, finds that gender is a critical factor shaping the impacts of agricultural programming on food security and health. The paper suggests that positive impacts are more likely when the agricultural intervention enhances women's control over assets and includes nutrition education to ensure better use of additional food or income. The brief presents three agricultural development strategies in terms of their gender impacts—household food production, linking smallholders to markets, and large-scale agriculture—and recommends ways to ensure that each of these strategies create positive impacts upon gender.

Case Studies

Farmer, Trader, and Consumer Decisionmaking: Toward Sustainable Marketing of Orange-Fleshed Sweet Potato in Mozambique and Uganda is a short note that provides an extremely interesting case study of how a value chain approach was used to introduce orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) in Mozambique and Uganda. A project of HarvestPlus, the initiative had the objectives of increasing production of the potato, raising the income of its producers, and expanding consumption in local markets. The authors focus on the latter two objectives, describing the market research that was undertaken assess the demand for the orange-fleshed sweet potato - a product that was less frequently consumed but more nutritious than the better known white-fleshed variety - and unknown to many consumers. The research derived four categories of potential consumers and identified the highest potential markets to focus on. It also implemented an innovative approach to testing consumer willingness to pay higher prices for the orange-fleshed variety. The note closes by presenting the rapid increase in market share held by OFSP in Mozambique to 50% from nearly 0% and the achievement of a price premium, though it does not share results from the work in Uganda.

Enhancing Nutritional Value and Marketability of Beans through Research and Strengthening Key Value-Chain Stakeholders in Uganda is a short note that presents the approach being used by the Dry Grain Pulse Collaborative Research Support Program in Uganda to improve nutritional outcomes through the development of the bean value chain. The initiative explicitly applies a sustainable livelihoods framework and related tools, including through its emphasis on using participatory methodologies. In the context of minimal commercialization and low productivity of the bean crop, despite its high micronutrient content, the project works to address multiple overlapping value chain constraints. The note describes some of the primary interventions, including research and testing of appropriate bean varieties and food products, business skill training and improved access to market information. Unfortunately, the early stage of the project is reflected in the lack of concrete food security results that are reported.

CARE's case study of its Dak Achana project helpfully profiles an initiative in Kenya that simultaneously worked to address availability, access and utilization concerns within its target area among populations with greatly varying levels of food insecurity. Although many of the market linkages that were created between farmers and buyers ultimately broke down following the end of the project, there were also successes in terms of asset growth and production diversification.  

The ADAPT case study profiles CARE's Agro-Dealer Project (ADAPT). Operating in Zambia, the project focused on improving food security among rural populations by bolstering access to inputs.  The case study is extremely useful in capturing CARE's revisions to its programming approach based on its field experience and the lessons that it learned in this process.

The Global Food Crisis Response Program:  Review of Lessons Learned is a helpful and balanced analysis produced by the agency that implemented the program: Mercy Corps. Reaching 75,000 people over 18 months across five countries facing food shortages, the ambitious project aimed to use rapid market analysis to inform quick-impact interventions, while also addressing longer-term needs.  Its interventions varied significantly by context, but always included a focus on specific agricultural value chains. Short-term resource transfers in the form of vouchers or cash for work were often applied, as were support to vehicles for financial services. Drawing from this experience, the review captures a number of valuable lessons for value chain practitioners, particularly around how to select and implement preparatory activities that support value chain participation. A multi-phase approach to encouraging graduation among project clients is presented. The document raises the questions of whether the short duration of the project will permit sustainable market linkages to be created, but does not answer it. 

A presentation by TechnoServe, entitled Market-based approaches to nutrition improvement and food security and linkages to agriculture: TechnoServe’s Evolving Strategy, presents the organization's strategy to improving nutrition through its work with the private sector. Five strategies are outlined: nutritional reviews, food fortification, commercialization of nutritious food, crop diversification, and encouraging embedded nutritional services by value chain actors.  The presentation briefly examples two examples of how this strategy could be applied. The first is through working with food processors in Eastern African to upgrade their practices, while the second is using women-owned grain mills in Mozambique as hubs for other nutritional interventions.

Rural and Agricultural Finance for Food Security: A Primer is the eighth in a series of publications produced under the Financial Sector Knowledge Sharing Project. It focuses specifically on how agricultural and rural finance tools can enhance food security. Written for U.S. government program designers, the primer is also relevant to practitioners who have identified financial services as a critical gap in their target value chain(s). A helpful table is included that suggests the types of financial services that would be most appropriate in areas of varying economic dynamism and among different types of food insecurity. Finally, the primer provides four case studies and a series of general lessons that should be considered in encouraging financial solutions to address food insecurity.