4.3.4. Applying the Value Chain Approach to Food Access

There is significant scope for the value chain approach to inform policy and practices in improving household access to food. Improved access can be achieved by increasing and diversifying household food production, increasing and smoothing household income and consumption, and by reducing the cost of obtaining food. Strategies to achieve these are presented below.  

Increase and Diversify Household Food Production

Improving the capacity of households to produce increased quantities of diversified food for their own consumption is a critical strategy to improve food access in many contexts. A value chain approach can assist in several ways: 

  • Raise yields from existing food value chains. Improving productivity of crops that are important for food security assists the food insecure to increase their consumption. ACDI/VOCA’s Kenya Maize Development Program (KMDP) is an example of project that has improved household food access through on-farm interventions. KMDP’s goal is to improve production efficiency of maize. It has a dual focus on increasing the production of maize to improve access at the household level while reducing the amount of land used for cultivation, which frees up land for more profitable crops. Project interventions focus on improving access to improved varieties, reducing package sizes for inputs to increase uptake, building capacity in good agricultural practices and linking producers to markets. From 2002 to 2010, farmers more than tripled their maize yields from 720 to 2340 kilograms per acre, which resulted in increased sales of surplus crop and increased earnings of $208 million for 370,000 smallholder farmers.[1] 
  • Encourage diversification of staple foods. While no program can work directly in every important food value chain, encouraging production of other nutritious staple foods that address micronutrient deficiencies can significantly improve household access to a diverse range of foodstuffs. Diversified household food consumption, particularly of micronutrient-rich foods including animal protein, can support improved food access.[2] By working with multiple food value chains and promoting intercropping of complementary crops, practitioners can support diet diversification for households without requiring additional land. The Wellness and Agriculture for Life Advancement (WALA) project, for example, found that households were lacking other micronutrients not provided by the three marketable crops that it had selected through its value chain selection process. As a result, the project is also encouraging farmers to cultivate several very nutritious crops - leafy green vegetables and sweet potatoes - for household consumption. Cropping and livestock systems often complement each other by creating new sources of fertilizer and fodder for animals as well as a more balanced household diet.  

Increase and Smooth Household Income and Consumption

Increasing the amount and regularity of household income is another approach to improving household food access. A value chain approach can assist in the following ways:

  • Encourage horizontal value chain relationships that enable the bulking of surplus food production into marketable quantities. For food insecure farmers, surplus food production typically occurs erratically and in small quantities. This limits farmers' ability to market the surplus. Encouraging new horizontal value chain relationships can support improved food security, if households use additional revenue for food purchases. Although not a value chain project, Helen Keller International's Jibon o Jibika project in Bangladesh has found that encouraging horizontal linkages among Bangladeshi women with extremely small household gardens created greater income and food security. By training groups of approximately 20 women to pool their surpluses and market them through a village model farmer (typically a man who does not face social constraints on travelling to markets), the percentage of female farmers selling some of their crop increased from 32 to 94 percent.[3] 
  • Promote non-agricultural value chains. Although nearly all work by development agencies has focused on supporting food value chains to improve household access to food, non-agricultural value chains can also support this aim if the income generated from labour or production income is used on food purchases. 
  • Diversify income sources. Diversifying income can improve food access by spreading the risk among multiple income generating activities and increasing the regularity of cash inflows into the household. For example, in Ghana food insecure households rely primarily upon the irregular income from the sale of a few staple crops. Consequently there are times in the year when they have no income and if their savings have been depleted, they are unable to purchase food. The irregular income generated from these crop sales is a cause of food insecurity. Supporting other activities that yield income at different times in the year would smooth consumption and improve access to food for these households.[4] For instance, the WALA project is supporting 30,000 farmers in southern Malawi to produce pigeon peas. In addition to their very positive nutritional benefits, pigeon peas are harvested in the season following the maize crop and therefore extend farming households’ earning period substantially. Similarly, some facilitating agencies encourage the use of technologies to "calendarize" the production of horticultural crops and thus extend the earning period substantially while also better supplying buyers. (CDA-Fintrac Inc.) Equally, diversifying income into non-agricultural value chains can often be very complementary to agricultural activities; it has been found that non-cropping income is an ‘indirect determinant’ of on-farm productivity because of its effects on input purchases and farm investments.[5]  
  • Improve access to storage services. Crop storage facilities are often non-existent, of poor quality or inaccessible to remote food insecure populations. Suitable storage options at household and community levels reduce post-harvest losses and facilitates bulk sale. Access to storage typically extends the consumption period and allows the timing of sales to maximize returns. Delayed sale supports income smoothing and assists households to manage the impact of price spikes of food crops in the off-season.[6] In Rwanda the Post Harvest Handling and Storage (PHHS) program facilitated the establishment of the Kirehe District Grain Bulking Center that will link village aggregation centers to large warehouses and regional markets. This Center will provide drying, cleaning, and storage services which will improve the quality of the crop and allow smallholders to time their crop sales, both of which will results in a higher price to the farmer. 
  • Link to bridge financing over the lean season. For most farmers, the 'lean season' between harvests is the time at which they face the greatest food insecurity. While potentially inappropriate for more vulnerable farmers, access to finance during the lean season can help to smooth consumption. The Global Food Crisis Response Program in Sri Lanka supported a local microfinance agency to offer two seasonal loan products. An on-season loan finances the costs of farming, while an off-season product facilitates consumption and emergency needs.[7]
  • Facilitate savings-led financial services. Households with liquid assets will be better able to feed themselves and draw down their savings when facing shocks. Savings-led financial services have been shown to support consumption smoothing and agricultural investments that bolster food security. CARE’s Dak Achana project in Kenya sought to address food security through value chain programming, and recognized village savings and loans groups as a “great synergy” with other project interventions. The loan limit jumped dramatically with time – from $12.50 to $5000 per individual – and members began to finance capital intensive interventions including irrigation structures.[8] 

Reduce the Cost of Obtaining Food

Reducing the cost of food is a strategy to improve household access to food with the potential to create widespread and beneficial impacts on both producers and consumers. A value chain approach can assist in the following ways:

  • Increase agricultural productivity and efficiency. Increased agricultural productivity can have a strong impact on food prices if the additional production enters local markets.[9] Value chain projects have frequently aimed to increase agricultural productivity, but their impacts on lowering food prices have been less commonly studied. However, there are recent examples in which value chain programs have intentionally sought to lower food prices by raising productivity. Increased productivity can also lower food prices through improved agricultural practices, which result in lower costs of production.
  • Improve the cost and reliability of access to food in rural areas.[10] Inadequate infrastructure and uncompetitive markets are often responsible for driving up prices of food in remote rural areas. Poor roads raise transport costs, while trader collusion increases margins. This can even be the case in food surplus areas, if processing is done outside the region and food is subsequently brought back to the region at higher prices. Improving market efficiency is one powerful solution. Increasing access to market information may greatly improve marketing efficiencies and contribute to increased reliability of accessing food. Decreasing the barriers to regional trade of staple foods will reduce price volatility and increase year-round access to staples due to regional harvest seasonality differences. The latter can be supported by harmonizing standards across the region, eliminating road blocks and improving port operations to speed up cargo clearance for commercial food imports.


  1. USAID Kenya, Kenya Maize Development Program.
  2. Infant and Young Child Nutrition project, Maximizing Nutritional Benefits of Agricultural Interventions:  Do Good, But First Do No Harm
  3. Helen Keller International, Bulletin No 2, Group Marketing and Women Farmers, Feb 2010, 2. 
  4. Jason Wolfe, Trip Report: Assistance Options for Vulnerable Households in Ghana, 2010, 9-11.  
  5. Boughton et al, Lessons learned from 25 years of Food Security Research, Capacity-Building, and Outreach, 6
  6. Patricia Bonnard, Improving the Nutrition Impacts of Agriculture Interventions: Strategy and Policy Brief, March 2001, 13
  7. Mercy Corps, Global Food Crisis Response Program: Review of Lessons Learned, 4. 
  8. CARE, Dak Achana:  Pursuing Food Security with Market Engagement in Kenya, 19
  9. Jayne et al, Market-Oriented Strategies to Improve Household Access to Food:  Experiences from Sub-Saharan Africa, 1994, v.  
  10. Jayne et al, Market-Oriented Strategies to Improve Household Access to Food:  Experiences from Sub-Saharan Africa, vii.