“What’s missing is….” ICTs in the Value Chain!

Photo Credit: Ben Addom

“Meeting the Challenges of Value Chain Development: A Learning Event,” was the subject for discussion at the just ended 2-day conference organized by USAID at the Night Conference Center, Newseum, Washington DC.

The learning event was hosted by the USAID Microenterprise Development office with funding from the Accelerated Microenterprise Advancement Project (AMAP), implemented by ACDI/VOCA and its partners. It was attended by a wide range of actors including donors, private consultants, practitioners, researchers and academics, and administrators.

Activities during the 2-day event included a keynote address, concurrent electives (sessions) covering topics like 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; and a final panel session on challenges of value chain development.

My reflections – “What is missing is….”

I would like to state that the event was really an excellent learning event for me due to my interest in the use of the agricultural value chain to ensure efficiency and effectiveness of programs and activities that aimed at reaching the poor and vulnerable.

An observation that I made from the sessions that I attended is that, while contributing during the question and answer (Q&A) sessions, participants mostly used the phrase “what I think is missing from the presentations is that….” to point out some loopholes in the sessions. These missing links observed by the participants are in one way or the other related to the individual interests and experiences of these contributors with respect to the subject under discussion. As an agricultural information specialist, I also think that what was prominently missing during the entire 2-day event is the absence of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in facilitating communication between and among the value chain actors in the system. This, I think, is one of the challenges to the development of the agricultural value chain.

Why the need for communication tools within the value chain?

In her keynote address to the conference participants, Tjada D’Oyen McKenna, the Deputy Coordinator for Development for the Feed the Future, the U.S. global hunger and food security initiative, asked the conference participants to explore how to create synergies between programs and activities being designed and implemented.

Synergies will result when stakeholders within the value chain work together so that their combined actions lead to outcomes greater than the sum of their individual effects or capabilities. In order for this to happen, an effective communication system is needed to facilitate exchange of resources between and among the individuals and organizations within the value chain. Not integrating ICTs into the communication process in this information age can be disastrous. Unfortunately, this was clearly missing at the sessions, something I believe is the reflection of what is on the ground.

Another important component of the value chain that calls for incorporation of ICTs, is its systemic nature. Several contributions during the event have alluded to the complex nature of the agricultural value chain, and the increasing dependence of the key stages of the chain – R&D, production, market, and M&E, on each other as a prerequisite for a reasonable return on investment.

From my years of experience working with the agricultural value chain and assessments and analysis carried out on ICT solutions for collaboration and coordination, I believe specific ICTs solutions are necessary for each of the stages within the value chain. The World Bank’s eSourcebook that was launched recently has briefly touched on some specific examples of applications of ICTs in agriculture across the world. These solutions when strategically deployed can have significant impact on internal communication within the institutions involved in the value chain as well as external communication with other partners.

An assumption and “aha” moment!

I have observed that either the organizers of the event, the presenters or both who might have had extensive experience with the agricultural value chain system, assumed that all participants knew what the value chain is. But my conversation with few people during the networking time and also observation during some of the discussions revealed that it was not the case. A number of participants at the event actually had little experience on the agricultural value chain and were there to learn – a learning event.

On the other hand, one revelation that I got from the session “integrating food security and nutrition” is that while value chain approaches aim at increasing income by targeting the productive population, food security approaches target the vulnerable population and aim at improving their nutrition and food security situation.

Participants at the closing panel session (Photo Credit: Ben Addom)

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) works with a variety of implementing partners to accomplish its strategic objectives in microenterprise development. The vision of the Agency for microenterprise development involves addressing the needs of poor people within the context of globalization and dynamic domestic and global markets to help them harness the resources they need to participate meaningfully in markets (often through market linkages to larger firms). The microLINKS website hosts a number of innovative, interactive learning tools and thousands of resources to serve a global community of practitioners by helping to link knowledge with practice. Visit the Microlinks site for detailed information on this event – slides, recording and other resources as well as future events.

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