Inclusive agribusiness: what to expect from donors?

Evidence justifying investments

Donors are often hard pressed to prove that their investments in development initiatives are paying off. Several monitoring and evaluation reports of the initiatives that they fund are produced every year which try to make a picture of the impact of such efforts. But getting this picture right is becoming ever more complicated in a globalised and complex world, where people, institutions and industries are interacting far more than it was the case 20 years ago.

When it comes to investments in inclusive agribusiness, the picture of impact at a global level can be quite blurred. The question starts with “what do we count as inclusive agribusiness?” and goes on to “who is doing what in this space?” and “how many people have actually benefited from these initiatives or this new way of doing business?”. As another post in this series has argued, as well as a study commissioned by the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development, inclusive agribusiness is not yet an universally accepted term and there is lack of clarity about its boundaries. But the amount of current investments in this area (some guess at over USD 4 billion globally) might not stop at a short term until we get the answers right. The problem is to sustain these investments in the medium to long term.

Piecing together the wider picture


It is to try to make up a picture of the inclusive agribusiness space and what is missing in terms of learning and evidence that the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development co-organised a workshop in early March in Brighton together with the Wageningen Centre for Development, through the Seas of Change Initiative, and BEAM Exchange. The idea was to consider a global agenda of research and learning priorities, as well as the establishment of a collaborative structure, such as an Alliance which would allow for more regular exchanges and for a synthesis of available knowledge.

Donors’ impressions from the workshop

The workshop showed that there is a lot of knowledge sitting in different institutes, through different initiatives in various parts of the world which are not being effectively synthesised. This includes experiences in how inclusive agribusiness are involving women and promoting their economic empowerment, the opportunities and challenges for smallholders to access finance, how multi-stakeholder partnerships are enabling inclusive businesses etc.

On one hand, donors recognised the importance to access this knowledge in a synthesised way in order to justify future investments – and the arguments for establishing a structured alliance that can provide such a synthesis. On the other hand, in practice, many donors report having limited time for learning and a lot more emphasis on project design and implementation. Despite that, they agreed that getting a general impact narrative based on solid evidence would be critical to sustain investments that provide market-based solutions for small farmers.

Doing their homework first

At the end of the workshop, the representatives of the participating donor agencies and international organisations were not able to readily commit to fund a global learning alliance for inclusive agribusiness. But this does not mean that a collaborative structure will not be supported. More than anything, donors realised at that workshop that they first need to do a better job in coordinating amongst themselves in designing and funding inclusive agribusiness initiatives. Some mentioned that there is a lot of knowledge already sitting in their own agencies which is not being effectively tapped and compared across organisations.

As a result, donors committed to initially engage in more regular peer-exchange on their inclusive agribusiness programmes and strategies. This will be done at the inclusive agribusiness work stream of the Global Donor Platform, which has just gained a new impulse with the decision taken during the workshop to merge it with the EU Working Party on Agriculture and Private Sector Development. In this space, donors will not only have conversations with their peers, but will also engage with the larger inclusive agribusiness community through webinars, meetings and conference calls. The idea is that these conversations will ultimately better guide investments, be it for research and learning purposes, be it for developing the enabling conditions for inclusive agribusiness in terms of finance to smallholders, land tenure rights, trainings to improve the productivity of small farms or to improve the capacity of government staff in mediating business processes etc.

The Secretariat of the Global Donor Platform is currently helping the Platform’s inclusive agribusiness work stream in developing a vision for this group and planning a few activities for 2017. Amongst others, the work stream is composed of representatives from the EC, USAID, IFAD, DFID, FAO, GIZ, DFTA-Australia, MFA-Netherlands, WTO, World Bank etc. Updates from this work stream will be posted in our website and in our newsletter.

  • This blog is part of a series on what’s new in inclusive agribusiness from April 2017. Hear from more contributors in part one of the series- digging into the details of inclusive business programmes around the world.  In part two contributors share how long-standing perspectives on cooperative, corporate strategies, value chain partnerships, market system change, rural livelihoods support, financing, and innovation adoption are beginning to blend, and why.