ILRI strategy tough issue: Adopting a value chain approach?

Over the past decade, research and development communities have begun using the value chain as a useful concept to frame and organize their efforts to enhance the role of agricultural products, including those from livestock, in economic growth and poverty reduction.

The value chain concept was quickly taken up by ILRI and further endorsed by an External Review of our work on Sustainable Intensification – it was felt to capture the types of research ILRI had been doing to combine increased productivity on farm with market participation using an impact pathway logic. It also complements well the way ILRI views the world as dynamic systems. Importantly, it has also provided a common language to engage with development partners and other stakeholders when exploring how research might more directly support development efforts, as in the case of the East Africa Dairy Development Project (EADD) and the Improving Productivity and Market Success of Ethiopian Farmers project (IPMS).

Perhaps more subtle, the value chain concept has signaled a shift in emphasis from livestock systems to livestock commodities. When ILRI together with CGIAR partners and stakeholders developed the idea for the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish, the value chain approach was adopted as a central feature, together with an impact-minded commitment to focus the program’s activities on improving only selected value chains.

In terms of an ILRI strategy for the next ten years, the value chain approach seems to offer a logical extension of the livestock pathways out of poverty; value chain development typically incorporates a combination of the three pathways, especially with respect to improving productivity and access to markets. But the value chain perspective also helps to recognize that these challenges are not limited to on farm, but also concern the range of services and inputs needed to support livestock keepers and the post-farm activities associated with livestock products, including the poor who earn their livelihoods from providing these services. It thus provides a powerful framework to understand how ILRI’s research might translate to broad-based economic growth, environmental sustainability and poverty reduction. It also connects us more clearly to consumers and the opportunities to enhance benefits they derive from access to affordable animal-source foods.

This all makes a compelling argument for us to embrace the value chain concept as a fundamental impact pathway for ILRI research. Concerns have been raised, however, that it may be too limiting. It may, for example, shift focus too much towards finding quick solutions for today’s constraints, at the expense of longer-term research to address the more difficult challenges such as developing a vaccine for a key livestock disease.

This leads to two main questions:

  1. Do you agree that the value chain concept is appropriate for helping to define ILRI’s role in research to promote market-oriented livestock production in our ‘inclusive growth’ scenario?
    • If yes, are there any reasons not mentioned above that you think should be highlighted for why it is useful?
    • If no, why do you think it is inappropriate?
  2. If ILRI adopts the value chain concept and approach at the heart of its strategy, what risks might be created?

Click this link to comment on the questions


30 thoughts on “ILRI strategy tough issue: Adopting a value chain approach?

  1. Yes i agree that value chain approach is of great importance in poverty reduction of majority of the community but only if it is all inclusive and well developed capacity build of stakeholders.Developing capacity building among the farmers and strong partnership of stakeholders involved in the value chain work effectively.

  2. We may establish animal fodder banks and utilise dry roughages by making densified fodder blocks of either 100% roughages alone or complete feed.
    A brief power point presentation can be emailed on receipt of email id of the project leader/director for perusal.

  3. The answer for the first question is yes. Reasons because, value chain strategy will help the farmer to have a hope of reaching the market especially the small scale farmer’s. And also, it will provide a medium of interaction between ILRI and the farmer to know much about available market for their products and also help the farmer to understand the concept of the market they are dealing with.

  4. The only risk i think value chain concept and approach can pose to the heart of ILRI research is the cost of executing the project, maintaining the project, future sustainability and finally, general norms of the stakeholder’s involved.

  5. In regards to what I have seen on the link below, I am in favour of adopting a value chain approach. Indeed at each stage of the value chain, there are challenges that require attention and all this has to happen simultaneously as opposed to stepwise in order to get some meaningful results.

    At the end of the value chain, there are several issues I have identified during the FAO-ILRI study on demand for livestock products and these include

    – poor observance of quality
    -Unstructured markets which do not reward quality product producers

    However, on the whole, demand for pork is growing especially in the urban areas

    Hope this helps

    John Jagwe

  6. ILRI should adopt the value chain approach to research as this will ensure that the most limiting constraints along the value chain are addressed and that results from research are utlised to upgrade the chains that the institute elects to work in. As resources are always limiting the identification of the chains to work in must be done together with stakeholders.

    In all this the markets/consumers are central as they determine what kind of product(s), what quality of product(s) must be produced

    I do not agree that this approach will result in only dealing with short term interventions but can be useful in determining some long term research activities if the design also looks at trends and what might happen to the industry in the medium and long planning horizon

    One of teh risks that came with the approach is the planning cycle is longer as you need to carry stakeholders along

  7. The value chain approach for ILRI is important and including the whole chain an important step in recognizing the many factors that influence livestock production decisions.

    However, the value chain approach may disregard the problems faced by environmental changes wrought by agriculture and that in turn effects agriculture. It is important that livestock production ALSO be seen in light of more long- term environmental objectives.

  8. I support the value chain approach as it provides opportunities to smallholder livestock farmers to access markets from which they could be excluded eventually. However, emphasis should still be put on increasing production and productivity to ensure food security, without compromising on the quality of the finished product.

  9. The value chain approach is appropriate. Apart from the strengths mentioned already, the value chain approach also helps to analyze how benefits are shared by all players in the chain and therefore forms the basis for equitable distribution of benefits to ensure improved productivity from all players and efficient performance of the over all livestock value chain. After identifying the weaknesses of all key actors in the chain, proposed remedial measures to strengthen them could be developed and tested.

  10. The term “Value Chain” has been over-used (even abused). We need more metaphors to cater for unanticipated challenges in livestock development. In reality, agriculture does not function as a chain. It’s a rather nested set of activities which sometimes relate and at times don’t relate. Given that some private sector players appear once and are never seen again, it may not be useful to consider them value chain actors particularly if we take sustainability seriously. It is not too late to think of other ways of describing our work rather than depending on conventional wisdom.

  11. Yes the value-chain approach is good and will deliver useful outcomes. However I feel that we need a two-pronged approach. Whereas value-chain will be good at ensuring specific innovations benefit the poor. If it is combined with a long-term approach to developing research and development alternatives it becomes more useful and sustainable in ensuring diversity in the basket of choices open to individuals, groups and communities in the future.

  12. the value chain must divided as steps , specially supply side where most problems line in and many factors embedded that related to social and ethics……etc
    but I think the most important factors must give attention to is how to incorporate the nomads into markets cycle and change livestock from saving assets to monetary value as to increase the increase their basic needs requirements.

  13. The value chain approach has proven itself to be the way to go in AR4D. So, ILRI is right to follow it.

    My assumption is that there is plenty of knowledge currently available to make a dent on development problems of our continent. How much of that are we really using currently?

    In terms of research and development, I wonder how much of the great assets Africa has is tapped into. Just look at the handsome breeds of cattle in Niger; goat breeds in Somalia and Eastern Ethiopia; the Boran breed of cattle in Eastern Africa; the Trypano-tolerant cattle in some countries. The list goes on. Hope we are looking at this wealth of ours to make life different for the smallholder farmers of Africa. The basis for our development should be our available assets.

  14. Dear Colleagues,

    I have looked at the three issues- value chain, productivity, and addressing intephase of animal and human health. My take would be for ILRI to boldly embrace Integrated Agricultural Research for Development (IAR4D) as the approach to be used. Although this approach also links partners on the value chain, it has a well elaborated research engagement. In IAR4D, seven research themes are considered- productivity, market, policy, NRM, product development, nutrition and gender. All of these which are considered also in their interphases are important to get Africa on the track agriculturally. Research theme should go beyond productivity and include the remaining 6 which have been so far marginalized.

    Also in IAR4D, the market is considered in a slightly different manner. Instead of looking at locations , we look at specific demands or outlets with the agency or person making the demand specified, quantities, qualities and time needed also well specified.

    In addition to this, IAR4D looks at the three classes of constraints- technological, institutional and infrastructural to ensure that famers do not have any chain tying them to poverty. Let me provide some examples: Nerica Rice is a wonderful technology with a great socio economic potential. But without seeds not many farmers can adopt Nerica. Seed here is an institutional constraint which hinders the derivation of socioeconomic benefits from Nerica Rice technology. For fertilizer, institutional constraints may be related to cost, availability and quality. For livestock it may be feed, storage or cold chain. For as long as institutional constraints are not removed, technical options do not provide socioeconomic benefit and farmers remain in poverty. Similarly, infrastructural problems could hinder socio economic promises of technologies. If Nerica Rice is produced and there is no road to take it to the market farmers become even poorer. For this reason, IAR4D looks at Innovative Partnerships using the Innovation Platform which brings all partners on the value chain to interact with others including policy makers, researchers, meteorologists, and others including standard boards etc to promote technology development, dissemination and adoption. Because IAR4D looks at these three categories of problems, it becomes easy for farmers to get out of poverty through the approach. Reports of poverty reduction coming from the analysis of the SSA CP work show that IAR4D increases yield links markets, links credit, increases income and reduces poverty better than conventional approaches.

    I would suggest that ILRI should consider IAR4D approach. I would also suggest that ILRI should look at expanding the scope beyond productivity. These are my specific points on the issues raised in Jimmy’s mail shared by Shirley. I hope they find this useful.

    With much regards,

    Wale Adekunle
    Director Partnerships and Strategic Alliances, FARA and Coordinator of SSA CP

    • I totally agree with Prof. Wale, because I coordinated a Livestock IP under KKM PLS IAR4D Sahel project and ILRI was one of the stakeholders who jointly designed and successfully implemented a sheep/goat fattening model based on agreed roles and responsibilities shared among stakeholders, though three important stakeholders were persistently absent …banks, insurance and livestock feeds industries, we missed their input, and that was one of the drawbacks that evaluation team observed and advice to strengthen…believe you me, this was one of difficult aspect of the stakeholder’s dynamics owing to the fact that private sector would love a win-win situation….and it was pilot stage, investment opportunities was small. ILRI’s role was a lead specialized livestock research institute and was present in all the 5 villages frequently 2-3 times a week and for a day or two, Livestock farmers in the 5 pilot villages confessed they have never seen a project that brought so many experts to their villages who were keen to listen to their views in meetings and achieved so much within a short time particularly on livestock, hitherto, always crops crops crops. In addition extension played a key role as a stakeholder representing extension and policy makers as well as coordination of the the IP. I therefore, wish to suggest that ILRI should use IAR4D approach and extend its extension activities to involve all stakeholders in their livestock research.

      I think on a serious note time has come for specialized institutes like ILRI to take lead in furthering their research findings directly by engaging in extension. Use IAR4D approach to carry out research activities so that research successes will reach at least the pilot farmers instead of ending in research farms that are far away from ordinary livestock farmers. ILRI Scientist should come out just like the crops people to the carry out research in the farmers fields using IAR4D approach so that research work will be carried out with all stakeholders and proven research findings will be considered by all as public good for adaption to take place and thereby make the technological option impact in the lives of the livestock farmers.

      Rilwanu Muhammad Faralu
      Assistant Director Livestock,
      Livestock Services Department,
      Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources,
      State Secretariat Complex,
      PMB 2079.

  15. I am in favour of the value chain approach, as it, as pointed out above, helps targeting and focusing research and developing activities – because eventually, it is always a product that is used/demanded/consumed, hardly ever a system. And the product is at the end of a value chain.
    But I also agree with those comments above who say that a value chain approach can be too simplyfying and misleading. So while rationalizing and focusing through working along a value chain, research should always, at least where needed to generate valid results, look at systems linked to and impacting on the value chain.

    Steffen Abele

  16. By Ram Deka, ILRI Office in Guwahati, Assam, India

    I think, value chain approach is a right approach but we should not overemphasis on it.

    In many occasions we study the livestock value chain but at the end of the day we suggest/ do only those stuff which we like to do or comfortable to do, ignoring all other value chain factors/ actors. If that is the case, talking about value chain approach would not add much value.

    I think, ILRI may try to recruit new staff in the areas where we do not have adequate capacity/ manpower (or no manpower) in order to make us more empowered to guide/ contribute in the whole livestock value chain.

  17. ILRI Delh Office (Nils Teufel, Arindam Samaddar, Dhiraj Sing, Swain Braja, Paolo Ficarelli)

    • The Value Chain approach in ILRI seems more a general framework for ensuring impact of research activities than actually a support strategy for livestock commodities value chain

    • ILRI applies the value chains approach for both formal and informal markets

    • Normally value chains are about formal markets (the industry actors for a specific commodity)

    • Supporting pro-poor VC means to make formal markets more inclusive, i.e. linking smallholders to more lucrative markets and/or reducing access barriers to the same by enabling smallholders to comply with quantity and quality standards

    • Informal markets are about traditional systems oriented more to support livelihoods (e.g. dairy in Assam) than income

    • What is the role of ILRI in Livestock Value Chains: VC research, VC support, VC development or VC inclusivity?

    • Strategies differ substantially depending on how the approach and role in VC is understood by an organisation. For instance ways of supporting a formal VC differ from informal value chains (different standards because of different market and consumer quality demands). Value Chain research (econometrics, mapping, actor analysis etc.) is just a step in value chain support strategies.

  18. I do agree on the value chain perspective. I think it is important to consider the post farm activities, sometimes the work has to be focus on dealers or retailers. If these parts of the chain are weak or missing it will be dificult for small farmers to reach markets

  19. Andy Safalaoh, Ass. Prof. Animal Nutrition, University of Malawi

    My comment is that ILRI should adopt an approach have the target clientele at heart. Considering the current complex, dynamic livestock ‘world’ such an approach (es) should be sustainable and should address emerging sustainability challenges. Any approach (or pathway) that ILRI ultimately chooses must respond to (and not overrun) poor livestock farmers’ goals, knowledge and values. Such an approach should not be dictated by narratives developed and being advocated by powerful actors (like those commenting here) and ‘other’ institutions …. an approach that that favours the rights, interests and values of livestock farmers who are currently among the most marginal and excluded. Is the Value Chain Analysis such an approach? if yes, then go for it?

  20. ILRI strategy tough issue: Adopting a value chain approach?

    Do you agree that the value chain concept is appropriate for helping to define ILRI’s role in research to promote market-oriented livestock production in our ‘inclusive growth’ scenario?
    If yes, are there any reasons not mentioned above that you think should be highlighted for why it is useful?
    If no, why do you think it is inappropriate?

    Yes and indeed this is a key reason why the CG Fund Council supported CRP 3.7. The additional element that should be stressed is the widespread adoption of this approach by rural development agencies such as the WB and IFAD. For example this VC approach did not exist in the IFAD lexicon until 10 years ago. By 2008/9 around 50% of the programmes either had VC in the title or had VC components in the design.

    If ILRI adopts the value chain concept and approach at the heart of its strategy, what risks might be created?

    This note talks of the concern that the focus would “shift to finding quick solutions”. I would express this differently: many (but by no means all) of the solutions to VCs are developmental rather than research. This means that ILRI adopting the value chain approach puts a premium on effective partnerships with the development community, and the private sector. In other words the ILRI uptake pathways would be more complex.

    I see in the “ILRI strategy 2013-2022 – annotated outline” of last March ( page 15) that “ILRI staff who participated in the survey have divergent views about the importance of value chain research, indicating that this is one, but not the only approach.” This sits uneasily with ILRI’s design of CRP3.7, but I have now consulted that staff survey and see that in round 1 of the survey, 61% of staff favoured increased focus on the intersection of research and development (this is also cited on page 19 of the annotated outline). I suspect more debate has since taken place on what is meant by VC approaches, and the need for further work on defining and engaging with partners and defining roles (pages 23 and 24 of the annotated outline). This is essential to deliver on selecting the appropriate VC management and governance options to merge commercial interests with social objectives ie inclusive approaches to poorer farmers. Addressing the risks in improving chain efficiency covers managerial, financial and marketing risks, and problems are often incurred because of failure of coordinated delivery of services and inputs.

  21. On 18 May a group of scientists (from ICARDA, ILRI and CIMMYT) met to reflect on the questions posed. Here are the main comments, in bullet format.
    1. Does VC approach work so well in ‘low growth’ scenario? Or is the VC just much more confined?
    2. Is a ‘by the poor, for the poor’ essentially a ‘low growth’ scenario?
    3. This is very much an ‘approach’, a ‘tool’, part of the ‘how’; and so should not be so upfront in the thinking. Should not be a determining or guiding approach
    4. VC very useful as a way to help facilitate getting to desirable trajectories/scenario’s
    5. Beware … we as research are very small to try and steer markets
    6. VC approach most useful in market-oriented situations…; but don’t forget there is an element of market orientation always!
    7. VC not necessarily best for all situations; too narrow sometimes – eg on environmental issues?
    8. However, if done well, VC approach should take account of all issues

  22. Q1: VC is a good analytical tool that can lead to targeted interventions in a pro-poor direction; this depend on the approach taken and how it is implemented.

    As it is mostly referred to formal markets, the question of the public good needs to be well defined, as also the private sector can (and does) undertake VC approaches to develop markets. Therefore, the role of the private sector and ILRI/NARS need to be defined if public funds are being used.

    VC is more implementation oriented – thus ILRI needs to define its role on the research – development continuum.

    For public goods without functioning environment, biodiversity etc), VC is not the best approach.

    Therefore, farming systems related research remains important in order not to neglect issues critical for long-term system sustainability (incl. exit strategies).

  23. The value chain approach is important and relevant to ILRI’s work. The risk of adopting this approach is in taking scare resources and spreading them even more thinly than they are already applied by adding a suite of research activities without any reduction in current activities/areas of focus. What does ILRI see as its comparative advantage? What activities should be done in-house and what kinds of activities can it undertake through partners/strategic partnerships?

    It’s possible that the best approach is to look for such partnerships to take over the elements of the value chain in which ILRI does not currently have a comparative advantage in order to build networks that cover the spectrum of activities rather than by trying to manage it all in-house. This would imply building a greater awareness of how research activities link together between institutions to ensure coordinated efforts influence development outcomes rather than building a bigger barn, as it were.

  24. We fully endorse and support this approach and as take part in CRP 3.7 Livestock and Fish. Key points for consideration in the future will be extrapolation and further selection of value chains, including the ones we are currently working on. In our view, equity in the value chain will be a very important topic.

  25. Value chain is a useful approach if applied sincerely to address all issues in the value chain in the truest sense and not addressing partially, dictated by the expertise present within the responsbile team. The CRPs as they stand currently are likely to benefit those having potential to get connected to the market easily and the poorest of the poor will not benefit. In addition, over playing/indulgence with the value chain will erode the science base of the CGIAR, limiting their cabality to address future challenges.

    Harinder Makkar

  26. ILRIs research is to create public goods usable widely to empower the livestock industry stakeholders ( producers, traders and consumers) in the mostly poor developing economies. Most of these industries are not competitive, lack vertical integration and are dominated by under-productive traditional and emerging (commercially transitional ) systems. Where could ILRI research “add value” along the chain that others are not doing? This is easy to explore and to identify (e.g. through fact finding consultations with the NARS) and to establish in its new strategy. Some [ e.g. CRP 3.7) call this Value Chain Development! That is OK, if the aim is to identify weaknesses/ constraints along he chain that research results could overcome. But some could argue that all researchable questions that aim improve livestock systems fall within the new terminology!

  27. Yes! This should identify where the blockages are in allowing growth and development, and for identifying the specific research needs.
    These questions are in line with the directions we are taking with the Institute for Food, Nutrition and Well-Being at the University of Pretoria ( How can we work together?

  28. what I would like to suggest is gender related issues should be taken into account in the value chain approach as well as in ILRI. Having said this, now I am interested to conduct my theses research in livestock oriented value chain approach( role of gender along livestock value chain) for my Msc award in jimma university, Ethiopia. to go in line with your organization’s objective, i will do any activities related with the topic mentioned above and if you are interested on the thematic area what i have selected to engage, you can communicate me through my email address.

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