Partnering to Crack the Nut: Attracting Investment to Rural & Agricultural Markets

June 28, 2012

At the Cracking the Nut Conference earlier this week, effective partnerships were highlighted as essential for success in growing rural agricultural markets. Despite a line up of sessions dedicated entirely to the subject, partnerships were discussed in almost every session.

Marielle Walter works for TechnoServe's Volunteer Consultant program as an associate program manager. Below, she recounts her experience at the Cracking the Nut Conference, held on June 25-26 in Washington, DC.

At the Cracking the Nut Conference earlier this week, effective partnerships were highlighted as essential for success in growing rural agricultural markets. Despite a line up of sessions dedicated entirely to the subject, partnerships were discussed in almost every session.


Beth Keck, Senior Director of Sustainability at Walmart. Photo credit: Lein De Leon Yong

Keynote: Attracting Private Sector Investment to Rural and Agricultural Markets

Beth Keck, Walmart’s senior director of sustainability, kicked off the conference with a presentation on Walmart’s sustainable agriculture initiative. The company recognized the need to be proactive in managing market volatility and identified sustainable agriculture as an effective solution, she said.

Keck went on to detail Walmart’s work in Central America to allow small producers to supply fresh fruit, vegetables and cereals to supermarkets through Hortifruti, Walmart’s regional affiliate. This model has brought smallholders into the supply chain and has benefited more than 13,000 families to date, she said.

Keck cited partnerships as vital in helping to accelerate progress in the developing world and connecting smallholder farmers with larger markets, explaining that while Walmart opens access to new markets with the "purchase order," the donor and NGO community play the essential role of working with the smallholders to increase their capacity. Keck said that promoting sustainable agriculture effectively requires a complex ecosystem of partnerships to ensure support is provided at all levels of the supply chain and market development.

The Multilateral Investment Fund Facilitates Private Sector Sourcing in Central America

Alejandro Escobar of the Inter-American Development Bank’s Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF) discussed the importance of partnerships in his organization’s approach to helping farmers reach high-value markets. Smallholder farmers often lack the access to finance necessary to secure certifications and to take the steps necessary to transition to more sustainable practices in agriculture.

While there is an increasing demand for organic and certified products, Escobar noted that many investors have ignored the potential in linking smallholder farmers to new, high-value markets. Partnerships were recognized as a crucial catalyst to opening financial access to rural farmers. Escobar named Starbucks, McDonalds, Illy, and Kraft Foods, among others, as effective partners who have come together with like-minded institutions to supply the access to finance that smallholder farmers need.

Partnerships Achieve Success in the Niger Delta

William Grant of DAI (pictured left) and Dennis Fleming of Chevron (pictured right) discussed a dynamic approach to partnerships that was hailed as a great success through Chevron’s Niger Delta Partnership Initiative (NDPI) and the Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta (PIND). Significant conflict over the past ten years created a challenging environment for the promotion of business growth, market linkages and sustainable agriculture in the Niger Delta.

According to the NDPI, more than 30 million Nigerians representing over 40 different ethnic groups live in the oil-rich, but 70 percent impoverished Niger Delta region. NDPI “seeks to work with a wide range of partners to address the most complex development challenges facing the people of this region,” according to your organization.

Fleming said Chevron-funded initiatives have built transformative partnerships that engage a broad range of partners, including multilateral donors, corporate and private foundations, bilateral agencies, government agencies and non-governmental organizations. In 2011, PIND engaged 2,150 stakeholders, trained 1,292 people, and recorded 3,562 direct beneficiaries. By creating a portfolio of partners, PIND could search for overlapping interests and bring parties together accordingly, providing real opportunity for scaling up.

Public-Private Partnerships for Supply Chain Development

David Browning, senior vice president of strategic initiatives at TechnoServe, spoke about the capacity of public-private partnerships to solve social problems. In response to societal and market demand, the private sector has begun to recognize the importance of creating shared value.

Engaging the private sector in this way provides an exciting opportunity to increase the scale of social impact. Bringing existing relationships with consumers, distribution channels, and other established practices, the private sector has the ability to promote real systemic change. While corporations do not have all the tools necessary to solve social ills, effective partnerships can help the private sector engage with the public sector in a way that supplements their resources and brings large scale solutions to social problems. While Browning noted valid excitement for the tremendous potential public-private partnerships have, he also left conference participants with the reminder that this process is still nascent. A focus on problem solving is necessary to capture the full potential that public-private partnerships offer.

To effectively connect private sector investment with rural and agricultural markets, the nut must be cracked at many levels by many actors. Expanding into new markets, tapping new suppliers, making finance work, and forging government support are efforts that will collectively work towards this end. The opportunities to forge strong partnerships to make these efforts successful are vast, and the sooner the community focuses on how to make these connections effectively, the sooner we can get cracking.