From ‘COP29’ to ‘Smallholders’: 7 International Development Terms to Know in 2024

Every profession has its jargon, but TechnoServe’s field has more than its fair share. To help you make sense of all the international development jargon, here is a cheat sheet with seven terms you should know in 2024.

7 International Development Terms to Know in 2024

1. COP29

Each year, heads of state, scientists, advocates, and nonprofits like TechnoServe gather at the world’s most important event dedicated to the fight against climate change: the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, better known as COP. This year’s edition, COP29, will take place from November 11 to 24 in Baku, Azerbaijan. 

Building on the key outcomes from last year’s COP28, the meeting will be critical to ensuring that farmers, small business owners, and other vulnerable community members are resilient to the impacts of climate change and can improve their livelihoods.

A photo of peas in Central America. Part of a blog post on international development terms.

2. Food Systems

Simply put, a food system refers to the interrelated people, institutions, and activities involved in the production, processing, transportation, and consumption of food. A farmer harvesting tomatoes in Kenya is part of the food system. Entrepreneurs making cooking oil in Zambia are part of the food system. And when you sit down for dinner tonight, you’re part of the food system, too.

Food systems contribute to the livelihoods of more than half the world’s population and the nourishment of everyone, so it is critical that they are prosperous, inclusive, resilient, nutritious, and sustainable.

3. Market Systems Development

Market systems development, often shortened to MSD, is an approach that harnesses the power of businesses and institutions operating within a given economy to improve the livelihoods of people facing poverty. Under an MSD approach, organizations like TechnoServe work with companies and organizations operating within the market to create new business models and practices that will help generate inclusive economic opportunities. 

For example, in Mozambique, rather than directly train micro-entrepreneurs on financial literacy, TechnoServe’s WIN program worked with Futuro mcb, a micro-finance institution, to develop an effective financial education program that the company could provide its clients. This is a win-win solution: the entrepreneurs are better able to manage their businesses and finances, while the lender benefits from higher repayment rates and the ability to attract new customers.

The idea is that this type of win-win solution developed through market systems development will be sustained and even grow to other companies over time, benefiting more people.

4. Micro-retail

Micro-retail refers to the small shops and market kiosks serving local neighborhoods across the world. The same way bodegas are an essential part of life in New York, spaza shops play a vital role in Johannesburg and dukas do the same in Nairobi. In the Kenyan capital, for example, more than 80% of everyday household products are sold by micro-retailers.

By building the capacity of micro-retailers, TechnoServe helps not only the entrepreneurs and their employees but also the communities these shops serve.

5. Regenerative Agriculture

Regenerative agriculture refers to sustainable farming that not only avoids harming the environment but actually leaves the planet healthier. For example, when a coffee farmer plants shade trees on her farm, it doesn’t just improve the quality and resilience of her crop, it also sequesters carbon–helping to combat climate change–and improves biodiversity.

Agriculture, forestry, and other land use contributes nearly a quarter of all carbon emissions, so finding these kinds of win-win solutions is vital to combating climate change.

6. Scaling Up

At TechnoServe, we love to talk about scaling up our projects. But what does that mean? It means taking a successful program, solution, or initiative and finding cost-effective ways for it to reach more people.

Take the BeniBiz program, for example. The first phase of the program successfully helped more than 5,700 entrepreneurs in Benin to grow their businesses and create more than 12,000 new jobs. By working with local partners, however, a new phase of the project aims to benefit more than 100,000 entrepreneurs. That’s scaling up!

A coffee farmer in Honduras inspects his trees. Part of a blog post on international development terms to know.

7. Smallholders

While precise definitions of smallholders vary–and are hotly debated–the basic idea is that they are farmers raising crops or livestock on a small plot of land, with the family performing most (or all) of the agricultural work. 

By any definition, most of the world’s farmers are smallholders, and their work is vital to global agriculture: farms under 5 acres produce about 30% of the world’s food and 60% of the world’s coffee

However, small farm sizes can often make it difficult for families to lift themselves out of poverty. With average coffee farms in some places now shrinking to the size of a suburban American backyard, for example, helping farmers to improve their productivity and the price they receive for their crop takes on added urgency.

While the international development terminology may be confusing at times, the importance of ending global poverty could not be clearer.