Demonstrating a business case for agroecology

By John Chettleborough, Lead Agriculture and Markets, Practical Action Consulting

The coronavirus pandemic has affected food systems around the world, leading to disruptions in production and food supply. Calls to ‘build back better’ and strengthen the resilience of agricultural value chains are now mainstream. Business practices and markets that support regenerative agriculture need to be part of this.

In April 2019, Practical Action announced the start of a partnership with the IKEA Foundation designed to demonstrate that a business-led approach to agroecology is possible. Agroecology is a form of regenerative agriculture that is based on the principle of WORKING WITH rather than WORKING AGAINST nature.

In practice, this means harnessing the synergy between plants, animals and the landscape, both to support productive agriculture and maintain the resources on which agriculture depends.

If agroecology is to be adopted at scale, the following would need to be implemented:

  • companies need to gain a competitive advantage from engaging in agroecology
  • input and output markets need to operate in a way that enables agroecology
  • markets that support agroecology need to be growing so that they offer opportunities for businesses and investment and so that young people choose agriculture as a career of choice, rather than one of last resort.

The programme, which has been operating in Kisumu and Homa Bay counties in Kenya for over a year (albeit one disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic) aims to explore how these three things can be achieved in tandem. It is working in three subsectors that will help to achieve those objectives and support an agroecological farming system. These are: chicken (which provides organic fertiliser), groundnuts (which fixes nitrogen in the soil and provides mulch and forage) and tomatoes (which benefit from all of this and provide year round high returns).

Our approach is based on facilitation rather than direct intervention. We assist local stakeholders take the driving seat and encourage collaboration that leads to improvements in how these markets operate and the development of new business models. Some of the key achievements so far have included:

  • In multi stakeholder forums, local SMEs alongside Government and civil society bodies with a stake in the poultry sector, have identified the critical sector wide blockages and constraints that affect overall sector performance and inclusion.
  • These stakeholders have formed Market Interest Groups which support collaboration to develop market based solutions to the critical challenges of access to finance, access to market information and access to knowledge and training. These groups are autonomous but Practical Action facilitates some activities – for instance, connecting financial institutions to young farmers and subsidising the development of training resources to be used by private and public training providers.
  • Individual companies with potentially catalytic agroecological business models are being provided with support (see box).

 

Mini Case Study

Biofit are an innovative new company producing animal feed from local resources including water hyacinth. Biofit are working with Practical Action in two ways.

They are collaborating with other companies and public institutions, bringing their knowledge of the local context in the search for solutions that improve access to training for large numbers of young people.

They are also working with Practical Action to expand the number of local producers that they obtain raw materials from and to develop new product lines (e.g. pellets).

These developments will help Biofit reduce costs and expand their market whilst at the same time improving inclusivity and promoting a more circular economy. Companies like this present an alternative vision to entrepreneurs, investors and Governments of what is possible in agriculture.

The results of this partnership with the IKEA Foundation so far are positive. There is an increase in the promotion of regenerative agriculture practice amongst public and private organisations. Meanwhile companies are reporting increased uptake of financial products from producers and more consistent access to a high quality supply of raw materials.

Over the course of this project, this combination of catalytic business model development, market growth and business to business collaboration will provide learning on how local markets and SMEs can be a driver for a more sustainable and inclusive form of agriculture.

For more information about our programmes, please visit the Practical Action website (https://practicalaction.org/) or Chris Henderson, Head of Agriculture, Practical Action, Ch*************@pr*************.uk

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