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Promoting Inclusive Markets and Financial Systems

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Making Markets Work for Smallholders: Lessons from Bangladesh

Currently in its eighth year, CARE’s program working in the dairy value chain in Bangladesh has influenced other agricultural value chains in Malawi, Tanzania, Ghana, India, Ethiopia and Mali. Now, in a new book, Making Markets More Inclusive: Lessons from CARE and the Future of Sustainability in Agricultural Value Chain Development, CARE highlights some of the key lessons learned from this intensely developed agricultural value chain initiative and takes readers on an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at what CARE has learned in its journey to reduce poverty through market-based approaches. Here we will provide a sneak preview and share the top five lessons outlined in the book on how to make markets work:

  1. Work along the entire value chain – not just with farmers. Too many NGO value chain initiatives begin and end with the producers. To really get to the heart of improving a value chain, NGOs (or companies or governments) must understand and work along the entire chain. Sometimes the intervention that helps farmers most doesn’t lie with the farmers themselves, but rather with other participants at other points along the chain.
  2. Experiment and learn. Rigidly following plans doesn’t work. If markets and value chains in low-income communities were stable, known and predictable, then developing a plan and tightly following it would be the best way to work. However, neither development work nor markets are static. Therefore, effectively working to enhance markets and value chains requires a different approach that matches the dynamic context.
  3. Skillfully empower women. It’s smart economics, and it’s the right thing to do. Women provide the majority of agricultural labour in South Asia yet consistently have less access to the resources and opportunities they need to be more productive. Extensive data that CARE collected on women’s participation (over 80% of the farmers CARE worked with in northwest Bangladesh were women) found that the most productive and profitable dairy groups had women serving in leadership roles. Data also demonstrates that an explicit gender focus in companies’ bottom of the pyramid (BoP) strategies can have direct business benefits along the length of a supply chain.
  4. Design for scale from the start – or risk not making a significant difference. CARE’s project has worked with about 50,000 farmers, as well as hundreds of entrepreneurs and many companies – a fraction, still, of Bangladesh’s 160 million people. From the beginning, CARE sought to reach a level of scale far beyond the farmers and entrepreneurs the organization worked with directly. CARE sought interventions that would spread through the entire dairy industry, reaching far more people.
  5. Making markets and value chains work for poor producersFrom the dozens of market enhancements that CARE piloted and implemented through its dairy value chain program, four particular patterns emerged about what makes markets work more effectively.  Markets work more effectively when:
  • Power relationships are rebalanced in favor of poor producers ;
  • Producers have the information they need;
  • Producers have access to the productivity-enhancing inputs and technologies (such as artificial insemination); and
  • Producers are connected to markets that contain lower risk and less uncertainty.

To learn more about CARE’s approach, visit www.MakingMarketsMoreInclusive.com and join us for an interactive lunch session at the SEEP 2015 Annual Conference on Wednesday, September 30 where we will delve into more details and practical applications of the lessons learned!


Dr. Kevin McKague is an Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategy at the Shannon School of Business, Cape Breton University, and an internationally experienced academic and researcher of market-based and social enterprise-led approaches to global poverty alleviation. Kevin has led major research projects for the International Finance Corporation (World Bank), The UN’s Growing Inclusive Markets Initiative, and the International Development Research Centre. He has an MBA and a PhD from the Schulich School of Business in Toronto.

Nurul Siddiquee, Technical Advisor for Sustainable Agriculture, supports CARE’s women-focused agriculture program, Pathways, in six countries of South East Asia and Africa. He is a key contributor to CARE’s agriculture and market systems work on climate-smart agriculture and resilience, with a focus on addressing the adaptive capacity of CARE impact groups, specifically women and youth. He coauthored CARE’s recent book, ‘Making Markets More Inclusive: Lessons from CARE and the Future of Sustainability in Agriculture Value Chain Development’.

Celebrating 30 years, the SEEP Network’s 2015 Annual Conference (Sept 30-Oct 1) will focus on themes of inclusion and resilience, with a particular emphasis on smallholders. The lunch dialogue with CARE on September 30th will examine the future of sustainability in agricultural value chain development and how practitioners, development agencies, and donors can more effectively contribute to making agricultural markets more inclusive for men and women.

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