Inclusive Business Workshop led by VECO at WTO Public Forum

Inclusive Business Workshop led by VECO at WTO Public Forum


From 1 to 3 October the World Trade Organisation (WTO) organised its yearly Public Forum in the WTO headquarters in Geneva. This years edition focused on 'Why Trade Matters to Everyone'. The Forum wanted to tell the human story behind trade, 'the myriad connections between trade and people's daily lives and how trade improves the day-to-day lives of citizens around the globe'. Within the Forum Vredeseilanden/VECO was entitled to organize a workshop on "Inclusive trading relationships, linking smallholders to modern markets: how to build bridges and create a win-win?". Caroline Huyghe hosted the workshop and a panel of renowned experts from CIAT (Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical), CDI Wageningen (Centre for Development Innovation), Durabilis and Unilever/Oxfam.

Caroline set the scene by connecting the challenge of feeding the 9 billion with the huge share of poverty and food insecurity among smallholder farmers worldwide and the challenges we face with regard to climate change and resource scarcity. "For companies active in the food sector", she said, "these challenges can also be an opportunity". Inclusive business and inclusive market development is about finding new ways of doing business that make it possible to connect those asset-limited farmers to markets, as they have the potential to become commercially viable. She added: “If we manage to enforce those millions of farmers, with limited assets and capacities, limited organisation and networking, and support them to create a business for themselves, from which they can live that would mean a massive increase in the number of producers of food…not only feeding themselves and their families, but also feeding the world.”

Vredeseilanden/VECO connects farmers directly to food companies and supermarkets. This will ensure better income for farmers, sustainable long term relations between farmers and companies and better food for all. Some examples are collaborations with Mars in Indonesia to source sustainable cocoa, ensuring their supply in the future and helping farmers to raise productivity and quality and with Wallmart in Honduras, buying fresh vegetables directly from smallholder cooperatives.

Alexandra Amrein from CIAT presented the LINK! methodology, a methodology that facilitates private companies and farmers organizations to work together throughout the value chain. The methodology is based upon a common value chain analysis, linking up the business models of the different chain actors, the assessment of the relationships between the actors based upon a set of principles that enhance the positive outcomes for all actors. The different steps lead to prototyping possible actions to improve the impact of the collaboration between the chain actors.

Justin Tait from the joint Unilever - Oxfam program Sunrise explained that Sunrise is a joint learning program on how to do business with smallholders in ways that can improve their livelihoods. By the end of this year the program will deliver guidance for lead firms and suppliers on improving livelihoods through inclusive business models. It was interesting to hear how a large company as Unilever engages with smallholders. Justin shared experiences from the tomato case in India.

Bert Sercu from Durabilis, a Belgian based Impact Investing Company. Bert is responsible for the implementation of its impact and Social Responsibility strategy and reporting on its performance. Durabilis started 10 years ago with the idea that there might be value in businesses with a positive influence on people’s lives. "Which is why we consider ourselves a ‘social impact company’" says Bert. How would an ideal inclusive value chain look like then, for Durabilis? “Value added always helps to generate margin and thus resources for thinking long term. You have to collaborate within the chain on volumes, prices and working capital”, Bert explains, “”It's better to stay out of the spot market. You need to use the right incentives to motivate farmers to comply with complex requirements. but it's not something you do overnight."

Monika Sopov from CDI Wageningen focused on business and sector development in developing countries in Africa. She has been involved in setting up the "Seas of Change", a platform that offers space for practitioners to exchange ideas and lessons learned around inclusive business. Recently she has published a very interesting book with her colleagues with the title: "Is inclusive business for you? Managing and upscaling an inclusive company: lessons from the field". Her presentation dealt with inclusive business involving SMEs and smallholders. "Reviewing recent cases of SME business investments in smallholders, we see three main reasons why farmers should care about these long term relationships", Monika says, "they increase their resilience, create access to risk management options and increase their income."

The second part of the session was a question and answer session between the panel and public.