LINK methodology: changing relations between business partners

Besides supporting and strengthening farmer organisations, Rikolto encourages food companies and retailers to make their procurement policy ‘inclusive’ for small-scale farmers and their organisations. In an ‘inclusive’ business model, farmers are viewed as fully fledged players in the chain.

With improved business relationships and more inclusiveness, smallholders can provide a stable supply of higher quality products leading to increased sales for buyers, and higher profits for all participants of the value chain.

Mark Lundy
International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)

To ensure the inclusion of farmer organisations in local, regional and global supply chains, Rikolto brings all value chain actors together through the LINK methodology. We co-identify critical areas for improvement and accompany food companies in the design and implementation of inclusive business strategies and the evaluation of the effects of these changes on smallholder farmers and on the business itself. As such, using LINK can also lead to a systematic learning process between actors from a selected value chain, and allow them to discover new opportunities for innovation, based on the application of a participatory toolkit.

The tool in 6 steps

The LINK Methodology is a participatory method created by the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and other organisations within the Sustainable Food Lab. Its aim is to foster inclusive commercial relationships between smallholder producers and markets, linking chain actors more effectively and improving their relationship step by step.

Based on a questionnaire and consultation moments between the different players in an agricultural chain, the bottlenecks and strengths of their commercial relationship are uncovered according to the following six principles that underpin inclusive business models:

  1. cooperation between all actors in the chain with a common goal;
  1. new relations between all chain actors, leading to a stable market and constant supply;
  1. a fair and transparent policy (labour conditions, fair prices, good working conditions)
  1. equal access to credit, technical support in the field, market information, etc.
  1. inclusive innovation (not ‘for’, but ‘with’ farmers); and
  1. measurable results (indicators and concrete tailored monitoring programmes or follow-up plans).

What is special about this chain approach, is that it goes beyond looking at commercial relations. It unravels and connects the way of working of all the actors in the chain.

Josephine Ecklu
Inclusive Business Coordinator @ Rikolto

Picture of Josephine Ecklu

How does LINK work?

The LINK methodology is designed around four main tools:

Link methodology

By the end of the process you will be able to understand the relationship between specific business models (buyer and seller) and the overall value chain; identified critical areas for improvement; designed, implemented, evaluated and improved the innovation prototype for the business model you selected; and evaluated the effects of these changes on small-holder farmers and on the business itself.

Our experience

Rikolto started as one of the first NGOs piloting LINK cases in 2011 and by today we have successfully implemented the toolkit in over 15 agri food chains throughout Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru, Ecuador, Indonesia and Tanzania within 6 commodities: cocoa, coffee, vegetables, banana, asparagus, passion fruit and corn.

Our partners involve:

  • chocolate companies such as Ritter Sport, Pacari chocolates, Chocolats Halba and Conexión Chocolate;
  • multinational retail corporation Walmart and La Colonia, the second largest supermarket chain in Nicaragua
  • Colruyt Group N.V., the biggest retail company in Belgium and Grupo Hualtaco, Peru’s third largest banana exporter, amongst others.

The LINK methodology in action:

Sandwich of the day: inclusive business relations between farmers’ cooperatives and Subway in Nicaragua

In 2016, four vegetable farmers’ cooperatives in Jinotega, Nicaragua, started providing safe, high-quality vegetables to national Subway outlets. Facilitated by Rikolto, they devised a business model that puts inclusivity at the forefront: it focuses on long-term commitments from both parties, stable and fair prices for the farmers, and a reliable supply of quality vegetables for Subway.

In 2019, we used the LINK methodology to measure to what extent both Subway and the farmers’ cooperatives view the collaboration as an inclusive business partnership. By doing so, we can learn and improve the business model in this case, as well as in future collaborations.

Read the full case study

A commitment to inclusion in Honduras

A commitment to inclusion in Honduras: Although the business relationship between the smallholder producers, represented by ASOFAIL, and the giant retailer Walmart was going well, this business was missing an innovative methodological component that would allow farmers to have a secure market, and consumers to have a high-quality product on time. A true marketing agreement. That's where LINK came in.

Read the whole story on CIAT’s blog
Business Lab Colonia - Consorcio

Link-ing smallholders with modern markets

In 2016, the application of the LINK and FAO’s (Inclusive Business Models guidelines) methodologies intensified the collaboration between Supermercados La Colonia and The Consorcio Agrocomercial of Honduras. As a result, the consortium was able to increase its negotiating position and diversify its product offer. A good agricultural practices strategy was designed and implemented, achieving a 97% compliance rate with buyers’ standards and contributing to a 14% increase in sales in 2014.  

Read the whole story on CIAT’s blog

An inclusive business model from Switzerland to Honduras

The Honduran cocoa from APROSACAO gained recognition in Switzerland and 85% of their cocoa sold to Chocolats Halba meets premium quality standards. The farming families (who were not previously involved in cocoa production) increased their annual income by $169. Halba also provides technical assistance to farmers for postharvest technics, commercialization, financing, and organic certification. Women are involved in the production of hand-made chocolates and postharvest activities, and young people have set up an organic fertilizer plant. The case was part of a project funded by FAO and implemented by VECO Mesoamerica and CIAT.

Read the whole story on CIAT’s blog

Want to know more?

Get in touch with us to address your organisation’s specific needs.

Marianne Vergeyle