Editorial: Revisiting the role of business, technical, and financial services in fostering rural entrepreneurship
Over the past 15 or so years authors in Enterprise Development and Microfinance (EDM) have written extensively about the design and implementation of microfinance and its use by the poor, whether to respond to shocks and changing contexts, invest in education, or advance livelihood goals (Figure 1 overleaf). Coverage has ranged from the specifics of designing microfinance schemes, access to them by the poorest, and their impact on wellbeing and poverty. While the debate on microfinance is far from over, it is true that discussions have been more concerned with managing, saving, borrowing, and moving money, than about building viable businesses. Business development involving the poor, which in many cases focuses on rural small and medium enterprises (SMEs), requires us to address the demand for a range of services which, taken together, enhance the capacities of rural SMEs. Such services need to be affordable and reliable, and address the productive and business needs of SMEs, from small-scale processors to multi-tiered agricultural cooperatives. The issues are complex with lingering questions about how different types of service providers, from government agencies and NGOs to various private sector agents, can better design their services; and how, through adequate delivery mechanisms, the capacity and willingness of SMEs to employ such services can be strengthened. In this Editorial, we discuss some of the key issues for advancing rural entrepreneurship via improved services and provide an outlook for future discussions.
Digital agriculture and pathways out of poverty: the need for appropriate design, targeting, and scaling
Digital technologies range from ‘low-tech’ tools such as mobile phones and computers to more ‘high-tech’ solutions such as blockchain, Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence. Digital technologies can help smallholder farmers increase their yields and incomes if they are effectively targeted to facilitate agriculture as a ‘pathway out of poverty’. For digital agriculture to deliver on its promise, it is critical not only to design digital agriculture interventions that consider the target populations’ needs, constraints, and appropriateness, but also to ensure that digital technologies do not exacerbate social and economic inequalities. Cognizance of these risks is essential if practitioners are to ensure that digital agriculture fulfils its potential and makes significant contributions to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). We use the example of a digital agriculture decision support tool, Rice Crop Manager (RCM), to illustrate the challenges of designing, targeting, and scaling digital tools to support rural development.
Since the late 1990s, value chains and related concepts have captured the attention of researchers and practitioners alike. EDM’s 2017 double special issue on value chain development in agriculture attested to the enduring interest in the subject. Often, however, researchers and practitioners have thought about value chains in quite different ways. This has impeded the formation of a common language around value chains and the evolution of how value chain concepts are applied in rural development. For researchers, value chains are a theoretical framework around which to examine globalizing food markets and the numerous and important ways in which they have transformed relations between retailers, processors, farmers and consumers. For practitioners, however, value chains are actual configurations of farmers and business leaders, operating in the most challenging of business environments, who in theory can derive benefits from increased cooperation and coordination. Unpacking the twists and turns in value chain thinking and applications over time can shed light on why communication between researchers and practitioners has been so challenging, and crucially, future opportunities for more effective dialogue, action, and impact.