Throughout sub-Saharan Africa there are a number of initiatives aiming to improve the effectiveness of staple crop value chains as part of a broader discourse around markets and poverty reduction. Staple crops, such as cassava, are often considered as an entry point for targeting market interventions to the rural poor, particularly women. However, initial findings from fieldwork in Nigeria and Malawi show a much more complex picture of the role of cassava and cassava markets in men and women’s livelihoods, which varies by location, ethnicity, and life-stage of individuals. The concept of women’s empowerment, as defined by access to resources, agency, and achievements, is used in this analysis to understand these dynamics. The analysis reveals gender inequalities that can limit the ability of women to benefit from growing market opportunities. Simply targeting value chains that involve the participation of women may not benefit women de facto over time. These initial findings stress the importance of questioning our assumptions in development discourse on markets, gender (in)equality, and poverty alleviation.
Practical lessons on scaling up smallholder-inclusive and sustainable cassava value chains in Africa
Developing more inclusive and sustainable agricultural value chains at scale is a development priority. The ‘Cassava: Adding Value for Africa’ project has supported the development of value chains for high quality cassava flour (HQCF) in Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria, and Malawi to improve the incomes and livelihoods of smallholder households, including women. The project focused on three key interventions: 1) ensuring a consistent supply of raw materials; 2) developing viable intermediaries as secondary processors or bulking agents; and 3) driving market demand. Scaling-up experiences are presented, guided by an analysis of drivers (ideas/models, vision and leadership, incentives and accountability), the enabling context (institutions, infrastructure, technology, financial, policy and regulations, partnerships and leverage, social context, environment), and the monitoring, evaluation, and learning process. Lessons for scaling up of similar value chain interventions are presented. These highlight the tension between rapid development of value chains and achieving equity and sustainability goals; the need for holistic approaches to capacity strengthening of diverse value chain actors; the role of strengthening equitable business relationships and networks as a vital element of scaling processes; and how informed engagement with government policy and regulatory issues is key, but often challenging given conflicting pressures on policymakers. The scaling process should be market-led, but the level and type of public sector and civil society investment needs careful consideration by donors, governments, and others, in particular less visible investments in fostering relationships and trust. Addressing uncertainties around smallholder-inclusive value chain development requires adaptive management and facilitation of the scaling process.