Eco-market engineering: Locating the state in sustainable value chain development

Authors: Elsie Lewison*, University of Toronto
Topics: Development, Agricultural Geography, Economic Geography
Keywords: Value Chains, international development, environmental state, agriculture, Nepal, Himalaya
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Delaware A, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Value Chain Development (VCD), as an applied theory of development intervention emerged in the 1990s and 2000s as new forms of selective market governance, like VCD, were embraced as technical solutions to socio-environmental market failures, while also opening new frontiers for accumulation. Pro-poor value chain development, based on a "whole-market" approach, aims to identify weaknesses in a given value chain and actively engineer linkages between firms and producers to achieve win-win outcomes. The past decade has seen efforts to apply VC models to address an increasingly broad range of sustainable development concerns including support for organic agriculture and agro-biodiversity conservation. I build on research in an agro-biodiversity hotspot in north-western Nepal to reflect on the role of the state in recent sustainable value chain development initiatives. I highlight key contrasts to VCD projects in conventional agricultural markets, which have relied on the role of a large “lead firm” as a source of productive capital as well as knowledge and technology. VCD projects have been coupled with efforts to promote outsourcing and private sector participation in public sector agriculture research and development, with the desired effect of phasing out the state as a direct service provider to farmers. Yet, limited returns on investment in pro-poor organic and endangered crops have posed challenges to VCD logics. I suggest that these limits to VCD rationalities may result in failures, but also have the potential to open alternative approaches to market-governance and non-capitalist investments in agriculture including collaborations between activists, NGOs and state actors.

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