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Putting value chain development into perspective: Evolution, blind spots and promising avenues

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Donors, NGOs, and government agencies have long embraced market-based development approaches for achieving economic growth and poverty reduction. Over the past two decades, value chain development (VCD) has taken the lead among such approaches. This chapter reviews the evolution of these approaches since the 1980s, with emphasis on the contributions and interactions of researchers and practitioners. Adopting the lens of ‘issue-attention cycles’, we show how 1) excitement is built up over a given approach, funding becomes available, and proliferation kicks in; 2) disenchantment follows as awareness builds on the complexity, trade-offs, and resources required to address these; and 3) interest declines, funding sources dry up, and attention moves to new (or rebranded) approaches. Researchers have spurred these cycles by coining new terms, designing tools, and assessing impact, with limited accountability for VCD outcomes. Practitioners, in turn, have promoted own VCD frameworks and tools and trumpeted their success in implementation, while showing limited appetite for scrutiny. More impactful VCD will require productive interactions between researchers, practitioners, and funding agencies, lasting presence on the ground for supporting smallholders and SMEs, and safe spaces for (self-)critical reflection. Review of what has worked in previous cycles, and what has not, is needed to build on proven elements of VCD approaches while addressing evident shortcomings. Shared commitment to continuous improvement with a long-term view and evidence-based achievements will extend the length of issue-attention cycles, if not eliminate them altogether.

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    Stoian, D.; Donovan, J.




    value chain, agrifood, agroecology, private sectors, development

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