The Institute of Productivity (IoP)  has spent many years working on the creation of effective and efficient international food supply chains- working in the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and Europe.  Our experience in developing countries has led us to conclude that:

  • ·      traditional supply chains built on poor control give poor product quality; this results in poor returns and keeps people poor
  • ·      standard approaches to addressing this problem via the imposition of sophisticated quality standards are ineffective when the primary agents in the supply chain (farmers, growers, fishermen, etc.) often fail to grasp the WHY of standards, let along the HOW.

This problem is becoming ever more important as the world faces significant problems of food supply and security due to:

  • ·      The growing population
  • ·      The increasing switch of land from agriculture to other uses
  • ·      The continuing move of the labour force from rural to urban areas
  • ·      The depletion of fish stocks due to overfishing.

An understanding of these issues has led IoP to review and revise its approach to supply chain development, resulting in an approach designed to:

  • ·      view the issue through a ‘productivity lens’ to ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of food supply chains are considered
  • ·      change the ‘mind set’ of the key actors in ways which create a self-directed desire and momentum for change.
  • ·      provide support and skills which create long-term, sustainable change and resilient supply chains.

Creating Resilient and Flexible Change 

Aid projects which claim to be ‘pro-poor’ are often based on the premise that it is always possible to get a higher price for product meeting a relevant standard .  Due to the differences in ‘power’ and negotiating strength of suppliers and international buyers, this is not always the case.  Approaches based on productivity development – by design – are focused on producing more product for the same resource inputs.  This is both effective and intuitive – using fewer inputs quickly convinces farmers and other supply chain actors of the benefits of new ways of working.  Since measurement is built in to the approach as a key feature, benefits can be demonstrated and evaluated, reinforcing the key message for all concerned – the farmers themselves, support agencies, government agencies, aid agencies, etc.

The ioP approach is summarised in the following paragraphs


Undertake a context study.

  • Identify key stakeholders (normally Government, industry, buyers and NGO’s but especially those with ownership of key resources and decision-making power.  Identify the expectations and aspirations of these key stakeholders?
  • Research economic factors – current markets and trends, regional factors, etc.,
  • Identify the skills landscape  - what is the current knowledge and skillset that relates to food supply, food standards, etc.
  • Identify the requirements of customers –retailers in existing and new export markets.
  • Identify any relevant history – approaches/aid projects that have been tried in the past.  What has ‘failed’? or worked well and why?
  • Identify ‘readiness for change’.  What is the level of dissatisfaction with the current situation/performance? Is there a vision of the future?


  • Review the standards that currently apply to the area of work and understand which elements may confer benefit to the local actors (farmers, fishermen).
  • Identify ‘readiness’ of key actors to move to applicable standards.
  • Identify the real ‘logjams’ preventing compliance.
  • Create a ‘tailored’ code of practice covering ‘key controls’ which can achieve most of the benefits of reaching the full standard but can be applied at the current state of readiness.  It is very important to use language (and local language) appropriate to the actors … so, for example, wherever possible one should use pictures/graphics for illiterate and semi-literate actors.

Benchmarking and KPI’s

  • Undertake a baseline survey of existing performance against the key controls – this is ‘comparative benchmarking’ & identification of good performance.  It is generally easier to motivate unsophisticated actors to improved performance if they know where they stand in performance terms compared to the best of their peer group (“If they can do it, so can I.”)
  • From the benchmarking, identify knowledge/skills required to accelerate the adoption of the code of practice/key controls.
  • Create a set of balanced performance measures and associated indicators to drive change

Change Agents – know your standard and your KPI’s

  • Identify groups or individuals that can act as ‘change agents/catalysts’ – these may be from existing support groups or from within the community of actors itself.  This stage helps provides the necessary scale of operation.
  • This group need to fully understand proven benefits of any programme and associated performance measures demonstrating positive change for the farmer and buyer.
  • Create, prepare and deliver training to the change agents – who will represent the top of a hierarchy of support workers.  This training should include the vision (of improved performance), the standard which represents the final goal, the code of practice which represents the intermediate, feasible goal alongside communication/training/mentoring skills.  It is preferable to use accredited training that leads to recognition of the change agents – this acts as a motivator/reward.
  • Identify any technology support that might act as a catalyst to the introduction of the code of practice/key controls. (e.g. a SMS-based information service on weather forecasts, pest information, etc).


  • Work with the change agents to prepare a cascade of training that will eventually reach all actors (farmers, growers, fishermen) in the target community.  This cascade might be organised geographically, in naturally-occurring or existing clusters or around specific sub-sectors (such as different crops).
  • The change agents have knowledge of the proven benefits of intervention and the key productivity and performance indicators which farmers can track.


  • Plan change interventions designed to improve compliance with the key controls in some target farms as part of the cascade process.
  • Re-benchmark at least a sample of farms – both farms which have had interventions and some which have not (as a control set.  Presumably these ‘control farms’ have been subject to a similar environmental changes – pests, weather, etc.).  This benchmarking should be done at regular intervals to establish a longitudinal data set
  • Review benchmark data to identify those interventions which have had the greatest impact.

Project Afterlife

  • Work with the change agents and existing support agencies on ‘project afterlife’ – how will change be maintained and performance improved once the specific project has been completed.
  • Plan and prepare information sheets, leaflets and (revised) training materials to reflect the impact study and support this afterlife.
  • Consider the establishment of a ‘Skills centre’ to work with change agents  - probably using an existing agency to avoid ’politics’. This skills centre will hold the benchmark data, coordinate the cascade of training, `and coordinate any technology support and service,
  • Provide impact packs to skills centre so that they understand the interventions that have had the greatest impact – and how those interventions have been handled.

An example of a recent project in Bangladesh is outlined <HERE>

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Address: 3rd Floor, Telegraph House,  80 Cleethorpe Road, Grimsby, DN31 3EF 

Phone:    +44 1472 358195


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