Capturing Systemic Change in Bangladesh
What does systemic change look like on a USAID Feed the Future project?
Can evidence of systemic change be measured during the life of the project?
What can data from partner firms tell us about whether a project is moving toward more inclusive market systems development?
Late last year, the USAID Bangladesh Agriculture Value Chains (AVC) project team asked us to participate in part of the project’s Collaborating, Learning and Adapting (CLA) strategy. AVC had been applying market systems lenses and tactics for over two years and indications were that it was fostering systemic change.
In the agri-inputs market systems, the project’s partner firms, and some competing firms, were saying that they were scaling up some of the new strategies and tactics learned from AVC – not just in the Feed the Future Zones of Influence (ZOI) or in pre-selected value chains, but also in other parts of the country and in other value chains. We were asked to work with the project team and partners to ground truth indications of sustainable systemic changes and trends, which we documented in a recently published case study.
AVC’s key strategies and tactics
The AVC activity, implemented by DAI, aims to develop long-term food security in the Southern Delta Region of Bangladesh by applying a market systems approach to improve availability of diverse and nutritious fruits, vegetables and pulses in local, regional and national markets. In October 2015, AVC was redesigned into a flagship market systems development program using innovative adaptive management discussed in an earlier MarketLinks case study.
The overarching goal of AVC’s engagement in the input market system was to support input suppliers interested in moving more toward a smallholder farmer (customer) oriented growth strategy. Through an adaptive process, this objective was met by piloting and scaling up a variety of interventions with input suppliers including:
- Developing a preferred agro-dealer network for both distributors and retailers
- Supporting branding and promotional campaigns through local agro-fairs
- Developing professional spraying and pruning services for orchards
- Producing video docu-dramas mixing critical messaging and education with entertainment
- Introducing a phone call service to gauge customer preferences and assess usage of new products
- Tracking ag-inputs authenticity through a product and carton coding system and SMS verification.
AVC’s Perspective of Systemic Change
From the perspective of AVC, systemic change has meant looking to change the drivers and incentives (or biases) that direct the way the market system self-organizes. This definition focuses on how a system changes and not just the results of such changes.
Systemic change is often an implicit goal of many development projects. Practitioners design interventions to influence systemic change in a particular direction. Market systems development projects tend to work with firms to effect larger changes in the system as a whole, but there is still much discussion on how this can be measured and when a change has become systemic, questions addressed by this case study.
Seeking to identify systemic change
Building on the AVC view of systemic change, for this case study we suggested three broad indicators, or “change markers,” to identify the existence of systemic change: 1) Directionality; 2) Dynamism; and 3) Durability:
Tentative Set of Markers
Agents (e.g. firm, project partner, market actor) exhibit more market inclusive behaviors which are amplified through positive feedback giving clear direction and momentum to the change.
1) Drivers and self-reinforcing feedback loops intensified
2) Shift in strategic biases (moving from extractive business tactics to customer-oriented value seeking tactics)
3) Shift in relational biases (moving from working through patronage networks to diverse merit-based networks)
4) Replication of innovation in other locations and business lines
5) Competitors respond by copying and innovating on their own (crowding in)
6) Consumer demand builds, gains voice and pulls change.
System characterized by intensification of co-evolutionary dynamics among market actors including variety production and selective pressure.
1) Emergence of positive cooperation including shifts in value chain governance
2) Intensification of positive/internalized response to competition and upgrading
3) Improved connectivity and flows (new networks and resource flows)
4) Diversification –increased numbers or types of channels
5) Churn rates related to customers and enterprises
Systemic change becomes institutionalized and more functionally integrated and layered within the larger system.
1) Change in how institutions and subsystems (judiciary, civil society, etc.) supports change and improves overall system functioning
2) Institutionalization of counterbalancing forces and feedback.
3) Alignment of inclusive patterns and norms across scale.
4) Shift in power relations towards inclusion.
So, what did we find?
Over the past two years, AVC forged partnerships with 25 private sector companies and cooperatives supplying farmers with inputs (high-quality seed and fertilizer), improved technology, and management training. Three of the more proactive firms have already demonstrated significant investment in restructuring their distribution channels towards a more inclusive customer orientation.
The resulting findings do show early evidence of systemic change:
- All three of AVC’s major inputs supply partners have expanded and adapted the AVC-supported activities, such as a preferred agro-dealer network for both distributors and retailers, in other parts of Bangladesh outside of the Feed the Future ZOI, including Natore District, Mymensingh Division, Dhaka division, and Chittagong division. One partner plans to scale nationwide within the next two growing seasons from reaching 15,000 farmers to nearly 140,000 farmers. Another partner has developed over 700 preferred retailers nationwide (an estimated 50 percent reached without direct AVC assistance).
- The new approaches of lead firm input supplier partners have had a positive impact not only on farmers in key Feed the Future VCs including pulses, groundnuts and mangoes, but also in other non-Feed the Future value chains, including winter vegetables, rice, chilies and guava as the input companies target farmers across a wide variety of VCs.
Some partners have replicated and adapted AVC-supported innovations in other business lines, such as developing preferred retailer models for its agro-veterinary product lines (e.g. improved fish feed), without the support of AVC, and plan to scale up to reach 45,000 fish farmer customers in the next two years.
- While project partners see themselves as first movers in the new farmer customer oriented distribution model introduced by AVC, they seem rather open to having their competitors learn from them and appear ready to continue to adapt and co-evolve as more input suppliers copy some of their new business practices. In fact, even in just the past six months as some of the AVC partners have begun to expand their model nationwide, there has been evidence of replication and copying by some competitors, and a response by the partners to see this as healthy competition and innovation in this sector.
- There have been increased linkages with partners in interconnected systems (e.g. marketing). Before AVC, most marketing firms had limited experience in the agribusiness sector. Partnering input suppliers with marketing firms to provide support with media engagement, advertising, branding, packaging display, logo development, store layout or other communications and marketing efforts gave these firms the ability to open a new service line.
We recognize that in the market systems development field there is still a lot to learn about how to measure systemic change and how a project can look for early evidence of systemic change even during the life of a project. We hope this case study adds to the ongoing discussion about these topics, and we welcome the opportunity to learn from others and continue sharing.
This post originally appeared on MarketLinks and was written by Zaki Raheem and Paul Bundick.