Doing More with Less for Market Systems Development
USAID’s Bureau for Food Security recently hosted its second Market Systems Global Learning and Evidence Exchange (GLEE) event in Dakar, Senegal from June 5-10, 2017. One of the key themes that resonated with me during the week of presentations, discussions and field visits was the importance of doing more with less. Throughout the week, several presenters referred to the many interconnected facets of agricultural markets, and how the most sustainable and effective interventions use project resources to leverage multiple times the value of additional investment or in-kind support from the private sector. Accomplishing this may not be quite as daunting an undertaking as it appears on the surface. In fact, during one of the panel presentations that included private sector partners through the Feed the Future Initiative’s Partnering for Innovation project, Jace Rabe from Tolaro Global highlighted his desire to partner with donors like USAID and noted the challenge of “speaking the same language” that can be a barrier to forming an effective partnership. A key takeaway from his talk was that the partnership development process does not need to be complex and difficult. Rather, he stressed the need to keep the relationship simple and set clear expectations for each party. Through this partnership, Feed the Future will work with the private sector to expand the production and processing of cashews in northern Benin, bringing sustainable benefits to smallholder farmers and adding jobs to the local economy.
Echoing this theme of unlocking potential and steering resources to catalytic investments, Matt Shakhovskoy of the Initiative for Smallholder Finance encouraged participants to think about the use of “smart subsidies” and blended finance to unlock innovation and scale in financial flows to small-scale producers. By focusing on interventions that reduce either investor risk or investment cost, donors can build the appropriate “subsidy” (such as technical assistance grants to set up new business models) and thereby crowd in private investment to an otherwise difficult sector.
In addition to classroom learning, the agenda included a field trip. Fifty GLEE participants traveled to the Senegal River Valley in the northern part of the country to visit the Naatal Mbay project and the people it reaches. Focused on using a market systems approach to facilitate investment in the rice sector — a priority for the Government of Senegal — the Naatal Mbay project illustrated the practical ways we can use our investments catalytically and work through markets to enhance strategic value chains.
By doing more with less, we as development practitioners and our partners are forced to fundamentally shift our thought processes when implementing activities and must focus on working through market systems to achieve the desired impact.
Patrick Starr is a Financial Specialist with Bureau for Food Security’s Office of Market and Partnership and Innovation where he focuses on coordinating Feed the Future's implementation of the financial components of the Global Food Security Strategy. He is a native of the Washington, DC area and joined the Bureau from Connexus Corporation, a boutique consulting firm specializing in rural and agricultural development and access to finance issues. Prior to Connexus, Patrick was a Peace Corps volunteer in Benin as well as a management consultant with PwC's Washington Federal Practice. He holds a degree in Finance from the University of Notre Dame and an MBA from Cornell University.