Visiting researcher experience- Alexandra AmreinMay 17th, 2012 | By bsalvarez | Category: Training, Training
By Alexandra Amrein, visiting researcher, DAPA research area
I gained my first work experience in Colombia with the local NGO VallenPaz, which not only reset my focus from mainstream business to agribusiness, especially in the context of small scale producer in rural conflict areas, but also brought me in touch with CIAT. After finishing the one year project with VallenPaz, I was lucky to join CIAT’s research area on Decision and Policy Analysis as a Visiting researcher, working in the section of linking farmers to markets under the supervision of Mark Lundy, a true “guru” of small holder inclusion. Joining his team was a hurrah moment for me!
What drives this “Markets” team is the need for linking small scale producers to markets in order to increase income for rural farmer families and ultimately to contribute to the improvement of their livelihoods. Although many farmers offer quality products, market links do not grow automatically. The commercial side of small holder businesses is mostly neglected and often problematic. The team’s goal is to offer useful and applicable concepts that help smallholders become competitive partners in the value chain. Several tools and models developed for this purpose have been successfully implemented through Learning Alliances in cooperation with partner NGOs and development agencies in more than 40 countries around the world.
One of the current projects, the development of a field guide on new business models for Small holder inclusion, is inspired from The Business Model Generation, a very successful business analysis tool from the private sector. My work on this project focuses on adapting this tool to a small holder context and designing ways to make information accessible to a broad audience ranging from producer organizations and NGO to companies with small holder sourcing ambitions. We are hoping that this field guide will help both small holders and companies to identify and develop a common base for durable and equitable trade relationships as well as providing orientation for support agencies on how to facilitate such a process.
In the last six months I have been traveling regularly to the Colombian pacific coast, being involved in a project with three semi-rural afro Colombian producer organizations in Buenaventura, Guapi and Quibdó. All three of these women-led groups are dedicated to the production and commercialization of medicinal and aromatic plants. CIAT’s part in this ACUA Foundation and IFAD led project is to strengthen those local businesses in terms of market opportunities and market access. Through participatory workshops in the community environment, we implement selected diagnostic tools of the above mentioned approach e.g. Value Chain Mapping, Business Model Analysis and Visioning, which in combination serve as a starting point to step into a prototype community led innovation cycle. This describes the continuous interplay between (1) the implementation in practice, (2) the evaluation of results and (3) the rotative up- scaling of elements with a proven value. Until now, feedback from the participants has been very positive throughout the different workshop stages because the methodology, whose power lies in its simplicity, allows the participants with many different educational backgrounds to engage rapidly with a new way of business- oriented thinking. The implementation of our concept in practice is not only essential for improving the quality of work that we want to deliver but has also helped me gain a strong personal satisfaction!
Inspired by CIAT’s learning ambiance, I recently started a distance-learning master’s course on Sustainable Development with SOAS in London. I decided on this vocational and academic double-tracking because of the direct thematical link between my job and the course content. Learning about the latest academic thinking on sustainability will help me to develop a more complete picture of smallholder inclusion, adding to the predominant ‘economic sustainability’ of markets a valuable ‘triple bottom line’ of social and environmental aspects. Even though working and studying can be challenging, I am optimistic that this effort will result in a two-faceted benefit for my studies and my work.
For me, CIAT has been a unique opportunity to learn from experts and grow as a professional. This experience with the CIAT “Markets” team has allowed me through various field trips to use the theory of small holder inclusion in a practical context and, to complete a loop, put practical experiences in a theoretical framework, contributing to learning experiences for development actors.