When planning a community development program based around agriculture, a good place to start is at the end and work backwards. That is, the designer should consider the final market and assess its outlook before determining the product the communities in need could grow. I am currently designing a coffee supply chain and needed to first consider the buying partner, the value proposition presented to them and the consumer market in order to drive the sustainability of the project.

Just as any commercial business must ensure they have a marketplace with solid demand for their products, it is important to also take this approach with development projects. Improving agricultural practices to increase production is central to any project, however the design must take into consideration the full value chain including linkages to buyers and the destination market for the chosen product. Failing to take this approach can result in a “grow it and they will come” situation. While many crops can grow in the fertile, high rainfall area I am working, choosing something predominantly for that reason may have resulted in oversupply to a market, depressing prices for all and potentially increasing wastage or stocks. This would likely lead to poor economic outcomes with farmers receiving low returns despite outlaying money for inputs some months beforehand to ensure improved production.

We have seen investments in production made in a number of commodities without consideration being given to logistics, processing, value adding and destination markets. A stronger understanding of the value chain is needed with the end buyer in sight.

Finding a strong, accessible demand point for a commodity allows for the creation of a sustainable agribusiness that can scale over time. Coffee is a huge global market for which all qualities find a home. Furthermore, consumption is seeing a strong upward trend against steady global production figures of the past couple of years. These points were important in my choice of commodity. Choosing a product that is core business for an established buyer or for which there is growing demand is key to long-term success. There are often far fewer buyers and logistical routes to market than there are alternatives for “what can grow”. In these situations, starting with the most constrained part of the value chain and building a program around this is key.

There are many factors to consider when designing a community development programme. However, if the goal of the work is to create an inclusive agribusiness value chain, independent of external funding and support as a means to improve livelihoods, a commercial, demand-driven approach should be applied to ensure sustained outcomes and lasting economic and social benefits.