Thinking and Working Politically to Strengthen Agricultural Market Systems

Sharon Van Pelt | Philip DeCosse
February 13, 2018 | 1 Minute Read
Agriculture and Food Security | Inclusive Agricultural Market Systems and Value Chains | Enabling Environment for Agriculture | Democracy and Governance | Cross-Sector Development
Informal politics can thwart even the most well-designed development project if not properly addressed. Experts Sharon Van Pelt and Philip DeCosse explain why political economy analyses are important to understand agricultural market systems.

Down-and-dirty politics and political roadblocks have thwarted the success of agricultural development projects for decades. To achieve greater success, we need to consider how we can better understand and break down such blocks.

Whether we like it or not, international development efforts are inherently political. Within the agriculture sector, the relationships and power dynamics among market actors influence who a market actor does business with, the nature of the deal made, and the overall competitiveness of the value chain.

Dysfunction in these relationships can create space for inefficiency and corruption. For example, fertilizer imports are often controlled by a cohort of powerful traders, who are often allied with influential government officials. Even where good agricultural land is limited, politically connected firms can secure land rights to establish large commercial farms. Export bottlenecks that stymie most traders can be circumvented by companies with political influence. And these political manipulations are not limited to high-level players. A project designed to expand access to hybrid seeds, for example, might be deliberately stalled by politically connected input suppliers who stand to lose market share.

We must consider the long-term effects of power dynamics and shifting political landscapes in the agricultural sector.

Shifting the mindset

If agricultural market systems are to become more inclusive and productive, we need a mindset shift. We must consider the long-term effects of power dynamics and shifting political landscapes in the agricultural sector and our market systems strengthening work. This does not mean interfering in politics. Instead, it means doing a better job of understanding market actors’ interests, motivations, relationships, and power dynamics, and anticipating who or what will drive — or block — progress within any given context. Read the full article on Devex.

About Sharon Van Pelt

Sharon Van Pelt brings 25 years of experience in policy dialogue, transparency, local governance, civil society, conflict and violence prevention, and peace building. In 2002, she received the USAID Meritorious Honor Award for advancing policy dialogue and reform on decentralization and transparency in a difficult political environment. Ms. Van Pelt has previously worked in Guatemala,…

About Philip DeCosse

Philip DeCosse, who recently joined Chemonics as director for the Agriculture and Food Security Practice, brings 29 years of expertise working at all levels of agricultural and natural resource market development through business-to-household interventions that link private sector investors to rural resource managers. An agricultural economist, he has designed and led value chain optimization interventions,…