(Don´t miss the previous parts of this story; see the links at the end of this post.)

Building on its success in Central and South America, the collaborative work on value chain development and inclusive business between CIAT and Heifer International has expanded to 13 countries from Asia and Africa—again, in the form of a Learning Cycle around the LINK methodology. On this occasion, we have support from the Center for Development and Innovation (CDI)-Wageningen University as a co-trainer and backstopper. This allows us to leverage the extensive work on inclusive business in the CDI-facilitated Seas of Change network.

Having an international development NGO—such as Heifer International—as a learning partner is key to putting research into practice, developing joint insights and sharing the benefits of research with more regions and more value chains, and contributing to improved rural livelihoods for far more farmers.

The right tool at the right time

Original graphic by Heifer. Adaptaion: Erika Mosquera (CIAT)

CIAT’s LINK methodology fits Heifer’s Theory of change like a glove because it helps smallholders visualize in a big picture their business models within the value chain and allows them to be active toward the positive changes they need to make to be able to operate even without Heifer’s support in the future. Heifer has identified as one of the components of its Theory of changeIncreasing farmers’ incomes and assets.” Heifer now combines its long-standing model—providing livestock and training to small-scale farming families—with market-driven development strategies that enable small-scale farmer groups to become formal cooperatives that are financially viable. In other words:

 “I am happy that collaboration between Heifer and CIAT has expanded to Asia and Africa. In Heifer, the program strategy is transitioning to market orientation, so the LINK methodology training takes place at the right time because it has instrumental value that supports this transition. The concepts that we learn, altogether, build a capacity to make a difference in the lives of farmers, particularly the cooperatives of farm-owned agribusiness, and we will be able to continue Heifer’s overall goal of lifting 4 million families out of poverty.”

Padma Bahadur Singh

Program Senior Director in Asia, Heifer

The learning cycle in Asia

One of the challenges that researchers face is bringing real impact with their findings and getting non- researchers to use those findings to change policies and practices (or develop new ones). To meet this challenge of going from outputs to outcome, CIAT’s Linking Farmers to Markets (LFM) team, with the support of CGIAR’s research program Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM), applies and supports the application of the LINK methodology in two complementary ways:

  1. As a tool for capacity development with NGOs and private companies interested in collaborating around inclusive sourcing.
  2. Continuous improvement of the tool building on the lessons learned in field implementation.

Learning cycles are used to generate knowledge around a specific topic (such as a research question) by employing a design, test and assess feedback loop to make adjustments and achieve better results.


This learning cycle focuses on several interconnected goals: (a) build the capacity of development practitioners, (b) continue to improve LINK as a development tool (and other tools developed by CIAT), and (c) achieve positive impact at scale for smallholder farmers.

Through this process, we will go from a research output (the LINK methodology) to development outcomes (improved income and employment for smallholder farmers) in multiple countries while building the competency of development actors to contribute to the establishment of long-lasting and more profitable commercial relationships.

Alongside this learning process, CIAT conducts research on how inclusive business models work, key success factors for scaling, and how to proactively promote inclusive access to markets, thus benefiting women, youth, and poor rural producers. Insights from this work serve to influence public, private, and civil society actors by providing evidence of what works, and where and how to deliver on the promise of inclusive business in agriculture.

The learning cycle in Asia contains the following moments:

  1. Training workshop. Training of lead staff of Heifer involved in value chain development projects in inclusive business and the LINK methodology as well as a work plan for the learning cycle.
  2. Backstopping-coaching. CIAT and CDI will support and accompany the participants while they are implementing LINK, and keep track of the process. At the same time, we facilitate peer-to-peer learning (P2P learning) as they exchange experiences and conduct peer review.
  3. Documentation of implicit and tacit knowledge developed during the learning cycle to share lessons learned within Heifer with other public and private actors and improve the LINK methodology based on field experiences.
  4. Global learning event. An event hosted by Heifer to share insights and lessons learned on inclusive business and value chain development across teams from Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

What results do we expect?

  • Capacity development by field application: Improved capacity of Heifer staff to use LINK and promote inclusive business approaches.
  • Adapted methods: Insights from a range of cases—mostly around animal-based products—enrich the LINK methodology and tools and provide Heifer with a more tailored approach for its ongoing work.
  • Evidence base: Well-documented case studies provide evidence on what works, where, and for whom, which in turn can be used to influence project design and business practices and contribute to a wider discussion of the role of inclusive agribusiness in development.
  • Improved development outcomes. Through the application of LINK, contributions to improved household well-being as well as more effective producer-owned businesses and more inclusive business models.

Moment 1: The training workshop

A kick-off workshop facilitated by Mark Lundy and Brice Even from CIAT’s LFM team and Monika Sopov, CDI senior advisor, was held from 6 to 10 June in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The workshop was a mix of theoretical presentations, feedback experiences, participatory group exercises, and discussions. During 5 days, participants from Heifer, representing 12 countries from South and Southeast Asia and Eastern and Southern Africa, learned about Heifer’s previous experience using LINK in Latin America and studied the LINK methodology tools, applying them to four selected value chains.

Training workshop participants share their expectations.

The workshop included a field trip during which the trainees had to apply specific tools of the LINK methodology in two real cases. The participants also spent time planning the learning cycle’s next steps and preparing a work plan, a timeline, and a backstopping plan.

Workshop Agenda

The first-day participants were given an overview of the LINK methodology and of the value chain mapping process. Then, the group was divided into four subgroups and participants applied this first tool to the chosen cases: a swine value chain in Cambodia, a free-range chicken egg value chain in China, a goat value chain in Nepal, and a dairy value chain in Malawi. The training facilitators emphasized the need to pay special attention to the role of the existing VC actors in order to identify the potential actors to work with during the next steps of the methodology.


The second day was dedicated to business models and business strategies. After presentations from the facilitators on the available theories and tools, the participants had to formalize and assess business models within the selected chains, using tools 2 and 3 of the LINK methodology, respectively, the “Business Model Canvas” and the “New Business Model Principles.” Special attention was paid to the double-facing value proposition of the business models, in which the cooperative can propose for both the smallholder farmers supplying the cooperative and the buyers purchasing produce from the cooperative. This contributed to changing the participants’ vision of the role a cooperative can play with the different actors of a value chain.

On the third day, after mapping, analyzing, and evaluating, the participants were invited to design prototypes/interventions in order to improve the targeted commercial relationships.

On the fourth day, the participants went to the field to meet Cambodian cooperative members in order to put in practice the newly acquired knowledge. The purpose was to understand the existing business models and assess them from an inclusiveness perspective. Discussions of the results was organized on the final day with broader assistance, including other direct and indirect value chain actors.

The day ended with the participants preparing their work plans and the next steps of the learning cycle.

Watch the training workshop video where participants present themselves and share some experiences.

Heifer will conduct one pilot per country (13 in total), with the intention of scaling the approach to other value chains at the end of the learning cycle. LINK will be applied in:

“What I’m taking home is that, when you are doing the value chain mapping, the most important thing is to identify those areas that you can reach and influence, knowing that you can’t do everything; things from which you think you are going to get the most impact.”

Joyce Malasha Phiri


Dairy cow value chains (in Vietnam, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Rwanda, and Zambia)

Sheep value chain (in Senegal)

Dairy Goats value chain (in Philippines)

Chicken meat value chain ( in Cambodia)

Goat meat value chains ( in Nepal, India, and Bangladesh)

Free-range chicken eggs value chain or indigenous rice value chain (in China)

Natalia Gutiérrez

Natalia Gutiérrez

Communications Analyst

Mark Lundy

Mark Lundy

Senior Researcher & Theme Leader of Linking Farmers to Markets

Brice Even

Brice Even

Market access specialist

Erika Eliana Mosquera

Erika Eliana Mosquera

Communications Analyst, Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area

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