Building Integrated Business Support Services

The role of advisors in agribusiness is ever changing. Whereas conventional advisors mainly work with farmers, 2SCALE turned these intermediaries into coaches of local business partnerships in a particular value chain. As this shift showed impressive results, such as the embedding of support costs within the value chain, 2SCALE explains the approach of its service delivery model and lessons learned in its second thematic paper “Strengthening business support services for agribusiness partnerships”.

Support services within agribusiness clusters

In 2SCALE, the role and terms of reference of agribusiness advisors moved from being mostly technical advisors for farmers to facilitators and on-the-job coaches of local business actor networks formed as partnerships around a producer organizations: the agribusiness clusters (ABCs).

One of the main tasks of the coaches is to coordinate the actions within the ABC. The coaches herein support the identification of factors that hinder the development of the business actors and come up with innovative alternatives and opportunities that can shake ABC actors out of their old habits and ways of working. The coaches, who in turn are trained and coached by 2SCALE, link value chain partners, like lead (aggregating/processing) firms, producer organisations (POs), traders and agro-input dealers, to each other but also involve other supporting actors, such as banks, insurance companies, transporters, etc. in the ABC

These local linkages usually do not emerge spontaneously because of factors such as fierce competition and distrust. As such, the coaches facilitate on-going cooperation and safeguard the continuous improvement of the functioning of the ABC and the value chain as a whole.

In addition, just like most advisors, they also provide training in technical matters, like good agricultural practices, use of new agro-inputs or mechanisation techniques, etc. However, these technical skills do not by itself result into wide adoption and better business. Therefore, above all, the coaches focus on business matters and strengthening functional capacities, such as how to analyse production costs, identify options for cost reduction and efficiency, develop production, marketing and business plans, build good business relations, negotiate with other players or set-up legal contracts.

Capacitating agribusiness cluster coaches
This multi-faceted work requires coaches to have a comprehensive combination of skills, competences and appropriate mindset.  2SCALE therefore developed a capacity strengthening model in which local-level ABC coaches are trained and mentored by professional agribusiness trainers. These trainers provide hands-on mentoring and on-the-job support as the coaches facilitate their field coaching sessions to ABC actors.

2SCALE’s second thematic paper “Strengthening business support services for agribusiness partnerships” discusses this service delivery model, its methodology and its outcomes, illustrated in 10 field stories. It also distills 9 key lessons learned during 5 years of 2SCALE, of which one of the most promising is the embedding of shared costs of this type of business support services within the value chain.