Work project: Guide for Incorporating Wage Labor into Value Chain Analyses

Here’s my latest work project output: A guide for incorporating wage labor analysis into value chain analyses.

This is a deliverable for the USAID-funded Leveraging Economic Opportunities Project (LEO), led by ACDI/VOCA. LEO is focused on advancing USAID’s inclusive market systems programming through learning, research, pilots, tools and capacity building. It also offers technical services and advising to country Missions.


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Work project: Value Chain Analysis for USAID-Funded Sierra Leone Advancing Entrepreneurial Agriculture for Improved Nutrition

My employer, ACDI/VOCA, is an implementing partner on the USAID-Funded Feed the Future Advancing Entrepreneurial Agriculture for Improved Nutrition project in Sierra Leone. The project strengthens target agricultural value chains using a facilitation approach that leverages public and private partners to improve economic and nutritional outcomes among beneficiaries and linked actors.

I’m the headquarters market systems technical advisor on the project. To refine the design and workplan, I led an updated value chain analysis from design through research and reporting. It’s attached here for reference. I also led the initial value chain analysis to inform USAID’s design for the project solicitation in 2015, linked here.



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Work Project: Sierra Leone Agricultural Value Chain Analysis for USAID/Feed the Future

In July-August 2015, I traveled to Sierra Leone (Salone) for work (ACDI/VOCA), to lead an agricultural value chain analysis commissioned by USAID. The analysis will inform a planned Feed the Future program in the country.

Sierra Leone grabbed my heart in many ways….more on that later.

For now, here’s the report.

“A Feed the Future (FTF) program is being planned for Sierra Leone, encompassing diversified, nutrition-sensitive agriculture. In order to inform program design and focus, USAID contracted the present analysis of several agricultural commodity value chains in Tonkolili and Bombali: 1) animal protein (excluding fish and cattle), 2) grains (for food and feed), 3) horticulture (excluding tree crops), and 4) legumes/pulses (for food and feed).” Target districts: Bombali and Tonkolili.

Thanks/tanki to the fantastic research team (most from from Salone, one from Uganda, one from the U.S., and several terrific ACDI/VOCA HQ colleagues):

“This publication was produced for review by the United States Agency for International Development. It was prepared by Melissa A. Schweisguth, David Dupras, Braima James, Ph. D., Robert Kagbo, Ph. D., Scott Bode, Farrel Elliot, Hugh Kweku Fraser, Juana Blyden Bhonopha, Momoh-Fonigay Lavahun, Ph. D., Kabanda L. Samson and Denis Lansana; with research support from Alusine Bakaar, Ashley Dean, Morgan Mercer and William Vu, with funding from USAID/E3’s Leveraging Economic Opportunities (LEO) project.”

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Farmer to Farmer Senegal: Getting to know Relais et VNC, and their communities

Bonjour from Senegal!

On days three and four of my Farmer to Farmer assignment, we visited Relais et Volontaire pour la Nutrition Communautaire (Relais et VNC) members in five villages to learn about the behavioral changes they’re promoting, the related products they make and sell, their marketing and education efforts, challenges in these areas, and they dynamics of their communities. The landscape is desert, dotted with drought-tolerant trees such as jujube, and quite a bit of euphorbia. Some villages were just off the paved main road, which generally ranges from very good to fair condition. Others required driving some distance on dirt roads, making travel difficult, particularly in the rainy season. We periodically shared the road with donkey-drawn carts and passed numerous public transit minibuses.


VNC with her nutritious food products (see below)

Most of the members we visited were women VNC’s, along with some Relais and a male VNC. We generally met members in their homes, though in one case we met outside with an audience of about 150 villagers, who were invited via the community loudspeaker. The many women were a rainbow of stunning beauty in the country’s typical tailored, brightly patterned dresses and head wraps.

VNC’s focus on educating women in “Mother to Mother” (MTM) groups on specific topics, and informing both genders in informal discussion groups. The VNC’s we met generally held meetings with MTM groups monthly, covering topics such as hand washing, breastfeeding, sanitation, monitoring children’s growth, and nutrition—particularly micronutrients (Vitamin A, iodide, iron). They showed us the products they make and sell, including fortified cereals (for porridge), iodized salt, baobab and jujube powders, jujube cookies, orange sweet potato couscous and granules (biofortified, bred to be rich in Vitamin A, palm oil and peanut butter (repackaged from bulk), and water purification tablets.


Front: Cereal made with biofortified grains and cowpeas, peanut and sugar; Back: Baobab powder, Jujube powder and cookies

The products, and recipes for fortified cereals, differ across members, depending on what ingredients they can source locally. One woman used maize, millet, cowpeas (biofortified for Vitamin A), peanuts and sugar; while another used maize (not biofortified), cowpeas, peanuts and sugar. We also saw their healthy home gardens (called micro gardens) with chili, eggplant, okra, sorrel, orange sweet potatoes, tomatoes, herbs, jujubes, mangoes and more; another aspect of their education.


Cereal (maize, peanut, sugar); Orange sweet potato couscous and granules; Baobab powder

The Relais et VNC members we visited seemed to indicate a good rate of uptake for the behavioral changes they were promoting. They also reported success in selling their products, particularly to those whom they educated on related behavioral changes. Their main interests seemed to be expanding their reach and markets beyond their villages; obtaining better packaging materials, product labels and processing/packaging equipment, and addressing challenges such as access to transport to buy ingredients and access larger markets. It was a great learning experience to orient the trainings, and we enjoyed delicious jujube cookies, which we purchased along with several other items. In the last village, I also bought some locally made, hand-dyed fabric to get a dress made.

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Farmer to Farmer Senegal: First Few Days

Bonjour from Senegal, where I’m starting my fourth USAID Farmer to Farmer (F2F) volunteer assignment. I volunteered via ACDI/VOCA previously (Jordan, Ghana and Viet Nam), and am with NCBA CLUSA this time. Thanks to Jane (CLUSA program manager), Abibou (in-country F2F coordinator) and the host association for putting things together so well! F2F is a great program with diverse opportunities for Americans to transfer skills and knowledge to entities across the agricultural value chain, from farmers and associations to processors and exporters; in areas such as production, post-harvest, processing, marketing, organizational development, business management, curriculum development; and evaluation. I can’t recommend it enough!

My task is to train the Association Relais et Volontaire pour la Nutrition Communautaire (Relais et VNC), on marketing/social marketing (“selling” behavioral change). Relais et VNC is based in the Matam region, which has one of the nation’s highest rates of malnutrition, and works to end malnutrition and improve livelihoods. It unites VNCs, who are trained by CLUSA’s Yaajende project and volunteer as community educators focusing on maternal and child health; and Relais, who are liaisons between village producer associations, and a regional farmers’ union and the Yaajeende project.

Members undertake promotion and training on nutrition, sanitation, income diversification, home gardening and sustainable agricultural practices such as composting and conservation agriculture. The members also make and sell products such as enriched cereal mixes, fruit powders, iodized salt and compost.

The day after arriving in Dakar, Senegal, we traveled to Matam, in the northeast. The trip took about eight hours, with stops for lunch, tea, etc. Outside the capital, the terrain was mostly desert dotted with drought-tolerant trees; goats, cattle and other livestock; and homes. We passed many produce stands selling oranges, mandarins, apples, bananas and melons—local except apples and some citrus. I didn’t get good photos but you can view some on a past volunteer’s  volunteer’s excellent blog. Matam is hot – in the 70’s in the morning and the low 100’s during the day.

F2FSNMakingScheduleSmToday, day three, we met with Relais et VNC’s board to outline the training schedule. We’ll visit several villages over the next two days to learn about their activities and communities. Then, I’ll finalize the training outline, provide seven two-day trainings (via Abibou’s translation) to subsets of the association, and debrief with the board. After that, we return to Dakar where I’ll spend one day, and fly home.

SNFoodLunchAbibouSmWe had lunch at Abibou’s home today: rice cooked in a tomato tamarind chili sauce, topped with with African eggplant, Euro eggplant, cabbage, taro, sorrel, carrot and fish. It’s always an honor and a treat to be invited into one’s home for a meal. I eat an almost exclusively vegan diet, and enjoyed the flavorful veggies on the perimeter. Sweet tea and fruit followed the entrée. Thank you Abibou!

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Thesis Submitted: Effect of Certification on Cacao Smallholders’ Net Incomes

I submitted my thesis for my M.S. in International Agricultural Development: “Evaluating the Effects of Certification on Smallholders’ Net Incomes, with a Focus on Cacao Farmers in Cooperatives in Côte d’Ivoire.” I focused on evaluating smallholders’ agronomic and economic outcomes, and farming practices and inputs, under the Fairtrade (FLO), Rainforest Alliance and UTZ Certified certifications. The thesis comprises a) a theoretical analysis of the potential effects of each certification on price, yield and total output, and costs and expenditures (farm and producer group levels); b) a literature review synthesizing independent research findings on each of these areas; and c) an econometric analysis of fieldwork in Côte d’Ivoire, comparing group means across certified farmers and non-certified controls; and using regressions to estimate the effect of certification on yield and expenditure.

The abstract is below. Feel free to peruse the thesis and contact me with any questions. Note: The theoretical analysis and literature review chapters have summary tables for a quick scan of the overall findings/conclusions; and the field work chapter has several tables summarizing key group differences, and regression results.

The quick summary: The theoretical analysis identified numerous ways that certification standards could affect price, yield/output and expenditures/costs; with contextual factors leading modulating the effects. The meta-analysis of relevant literature indicates that certification is overwhelmingly associated with higher prices; while certified producers’ yields, expenditures and net incomes may be better than, then same as, or worse than non-certified farmers, within and across producer types, crops, areas and certifications.

Among cacao producers in Côte d’Ivoire overall, certified producers have significantly higher prices per kg, and profits per hectare (ha); and significantly lower expenditures per than non-certified controls; while yields did not differ significantly. These trends did not hold in each of the three regions included in the study. Regressions indicate that certification is associated with significantly lower expenditures; and mixed outcomes ranging from negative to positive for yield. Overall, outcomes vary across contexts; emphasizing the importance of the enabling environment; and the actions of value chain partners from governments and buyers to consumers; in shaping the potential of certification.

Evaluating the Effects of Certification on Smallholders’ Net Incomes,
with a Focus on Cacao Farmers in Cooperatives in Côte d’Ivoire


This thesis evaluates the direct effects of the Fairtrade International (Fairtrade), Rainforest Alliance (RA) and UTZ Certified (UTZ) certifications on smallholders’ net incomes (profit), using three modes of inquiry: a theoretical evaluation of each certifier’s standards and activities, a literature review, and econometric analyses of primary data from cacao producers in Côte d’Ivoire. It seeks to inform efforts to scale up these certifications, particularly in the West African cacao sector, the primary source of mass-market cacao, and ensure that certification benefits producers.

In recent years, commodity certifications such as Fairtrade, RA and UTZ have shown robust growth in the agricultural sector, and cacao in particular. Certifiers, brand owners and others have asserted that certification improves farm-level profit, via factors such as higher prices, and better farm management that increases yield and reduces expenditure. However, little independent research has explored such claims, particularly for cacao. This thesis seeks to fill gaps in understanding using a comprehensive, rigorous approach, including regressions using primary data from certified and non-certified Ivorian cacao farmers.

The theoretical evaluation, literature review and analyses of primary data indicate that certified producers’ profits may be higher than, lower than or equal to non-certified farmers, depending on the context. Certification seems to impact profit largely by enabling farmers to command premiums for certified sales, which increase average farm gate price for total output sold. Such price increases may be small, as with the Ivorian sample. The theoretical evaluation and literature review indicate that certification is associated with varied outcomes for yield and expenditures. Regressions using the primary data show that certification has a strong effect in reducing expenditures, while its effect on yield ranges from negative to positive.

If certifiers and their partners wish to improve certified producers’ profits, they can take numerous steps to address factors that affect farmers’ average prices, yields and expenditures, and certification costs. In some cases, this will require broadening the scope of certification training, standards, producer services, or implementation partners to address development constraints that lie beyond the scope of certifiers’ current requirements, activities and capabilities.


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M&E Review: LEI Impact Report on UTZ Certification in Côte d’Ivoire

My posts have become  infrequent due to grad school and now thesis writing (certification impacts on cacao producers’ net incomes in Côte d’Ivoire). UTZ Certified (UTZ) just released a report on cacao certification impacts (PDF) that’s very relevant to my thesis, and an example of high-bar certification impact assessment that warrants wider attention. UTZ also released a response to the study (PDF), identifying challenges/gaps, as well as positive outcomes, and stating commitments to addressing areas needing improvement. Their candor and public accountability are commendable. Overall, this is a great model for impact reporting that I’d love to see used by more certifiers, and others undertaking other interventions, agricultural or otherwise.


Côte d’Ivoire produces about 40% of the world’s cacao (ICCO, 2014). About 43 percent of the population lives below the poverty line (Hatløy, 2012). Cacao certification has grown rapidly, in part as a way to address a looming supply deficit, producer poverty, child labor and environmental degradation (TCC, 2012). Hershey, Mars and Ferrero have committed to sourcing 100% certified cacao, driving continued demand growth. Certification adds costs for producers, companies and consumers. Given these factors, it’s critical to ensure certification has positive returns. Having read myriad studies, including peer-reviewed articles, certifier reports and third-party evaluations, and having visited farms in numerous countries, I’m aware (as are many, many others) that certification impacts vary and aren’t unilaterally positive. Most research to date has focused on coffee, making rigorous, independent studies on cacao certification essential.

UTZ Certified Study Scope

UTZ commissioned LEI Wageningen UR, a research institute, to gather baseline data on UTZ certified (725) and non-certified (55) producers from 97 co-ops (89 certified), and conduct a follow up survey in 2016. Producers were drawn from across the country, and certified producers had been certified for different lengths of time. Some UTZ-certified farmers also had Rainforest Alliance (RA) certification. The goal of the research is to evaluate farmers’ knowledge and implementation of the agricultural, social and environmental practices that are included in the UTZ Code of Conduct (GAP practices); and evaluate the effects of certification yield, income and other areas. The survey aligned with UTZ’s Theory of Change, serving to test Utz’s beliefs about how it affects change.

Main findings

Note: As stated by the authors, since the study does not include data from the time before producers attained certification, it is not certain how certified and non-certified producers differed initially, and the observed differences cannot be attributed solely to certification.

  • Producers that are UTZ certified, and UTZ and RA dual certified, have higher knowledge of GAP Practices than non-certified farmers
  • Producer knowledge of specific GAP practices differed, with knowledge being lowest for child labor, record keeping and numerous farm management practices. Thus, there’s room for improvement in training.
  • Higher knowledge of GAP is correlated with higher productivity and higher GAP implementation overall, though not for each GAP individually. For example, post-harvest processing and quality were not necessarily higher among farmers with higher knowledge.
  • The longer farmers have been certified, the higher their knowledge of GAP practices
  • Certified producers reported higher productivity and incomes after certification.
  • Gender inclusion could be improved, as the majority of those directly reached by UTZ training are male (as are the majority of cacao farmers). Male farmers who are reached directly train their family members, so females are reached indirectly.
  • UTZ’s summary/press release is here

Methodological strengths

  • A third-party study provides a more independent analysis
  • The report details the sample, selection process and data; methodological limitations and the claims these allow
  • Surveys took place across in three cacao regions, providing a representative sample
  • In regions, certified producers and controls were from agroecologically comparable areas to control for growing environment
  • In regions, surveys took place in areas with marginal, good and excellent suitability for cacao, allowing analyses of how growing environment modulates outcomes when certification status is held constant. Stratified sampling was used to make the sample for each suitability level proportional to population distribution
  • The study controls for the effects of cooperative membership by including only cooperative members. Many studies fail to do so.
  • The study includes co-ops selling to different buyers, controlling for buying relationships and producer support programs
  • The large sample size allows for higher-level statistical tests, higher validity of group means, and more confidence in statistically-significant group differences (albeit still affected by selection bias).
  • The use of controls allows for an analysis of the effects of certification versus the status quo (ditto). Controls also were randomly selected, reducing bias in the results.
  • The study uses regression models to address selection bias, a higher-level technique not seen in many public reports from certifiers.
  • The  follow up survey will allow for a “difference in difference” analysis that enables one to make more confident claims about program impacts, by comparing change over time across groups.


  • Not clear how certified co-ops and producers were selected
  • By surveying only cooperative members, who represent about 15% of Ivorian cacao farmers (Hatløy, 2012), the study precludes conclusions about how certified producers differ from the majority of cacao farmers in the country.
  • Report (p 49) notes several others, such as poor recall among farmers (few keep farm/finance records), farmers’ lack of clarity about certification status and length, and certification training; involvement of some controls in certification training, limited training for stakeholder interviews; and discrepancies in data provided by UTZ, co-ops and traders. Most of these are common issues across certification studies and development fieldwork more broadly.
  • Not subject to academic peer review, yet


Hatløy, A., T. Kebede, P. Adeba and C. Elvis. 2012. Towards Côte d’Ivoire sustainable cocoa initiative. Fafo.

International Cocoa Organization. 2014b. “Quarterly Bulletin of Cocoa Statistics: Cocoa year 2013/2014, XL (3), 9/5/14.” Accessed 9/9/14 at

Tropical Commodity Coalition. 2012. 2012 Cocoa Barometer. Author.

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