Market Intervention for Nutritional Improvement (MINI): using microsimulation methods to assess the potential of a produce aggregation service to improve availability and affordability of fresh produce

Co-PIs: Professor Bhavani Shankar (SOAS) and Dr Karl Rich (ILRI)

Academic institutions:
- School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, United Kingdom
- International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Hanoi, Vietnam
- London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), London, United Kingdom
- Lincoln University, Christchurch, New Zealand
- Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU), Dhaka, Bangladesh
 
Non-academic institutions
- Digital Green, Non-Governmental Organisation based in Delhi and Patna, India.
Project duration: 27 months
Total budget (USD): 987,096
Countries of research: India, Bangladesh and (potentially) Ethiopia
 
Project summary
 
Rationale
Intakes of fruits, vegetables, and meat in South Asia are very low, despite their importance in the nutrition of local populations. Important obstacles to their consumption include high prices and seasonal unavailability that are fuelled in part by poor infrastructure, fragmented value chains, and limited policy incentives resulting in low supply response from farmers. The LOOP intervention of the Indian Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) Digital Green provides an aggregation service that collects, transports and markets fruit and vegetable production from farmers across Bihar, India and Bangladesh. LOOP participation has expanded rapidly, from <5000 farmers in July 2016 to >30,000 farmers in August 2018, with farmers noting the benefits of time savings, reduced transportation costs and increased collective bargaining powers at the markets. However, the drive to reward farmers with the highest prices (e.g. from urban retail markets) does not necessarily align with the need to improve the availability and affordability of fruits and vegetables in nutritionally vulnerable markets.
 
Original aims
Addressing the above issues, MINI has three principal aims:
  1. What are the implications of the current LOOP scheme for the present quantities traded, varieties, and prices of vegetables across the value chain?
  2. How can the LOOP scheme be made more nutrition-sensitive, safe and equitable, including the implications of the LOOP scheme for food wastage, environmental conditions and gendered outcomes along the value chain?
  3. What are the implications of scenarios for future evolution of the LOOP system (e.g. increased adoption, organic farming, digital financing), particularly on the availability and affordability of fruits and vegetables in nutritionally vulnerable markets?
 
Study design
The MINI integrated research framework is based around three principal methodologies. First, a rapid value chain assessment (VCA) has been conducted in Bihar to identify the actors, interlinkages and governance structures responsible for moving fruits and vegetables from farm to fork. The VCA was informed by spatial and temporal analysis of the LOOP dashboard data (see link below), as well as 49 informal interviews conducted with a range of value chain actors across Bihar, including farmers, market commission agents and consumers. The Bihar VCA is currently undergoing internal review amongst the MINI team, with plans to publish the document in the new year. Second, MINI will conduct farmer household surveys across Bihar’s Muzaffarpur and Bhojpur districts to understand the demographics of LOOP and non-LOOP farmers, their decision-making processes and the effects of the LOOP intervention on farm-level and livelihood outcomes. Moreover, the quantitative survey data will help to inform the systems modelling activities - which represent the third methodological approach of MINI. These systems models will be initially informed by group modelling building sessions – designed to capture the food system insights of different stakeholders across the value chain. In turn, these models will provide virtual environments to explore the future livelihood impacts and trade-offs of LOOP evolution, including leverage points to increase the availability and affordability of fruits and vegetables in nutritionally poor markets and the associated costs/benefits to farmer livelihoods.
 
Project progress
The fieldwork for the Bangladesh VCA has recently started with the Bihar VCA currently undergoing internal review. December will see Greg Cooper return to Bihar to conduct qualitative fieldwork within the 8 sampled villages (4 x LOOP present, 4 x LOOP absent), before starting the survey training and piloting in partnership with the Centre for Media Studies (CMS), Delhi. January will see the survey data collection take place over an intensive two-week period, occurring in parallel with the initial stakeholder group model building sessions.
 
Project resources
- http://gregpostdocs.wordpress.com … a blog written by Gregory Cooper (postdoc researcher) charting his research and travel activities as part of the MINI project.
- http://www.digitalgreen.org/loop/... Near real-time, open-access dataset recording every fruit and vegetable transaction made through the LOOP programme.
 
Other useful information and links
 
Institutional websites
Centre for Development, Environment and Policy (CeDEP), SOAS - https://www.soas.ac.uk/cedep/
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine - https://www.lshtm.ac.uk/
Department of Agribusiness and Marketing, BAU - https://www.bau.edu.bd/pages/faculty_list/AM
Policy, trade and value chains, ILRI - https://www.ilri.org/taxonomy/term/424
 
Email addresses
Bhavani Shankar – b.shankar@soas.ac.uk            
Karl Rich – K.Rich@cgiar.org
Gregory Cooper – gc25@soas.ac.uk        
Suneetha Kadiyala – Suneetha.Kadiyala@lshtm.ac.uk
Nazmun Ratna – Nazmun.Ratna@lincoln.ac.nz  
Mohammad Alam – alambau2003@yahoo.com 
Dipok Choudhury – Dipokch@gmail.com              
Rabiul Islam – rabiat14@yahoo.com       
Pawan Ojha – Pawan@digitalgreen.org 
Vinay Rana – Rana@digitalgreen.org