Can global business and livelihood improvement for farmers come together?

Today’s guest entry is written by Japanese participant, Maki Suzuki,who is completing her ICP project with teammates: Dustin, Parfait, Carina and Sriram, with Faculty support from IMD Professor of Economics and MBA Program Director, Ralf Boscheck

Average age: 57 years old, average monthly income: 40 USD. This is a typical Filipino farmer. If you were asked by a leading global crop science company to propose a business plan to improve their livelihood, what would you do?

Our five team mates – Dustin, Sriram, Carina, Parfait and myself – were all excited to be engaged in this project full of commitment and passion.

We began our seven week project with an agri-business industry analysis and an overview of smallholder farmers’ socio-economic situation and main challenges throughout the agricultural value chain. Second, we proposed a hypothesis for a business plan after countless hours of research and brainstorming sessions. Lastly, we split into three teams: one in India, one in the Philippines, and one holding down the fort back in Lausanne, to validate our hypothesis through interviews with farmers, retailors, distributors, cooperatives, government officials, international organizations, client representatives, NGOs and start-up companies. I’m writing this blog post from my hotel room on our last night in Manila. Having worked as an international development professional for the past nine years, I have always found that my favourite moments were always in the field learning and collaborating with local people to come up with creative solutions to complex, seemingly unsurmountable problems. And indeed this was one of those times.

One farmer we met had managed to increase his income by expanding his land under management from just a few hectares to over 15 hectares. He participated in valuable farming as a business training provided by our client, and now regularly advocates for his dozens of neighbour farmers to join those trainings. He said that it’s quite tough to convince farmers to adopt new practices, but he strongly believes such trainings will benefit them.

Working on this international consulting project echoed many of the speeches we have heard from CEOs and other top executives of so many international companies during the past 10 months. It made me realize that increasingly companies are explicitly targeting emerging countries and showing true care about the social impact of their businesses. Yes, of course, “the business of business is business”, and so companies’ operations have to be financially sustainable. But my experience at IMD has made me convinced that the boundary between conventional business and social business is rapidly fading.

I would like to express our utmost appreciation to our client, to IMD and to all stakeholders who worked to provide us with this opportunity. We are really looking forward to proposing the final business plan in a few weeks!

maki_icp

Maki