Alejandro Guarín

Principal researcher, Shaping Sustainable Markets

Alejandro Guarín's picture
Telephone: +44 (0)20 3463 7399
Languages: English, Spanish, German (basic)

Alejandro Guarín leads IIED’s work on agro-food systems, from smallholder farming to small-scale entrepreneurship, informal markets and retail, and consumption and nutrition.

Alejandro’s main area of expertise is on agro-food systems, especially small-scale production and informal food markets. In his doctoral dissertation he studied small-scale retailing in his native Colombia, puzzled by the fact that small corner stores are still the dominant market players – even in the face of the rise of supermarkets.

The stubborn persistence of the informal sector – and the common hostility of governments towards it– have been a common theme in his research and policy work over the last decade and a half. The informal sector may look chaotic and inefficient, but in the developing world it is a hotspot of opportunity and entrepreneurship.

Alejandro has worked with local partners in Latin America, Africa and Asia to produce evidence about this important but often poorly understood sector. Looking at specific crops or products, his research has shown that regional and local markets provide a crucial link between poor producers and poor consumers. Alejandro has also worked to influence decision-makers so that policies acknowledge the crucial role of informal food markets, and see in it an ally rather than an enemy.

Alejandro has a broad interest in the intersection of environment and development. He has done conceptual and applied work on the green economy, natural capital and ecosystem services valuation, in particular with regard to forests in the Amazon basin. In Peru he provided technical inputs for the government’s National Forestry Plan on topic ranging from smallholder agriculture and ecosystem services valuation to social inclusion in the forest sector. He has also conducted research on REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) and its implications for smallholder farmers.

Previously, he has also conducted scoping work on the development and environmental implications of the rising middle classes in developing countries, and has conducted research on responsible consumption in rising powers.

Trained in natural and social sciences, Alejandro uses a wide array of methods and approaches, both quantitative and qualitative, and ranging from ethnography to decision-making experiments. At IIED, Alejandro has been helping to develop and implement research that citizen-led, that is, where non-scientists play a role in designing, collecting, interpreting and using data.


Food production, processing and marketing, especially informal; food consumption and diets; land use, deforestation and REDD.

Before IIED

Researcher at the German Development Institute (DIE) in Bonn. Previously consultant for FAO and local governments in Colombia.

PhD in Geography, University of California, Berkeley; MSc in Geography, Pennsylvania State University; BSc in Biology, Universidad Nacional de Colombia

Current work

Alejandro’s current work focuses on three main areas:

  1. Understanding the role and challenges of smallholder farmers in the food system, how they connect to the market and what can be done to improve their livelihoods. His current work on SALSA has a comparative European-African focus
  2. Gathering and synthesising evidence about the opportunities and challenges of informal markets and small-scale entrepreneurship, both in providing food access to consumers and livelihood options for vendors and producers. His current work focuses on informal food markets in Bolivia, Uganda and Zambia, as well as dairy markets in Kenya, Tanzania and Assam (India), and
  3. Using citizen-generated evidence to document and understand food consumption and diets.