Small-scale producers and standards in agrifood supply chains

2005 - 2008

This programme explored opportunities for small-scale producers in developing countries to participate in international horticultural supply chains – particularly those in the UK. The programme was a three-year collaboration between DFID, IIED and NRI.

Consumers in the UK expect high quality food from around the world, produced according to high ethical, environmental and safety standards at an affordable price and in all seasons. This opens up opportunities for agricultural producers in developing countries.

But there are fears that the way these supply chains are managed – through rationalisation and through standards and certification processes – is a potential barrier for smaller-scale producers, who form the backbone of the African rural economy.

Given the importance of these producers for achievement of the Millennium Development Goals this is of major concern.

This joint DFID-IIED-NRI programme explored ways to create opportunities and identify favourable outcomes for small-scale producers in developing countries to participate in international horticultural supply chains – in particular those in the UK. 

Over a three-year period, the project worked with food retailers, importers, standard-setting bodies, traders and producers to ensure that supply chain standards and other procurement practices didn't discriminate against small-scale producers. The project focused particularly on African export horticulture.

What IIED did

The project was built around three key themes:

  • Dialogue, among supermarkets, other retailers, standard-setting bodies, industry associations, public policymakers, NGOs, donors, Secretary of State, etc, in the UK and Africa on the future direction for private sector standards
  • Information on standards setting and compliance issues for rural development, including the costs and benefits of compliance with specific standards such as EurepGAP, to assist smallholders in accessing the most beneficial standards scheme for them.
  • ‘Best practice' with regard to standard-setting and implementation, with the inclusion of smallholder-friendly elements into existing standards, through piloting different solutions.

Research from the project was published in three key publications.

The pocketbook 'Fair Miles: Recharting the food miles map' delved into the realities of the produce trade between Africa and the UK, examining both the environmental and developmental sides of the equation.

The publication 'Standard bearers: Horticultural exports and private standards in Africa' drew together research, experiences and opinions on the evolving role of African horticultural production for export in the face of private standards. It explored the full range of costs and benefits of compliance with private standards.

It recommends that trading partners (from producers to retailers) and facilitating partners (standard setters, donors, researchers and service providers) work collaboratively towards making private standards more beneficial to, and inclusive of, small-scale growers.

Finally, an opinion paper discussed the concept of ‘fair miles’ – which puts development in the South on the environmental agenda, and allows UK retailers a more balanced response on behalf of their millions of customers.

The project also published background information and an extensive range of papers on an interactive website focused on Agrifood Standards.


Fair Miles: recharting the food miles map, Kelly Rae Chi, James MacGregor, Richard King (2009)

Miles Better?: How 'fair miles' stack up in the sustainable supermarket, Ben Garside, Bill Vorley, James MacGregor (2007)

Additional resources

Standard bearers: Horticultural exports and private standards in Africa, edited by Adeline Borot, James MacGregor, Andrew Graffham (2008)


UK Department for International Development


Natural Resources Institute (NRI)


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