Global value chains (GVC) and social learning. Developing producer capabilities in smallholder farmers: the case of San Francisco Produce/Peninsula Organics (SFP/PO)
Villa Rodríguez, Abel Osvaldo
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The thesis examines how resource-poor smallholder farmers in Mexico are integrated into a Global Value Chain. Most Global Value Chains depend on production located in developing countries. In agriculture, Global Value Chain tend to concentrate production in large enterprises and exclude smallholder farmers. The logic of Global Value Chains is to reduce the cost of production by allocating low value activities, such as production of commodities to developing countries to take advantage of cheap labour cost. High value activities such as branding, marketing and product development remain in high income countries. The thesis consists of the in-depth case study of San Francisco Produce/Peninsula Organics (SFP/PO) Global Value Chain. It is located throughout Southern Baja Peninsula in Mexico and San Francisco California, U.S.A. It sells organic certified produce to the American market, particularly California and east coast. SFP/PO was founded by a social entrepreneur and has been functioning for over 30 years. This Global Value Chain has an explicit social purpose. It focuses on integrating smallholder farmers into agricultural production. This value chain requires farmers to adopt organic production. The methods consisted of semi-structured interviews. In total, 50 interviews were conducted in Mexico to farmers that belong to the value chain in 9 co-operatives and 3 single farmers. The interviews focused on how farmers learned organic production to meet quality requirements of global buyers. The analysis uses three perspectives to explain the integration of smallholder farmers into SFP/PO and the development of organic production capabilities. First Global Value Chains are used to describe the network, connections and production activities smallholder farmers and global buyer carry out. The study sheds light on how the value chain achieves its social aims by using global markets and providing external inputs to improve farmers’ livelihoods. Second, using Technological Capabilities the study explains the skills farmers need to develop to participate in the value chain. Third, a Communities of Practice perspective is used to explain how social learning is involved in developing production capabilities. The research explains how farmers collectively define competence and how they display three different levels of participation in the value chain, periphery, medium and full participation. And fourth, using the theory of Knowing in Action, the research explores co-learning between novice and expert farmers and the interactions among farmers that results in co-innovation to develop new technical solutions and crop varieties. The thesis presents a case of a value chain which is motivated by social purpose to improve livelihoods of smallholder farmers. The study demonstrates that there is a change of ethos, where global value chain integrates farmers into agricultural production. These data highlight the importance of social structures which allow farmer-to-farmer connections which enhance novice farmer skills enabling interactions where there is respect, and negotiation of knowledge. These interactions take indigenous farmers’ knowledge into account in ways that can be acknowledged and harnessed in the form of practices and techniques to produce globally marketable products.