Special Issue "Agricultural Value Chains: Innovations and Sustainability"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Sustainable Agriculture".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 June 2020).

Special Issue Editors

Prof. Gianluca Brunori
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Agriculture, Food and Environment, University of Pisa, Via del Borghetto, 80–56124 Pisa, Italy
Interests: rural development strategies; sustainable food systems; marketing of local food; innovation in agriculture and rural areas; small farms; food security; digitalisation
Special Issues and Collections in MDPI journals
Dr. Allison Loconto
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), Interdisciplinary Laboratory on Science, Innovation and Society (LISIS), University of Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée, Marne la Vallée, France
Interests: value chains; innovation; standards and certification; sustainable agriculture; agroecology

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The Special Issue on “The Agricultural Value Chains: Innovations and Sustainability” aims at gathering papers that study how farmers and food businesses deal with the challenge of sustainability by introducing technical, organizational, and social innovations. In recent years, sustainability has become a key factor of innovation. Companies are introducing sustainability strategies both to consolidate their brand reputation and to differentiate their products in an increasingly competitive market. Sustainability criteria, if adequately communicated, have the power to appeal to a growing segment of consumers concerned with the environment, health, and social and ethical issues. This has important implications for the governance of value chains, as sustainability strategies imply the realignment of all actors of the chain around new values and often new connections with actors who are not usually considered within a supply chain logic. This growing interest for sustainability, however, is accompanied with the growth of inaccurate or misleading sustainability claims, which may undermine consumers’ trust. Papers for this Special Issue will provide theory and evidence of these tendencies, will show how the meaning of sustainability is turned into product standards, how these meanings are transmitted along the value chain, how consumers react to these standards and related communications, and what controversies are being generated by sustainability claims. In addition to these concerns over the consumer interface of sustainability in value chains, additional attention will be given to the role of farmers in the value chains: What are the innovation pathways farmers follow to capture the opportunities of the growing demand for sustainability? Will the power balance in the value chain change as an effect of the turn to sustainability? What are the value chain configurations that help a favorable integration with the markets? In this way, the Special Issue will seek to merge the sometimes divergent fields of consumer studies and innovation studies in agri-food systems.

Prof. Gianluca Brunori
Dr. Allison Loconto
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1900 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • value chains
  • sustainability standards
  • certification
  • labels
  • consumer communication
  • social innovation
  • innovation pathways
  • supply chains
  • alternative agri-food networks

Published Papers (7 papers)

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Research

Open AccessArticle
The Diverging Understandings of Quality by Coffee Chain Actors—Insights from Colombian Producers and Austrian Roasters
Sustainability 2020, 12(15), 6137; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12156137 - 30 Jul 2020
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 598
Abstract
This paper addresses the understandings of quality recognized by diverse actors along the coffee chain with focus on specialty coffee producers. In the specialty coffee niche, the assessment of (physical) quality acts as a coordination device among chain actors that enables the identification [...] Read more.
This paper addresses the understandings of quality recognized by diverse actors along the coffee chain with focus on specialty coffee producers. In the specialty coffee niche, the assessment of (physical) quality acts as a coordination device among chain actors that enables the identification of divergences on how quality is practiced. This paper aims to uncover how quality attributes (e.g., physical, symbolic) are understood (perceived) by value chain actors and are interwoven with quality conventions (e.g., market, green). Explorative interviews were carried out with Colombian producers located in selected coffee regions. A cupping exercise (tasting of coffee) was organized with producers. Afterwards, another informal cupping was done with roasters in Vienna, Austria. By coupling the concepts of quality attributes and conventions, the paper proposes a theoretical framework that connects quality attributes, conventions and the links to value addition (i.e., from parchment coffee to roasted coffee). Results show that the understandings of quality produce risky battles and ruptures among producers to follow certain conventions. The divergences, risky battles and ruptures in the understandings of quality acknowledged by producers are not only based on “roaster-driven” quality definitions penetrating the producers’ community, or the (individual) knowledge gained by producers, but also on the regulatory framework pursued by producers in a country with a strong coffee federation aiming to legitimize and safeguard the product’s reputation. To what extent is sound experimentation allowed, and direct exchange and interaction between producers, buyers and roasters desirable? Specialty coffee represents a differentiation alternative for small producers located in remote rural areas. Therefore, a transparent and inclusive dialogue between chain actors is required to reduce the divergences in the understandings of quality to balance the value appropriation along the chain. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Agricultural Value Chains: Innovations and Sustainability)
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Open AccessArticle
Limitations of Inclusive Agribusiness in Contributing to Food and Nutrition Security in a Smallholder Community. A Case of Mango Initiative in Makueni County, Kenya
Sustainability 2020, 12(14), 5521; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12145521 - 08 Jul 2020
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 766
Abstract
Food and nutrition security remain at the top of development priorities in low income countries. This is especially the case for smallholder farmers who derive their livelihood from agriculture yet are often the most deprived. Inclusive agribusinesses have been championed as a key [...] Read more.
Food and nutrition security remain at the top of development priorities in low income countries. This is especially the case for smallholder farmers who derive their livelihood from agriculture yet are often the most deprived. Inclusive agribusinesses have been championed as a key strategy to address local constraints that limit smallholders’ participation in regional and global value chains, thereby enhancing their livelihood, and food and nutrition security, accordingly. In this paper, based on a mixed method research approach, we explore the potential food and security contribution of inclusive agribusiness in Makueni county, Kenya. We focus on the smallholders’ constraints and needs, exploring the extent to which these are addressed by such purported pro-poor approach. First, using independent sample t-tests and a probit regression model, we explore who are able to participate in an ongoing intervention. We compare how participants and non-participants differ in terms of key socio-economic characteristics and establish which of these attributes are associated with successful integration into the business. Second, we again use independent sample t-tests to determine how the participants and non-participants compare in terms of their food and nutrition security. The household food and nutrition security is assessed with the conventional measurement tools: the household food insecurity access scale and the household food dietary diversity score. We find that participation in the inclusive agribusiness favors smallholder households with relatively higher production capacity in terms of better physical capital (land and number of mango trees, financial capital), access to loans, and human capital (age, education, and family size). Following income improvement, the participants’ household food security situation is significantly better than for non-participants. However, participation does not improve household dietary diversity, implying that improvement in income does not necessarily lead to better household nutrition security. To address the limitations of inclusive agribusiness, we propose policymakers and development actors to critically explore the contextual background prior to intervention design and implementation, and accordingly devise a broader approach for more inclusivity of the very poor and marginalized, and better food and nutrition security outcomes as a result. Given that not every smallholder could benefit from inclusive agribusiness for their food needs due to resource scarcity, alternative livelihood supports, including social protection programs and safety net plans, should be considered. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Agricultural Value Chains: Innovations and Sustainability)
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Open AccessArticle
Categorizing Organic Grain Buyers in the Midwestern United States
Sustainability 2020, 12(12), 5169; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12125169 - 24 Jun 2020
Viewed by 500
Abstract
Though the demand for organic grains is increasing, domestic supply is falling short. One of the major barriers to entry in the organic grain market for producers is the inability to identify an appropriate buyer, as well as a lack of understanding buyer [...] Read more.
Though the demand for organic grains is increasing, domestic supply is falling short. One of the major barriers to entry in the organic grain market for producers is the inability to identify an appropriate buyer, as well as a lack of understanding buyer perceptions, assistance offered, and contracting strategies. While classifications of organic producers exist, and have helped researchers and policymakers develop incentives, no such classification exists for organic grain buyers. Previous works have identified communication gaps between buyers and producers of organic grains, yet buyers’ beliefs and requirements regarding organic grain are not well documented in literature. Drawing from the personal values theory, this study proposes the categorization of organic grain buyers based on their commitment to the organic industry, with categories such as committed organic and pragmatic organic. We profiled grain purchases, buying arrangements, grain requirements, relationships, and business characteristics by buyer type. Means comparisons among groups showed that committed organic buyers seem to be primarily driven by social focus values, while pragmatic organic buyers tend to show values related to personal focus. A principal component analysis suggested the existence of three components constructed by contract-, perceptions-, and relationship-oriented characteristics in buyers. Our results allowed us to identify potential marketing opportunities by providing insight regarding types of assistance offered by buyers, how to build and maintain a relationship with buyers, types of purchasing agreements used, and purchasing agreement characteristics and requirements. Industry stakeholders can use this information to identify appropriate buyers based on times contracts are signed, payment timing, storage and transportation requirements, and the amount of organic practice documentation buyers require. Our categorization can provide the foundation for further research in the organic grain industry. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Agricultural Value Chains: Innovations and Sustainability)
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Open AccessArticle
Fonio and Bambara Groundnut Value Chains in Mali: Issues, Needs, and Opportunities for Their Sustainable Promotion
Sustainability 2020, 12(11), 4766; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12114766 - 11 Jun 2020
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 979
Abstract
As the effects of climate change are severely straining West African agricultural systems, the adoption of more incisive interventions in support of sustainable development agendas for the region is highly critical and cannot be further delayed by governments. Neglected and underutilized species (NUS) [...] Read more.
As the effects of climate change are severely straining West African agricultural systems, the adoption of more incisive interventions in support of sustainable development agendas for the region is highly critical and cannot be further delayed by governments. Neglected and underutilized species (NUS) are one important ally in pursuing resilience in both production and food systems because of their promising traits in terms of nutrition, adaptation to local agroecosystems, and economic potential for local populations. Focusing on fonio, a gluten-free traditional cereal, and Bambara groundnut, a protein-rich leguminous crop, we investigate issues in their production, commercialization, and consumption in southern Mali. The aim was to assess needs and opportunities for improving their value chains and increasing their use and societal benefits. Using a Rapid Market Appraisal method, we surveyed traders, producers, processors, and consumers of target crops in 2017 and 2018. Our findings indicate that while both crops are consumed and praised by local populations, critical bottlenecks inhibit their wider socioeconomic potential. Lack of access to inputs and equipment and presence of sand in the commercialized product are important issues for fonio, whereas the Bambara groundnut value chain suffers from poor processing facilities and lack of market promotion. Policy recommendations to tackle the identified bottlenecks are proposed. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Agricultural Value Chains: Innovations and Sustainability)
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Open AccessArticle
What Are the Conflicting Tensions in an Italian Cooperative and How Do Members Manage Them? Business Goals’, Integrated Management, and Reduction of Waste within a Fruit and Vegetables Supply Chain
Sustainability 2020, 12(7), 3050; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12073050 - 10 Apr 2020
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 842
Abstract
Social enterprise is a model of hybrid organization driven by the need to generate positive externalities by reinvesting their surplus for social and environmental objectives. One of the biggest problems arising from joining financial goals with social goals is the presence of increasing [...] Read more.
Social enterprise is a model of hybrid organization driven by the need to generate positive externalities by reinvesting their surplus for social and environmental objectives. One of the biggest problems arising from joining financial goals with social goals is the presence of increasing tensions between the members and stakeholders involved. Nevertheless, there has not been enough focus on how managers, employees, and stakeholders respond to the tensions caused by contradictions and how they try to reach a balance between financial, environmental, and social goals. Therefore, the present study is aimed at investigating how members of an agricultural cooperative in the Apulia region (Italy) try to join the organizational forms of business and social values, namely, the sustainable practices related to CO2 emission reduction, resource use efficiency, and food waste mitigation. Additionally, the study goes further and explores whether and how these contradictory pressures are solved. Starting from the sensemaking approach, the study carried out an inductive case study through the use of a multiple case study design and in-depth interviews. The findings highlight the following two novel aspects: (1) Managers prefer to adopt a cumulative mitigating hybridization approach and (2) a weak integration can be noticed between social and commercial dimensions, originating from a lack of holistic perspective and poor interorganizational communication. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Agricultural Value Chains: Innovations and Sustainability)
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Open AccessArticle
Redefining the Supply Chain Model on the Milicz Carp Market
Sustainability 2020, 12(7), 2934; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12072934 - 07 Apr 2020
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 640
Abstract
The growing demand for cheap food is a key factor in maintaining long supply chains. Increasing the distance between the producer and the consumer results not only in certain problems in maintaining profitability by small, local producers, but also in a threat to [...] Read more.
The growing demand for cheap food is a key factor in maintaining long supply chains. Increasing the distance between the producer and the consumer results not only in certain problems in maintaining profitability by small, local producers, but also in a threat to food safety. One way to counteract these adverse effects is to sell food through short supply chains. They shape the market in the direction of maintaining care for the sustainable development of all food production, but above all, maintaining and strengthening the production capacity ensuring the transparency of the high-quality food production process from an identifiable source of origin. The purpose of this article is to indicate the conditions on the side of both carp producers and consumers, conducive to building short supply chains, and determine whether they can be an effective alternative sales model in Polish conditions. The article focuses on the possibilities of developing short supply chains on the carp market in the Barycz Valley, concentrating the largest area of carp ponds in Europe. The research (surveys) included the five largest fishing farms and, on the recipient side, individual consumers and restaurants located in the Barycz Valley and Wrocław, and agritourism facilities in the researched area. The obtained results confirmed that short supply chains in the area of Polish aquaculture are characterized by high implementation potential. However, it is necessary to modify the current sales model so that the producers’ expectations regarding the sales volume and the obtained price are balanced with the expectations of consumers articulating the will to buy fish at a given time, place, and price. This, in turn, will ensure the high economic efficiency of fishing farms, and consumers will have access to a high-quality product. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Agricultural Value Chains: Innovations and Sustainability)
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Open AccessArticle
Sustainability Challenges and Innovations in the Value Chain of Flowering Potted Plants for the German Market
Sustainability 2020, 12(5), 1905; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12051905 - 03 Mar 2020
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 1347
Abstract
This study investigated the sustainability challenges and the adoption of sustainability innovations along the value chain of flowering potted plants supplying the German market. Data was collected through eighteen in-depths interviews with chain actors from different stages of the value chain and analyzed [...] Read more.
This study investigated the sustainability challenges and the adoption of sustainability innovations along the value chain of flowering potted plants supplying the German market. Data was collected through eighteen in-depths interviews with chain actors from different stages of the value chain and analyzed through qualitative content analysis. The material flow of the value chain begins at the breeding level followed by the propagation level. Cuttings are produced mostly in African countries, rooted cuttings and potted plants are cultivated in Europe. The main environmental challenges include water scarcity, pesticide use and carbon footprint. Social challenges in Africa include low wages and difficult working conditions. In Germany, social challenges include recruitment and retention of employees and product transparency. Economic challenges include profitability and the need to comply with standards. Sustainability driven innovations can address some sustainability challenges. However, their implementation often leads to increased costs, financial risk and complexity of implementation. Furthermore, the lack of product transparency prevents the transfer of sustainability costs to the consumer by offering a sustainable product for a premium price. Business-to-business standards have generally had a positive influence on the adoption of sustainability innovations. But by setting certification as an entry barrier for suppliers, retailers have become more powerful chain actors. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Agricultural Value Chains: Innovations and Sustainability)
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