The Challenge

Major corporations and multi-national companies have long struggled with how to connect with and include small-scale suppliers. Connecting these two groups – smallholder farms and emerging markets – requires creative solutions to allow benefits for both sides. The LINK Methodology has started to close the gap between companies (See the outcome story about Unilever’s international buyer guide) and these two groups but has immense room to grow to continue to impact emerging markets.

CIAT’s Role

CIAT worked with a number of partner organizations to develop LINK Methodology, a system to encourage more inclusive business models. The Link Methodology is a set of key tools, designed to initiate, implement, and conclude a participatory innovation process between different groups in a supply chain. There are four components of the system: a value chain map, a business model canvas, a set of indicative business model principles to evaluate and design business models, and an example of a prototype cycle. CIAT also conducted a series of training activities to provide Link Methodology users with direct support.

The mission of Heifer International, a development organization, is to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth. The Heifer team in Central America began learning about LINK methodology, prompting it to cultivate a closer relationship with CIAT. As a result, Heifer decided to scale out the methodology globally, adopting it internally for use in designing new projects and promoting it with local partners to strengthen the connections of producer cooperatives and associations with local, national, and regional markets.

What has changed?

Today, Heifer has adopted and thoroughly institutionalized LINK as its methodology for developing more inclusive business models, which are a strategic area for Heifer and its theory of change. The organization has also provided extensive training in the use of LINK for its technical teams working in South America, Asia, and Africa.


* The LINK Methodology was developed as part of the New Business Models for Sustainable Trading Relationships Project, managed by the Sustainable Food Lab in collaboration with Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and Rainforest Alliance (RA) with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions and Markets (PIM) has supported further development of the toolkit with international NGOs in Latin America, including CRS, VECO, and Heifer International.


Mark Lundy

Mark Lundy

Theme Leader, Linking farmers to markets

LINK methodology: timeline