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. If done properly, farmers could gain access to new markets, knowledge, technology, and income; while buyers will be able to adapt to a supply-constrained market and source key raw materials with greater ease. However, there is a great challenge in developing the processes to bring these two groups together.

CIAT’s Role

CIAT has 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.

What has changed?

Unilever, a multinational corporation in the food sector, used the method for their assessments of value chains for tomatoes in India, tea in Kenya, and soy in Indonesia in both 2013 and 2014, while also promoting Link in all Sustainable Food Lab events and spaces. Unilever is using the LINK Methodology quite extensively and has developed a new guide for over 300 global buyers who purchase raw materials.

This new guide helped buyers to purchase the materials they need from suppliers and small-hold farmers. Unilever is taking this guide and methodology even further and has entered into a partnership with Oxfam, the Ford Foundation, the Sustainable Food Lab, and the International Institute of Environment and Development. Together, these groups aim to promote business models with peer companies who engage smallholder suppliers.


* 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