• Announcement
29. June 2022

What impact do globally traded agricultural commodities have on local sustainability compared to the niche products of the region of origin?

This question is addressed in the newly published INA study "David versus Goliath: Niche products and mainstream agricultural export commodities - to what extent do they promote sustainable development?", which focuses on economic, ecological and social consequences. Ten development projects of GIZ and the Swiss development organisation Helvetas in Asia, Africa and Latin America were analysed. The analysis was based on interviews with key actors from the project teams and the private sector as well as a literature review. 

The results provide new information on how to make supply chains more sustainable and offer a solid basis for future projects:

  • Mainstream agricultural export commodities, due to the size of the industry and their relatively high contribution to gross domestic product, have a much higher importance at the macroeconomic level than niche products, whose contribution to gross domestic product and foreign trade is smaller and often not recorded. However, this perspective neglects marginalised rural communities for which niche products often represent important sources of income.
  • In the cases analysed, niche products contribute significantly to biodiversity conservation.
  • In contrast, mainstream agricultural export commodities have often been found to be drivers of deforestation.
  • Contrary to expectations, it has not been confirmed that the promotion of major mainstream agricultural export commodities automatically leads to a higher number of beneficiaries compared to niche products. Such projects may even reach fewer beneficiaries than projects supporting smaller supply chains.
  • Overall, the study shows that there is no "good" and "bad" in mainstream agricultural export commodities or niche products. Both can be seen as complementary elements within a sustainable landscape approach.

However, according to the study, the following must be taken into account when promoting niche products:

  • As it is difficult to identify and analyse all circumstances and market options in advance during the planning phase, projects promoting niche products should be able to act flexibly.
  • Biodiversity-based niche products are often produced or collected per se in compliance with sustainability criteria. Certification, on the other hand, incurs high costs. Care should therefore be taken to ensure that the cost of a certification process is not too high, as this makes it too costly and difficult for smallholders and can remove the incentive for sustainable use.

Here under Studies/Guidelines you will find the results of the study in the section for Experts.