Research themes

Fuelwood is increasingly becoming a traded commodity around urban areas in Malawi. Photo: France Gondwe, World Agroforestry Centre

Our global research project on Tree Product Marketing and Rural advisory services has two objectives:

  1. To improve commodity chains for enhanced market access and performance
  2. To strengthen knowledge development chains for improved entrepreneurship and innovation.

Our research focuses on four areas:  value chain analysis, improving standards and certification schemes, senterprise viability, and innovative rural advisory service approaches . Key research questions are as follows.


 Value chain analysis

How can value chain analyses better inform policy makers and other market actors for improved marketing strategies and performance?

  • What improved methods and rapid appraisal tools can be used for analyzing value chains, particularly for the benefit of poor and women farmers?
  • What are the key constraints and opportunities in selected agroforestry input (e.g. seed and seedlings) and product value chains, and how can different stakeholders (farmers, policy makers, private sectors and facilitating organizations) address them?

Improving standards and certification schemes

How and under what circumstances can standards and certification schemes for production and marketing of agroforestry products help the poor and contribute to environmental services?

  • How can quality assurance systems best be implemented and how can the poor gain better access to certified markets?

Enterprise development

How can rural enterprise development better contribute to developing value chains and strengthening livelihoods for the poor and particularly women?

  • What are key marketing interventions for helping farmers improve returns from agroforestry enterprises and improve smallholder competitiveness? How should the interventions be sequenced?
  • What are the opportunities and constraints of linking smallholders directly to traders and agribusinesses versus promotion of cottage industries?

Innovative rural advisory services' approaches

How can innovative rural advisory services approaches foster entrepreneurship and improve farmers' capacity to innovate?

  • What are key factors affecting the impact of innovative rural advisory services approaches such as volunteer farmer rural advisory service programmes, rural resource centres, and market information systems.
  • How does the impact of innovative rural advisory services' approaches vary by commodity, by land use system, by social setting and by region?

Key deliverables include rapid appraisals and detailed analyses to characterize markets and value chains for assessing constraints and opportunities, decision support tools to help decide whether and how quality assurance systems can help the poor, assessments of innovative rural advisory service approaches, such as volunteer farmer rural advisory service workers and syntheses, such as on how agroforestry tree product marketing has benefitted women and the poor.

Two key themes permeate our analyses. First, there is generally a trade-off between conducting rapid and in-depth appraisals but the trade-off is more nuanced than simply that one type of analysis requires more time and resources but gives more rigorous results than the other. The rapid appraisals are often more user-friendly than the in-depth appraisals and are more likely to engage the attention of certain stakeholders, such as policy makers and NGO representatives. Moreover, the two types of analyses are often highly complementary; rapid appraisals being useful for defining hypotheses and the in-depth analyses for rigorously testing them. The second theme characterizing our research assessments is that stakeholders and other persons affected by interventions are highly diverse; any change is likely to have both winners and losers. This highlights the need to avoid simply reporting mean benefits and losses and to disaggregate results by gender, wealth group, or other appropriate grouping as well as assessing factors which affect the results.