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Open Access Upgrading products, upgrading work? Interorganizational learning in global food value chains to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

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This article is Open Access under the terms of the Creative Commons CC BY licence.

Upgrading is the latest buzzword in global value chain research, especially with regard to producers in countries of the Global South: participation in global food value chains has the potential of raising smallholder incomes and achieving decent work, very much in the spirit of the Sustainable Development Goals. However, we argue that the conceptual foundation of upgrading, which is at the heart of many value chain development initiatives, deserves scrutiny and a stronger focus on interorganizational learning among value chain actors to serve its purpose.

Global value chains have the potential of contributing to the achievement of multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In agriculture, the integration of producers into food value chains has created new employment in farming and processing, although it may also lead to precarious jobs, forced labor, and riskier environments for farmers and workers. The “upgrading” concept put forward by value chain researchers claims to address these concerns as it describes how producers can improve their position within a value chain, and hence, their livelihoods. The paper critically evaluates the conceptual foundation of “upgrading” and its applicability in food value chain governance for the realization of SDGs related to responsible production and decent work. An overlooked element contributing to upgrading and the achievement of these SDGs is learning among value chain actors. The paper argues how the shortcomings in the concept can be addressed in practice through interorganizational learning in multi-stakeholder platforms.
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Keywords: Sustainable Development Goals; decent work; economic upgrading; global food value chains; social upgrading

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2019

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  • GAIA is a peer-reviewed inter- and transdisciplinary journal for scientists and other interested parties concerned with the causes and analyses of environmental and sustainability problems and their solutions.

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