Action through collaboration: Highlights from the IDH Market Transformation Summit 2023

More than 240 participants took part in the IDH partnership Summit from 15-16 November, with a majority indicating that they’re willing and ready to take the next step towards sustainable market transformation. 


Over two days in Geneva, front-running leaders, investors, innovators and practitioners from across global value chains joined IDH experts to share insights and discover new pathways towards creating better jobs, improving incomes, and fostering sustainable land use. 

It was an opportunity to celebrate as well as reflect on 15 years of public-private collaboration and engage in open, honest dialogue about the successes, the setbacks, and the moments of valuable learning along the way.  

The program featured multiple plenary and deep dive sessions, covering pressing topics related to market transformation, from driving investments in smallholder value chains and food system transformation, to climate adaptation and mitigation, sustainable procurement practices and regulation. 

Outside of the regular schedule, the conference area was host to several interactive experiences, including a virtual reality encounter that allowed participants to explore an Indonesian palm oil landscape first-hand, as well as an audio-visual exhibit celebrating 15 years of IDH partnerships. 

Here we highlight some of the key takeaways from the Summit: 


#1 Collaboration is fundamental to transformation 


IDH CEO Daan Wensing opened the Summit with a look back on the IDH journey, noting that while our core values have remained the same keeping smallholder farmers, workers and forests at the centre of everything we do – the conditions in which we seek to drive change have altered drastically: 



Building on lessons gained through years of partnership, Daan Wensing outlined the essential building blocks of transformative collaborations: Convening, Co-creating, Governance, Generating Insights, Walking the Talk (action), as well as the increasingly important Role of Government and Investment. This multi-factor approach to market transformation, he continued, can only by successful through increased public-private collaborations and partnerships that can attend to each element simultaneously. 

This was echoed in the session on partnerships for sustainable action, where long-term IDH partners discussed the reality and challenges of collaboration.  

The panellists reflected on 15 years of collaboration, noting that impactful partnership requires:  

  • shared understanding of the problem 
  • awareness that no single actor holds all the solutions 
  • diversity of perspectives and openness to listen and learn 
  • a seat at the table for those that are most affected 
  • genuine commitment to achieve change 
  • strong, authentic, and constructively critical conversation


#2 Integrated sustainability drives impact 


How can we turn individual islands of success to deliver a sustainable future collectively? 

Ruchira Joshi, Global Director Agri-commodities at IDH, moderated a session on this question, where Magdi Batato, former EVP Nestlé and Chairman of the IDH Supervisory Board, was joined by several experts from Alluvial, Mars and Marfrig Global Foods to discuss developments in the market, how their companies are taking action, and the need to move thinking from a fragmented, project-based approach to an integrated one. 

The panellists gave examples of how they have tackled integrated sustainability agendas within their own companies and sectors, including the internal governance changes needed to integrate sustainability agendas and deliver impact, and how partnerships helped accelerate this effort. 

There was also an acknowledgement that while many companies are eager for this approach, there are differing ideas as to what integrated sustainability really means, a reality confirmed by the results of live audience polling on the subject. 



Added to this, it was noted that developments in regulation and reporting frameworks have encouraged carbon tunnel-vision and reinforced the artificial separation between social and environmental agendas, centering climate as the priority over other issues, including biodiversity loss and poverty. 

Despite these challenges, however, speakers and the audience agreed that the defining lesson from their experiences was that an integrated approach was crucial to driving efficiency and creating scalable, lasting impact. 


#3 Sustainable procurement as a lever for change 


Jordy Van Honk, Global Director Living Wage and Living Income at IDH, hosted a plenary session about driving change through reshaped business practices. Using examples from their own companies, speakers from Lidl, Tony’s Chocoloney, Mars and Sucafina discussed how complementing field-level programs with changes in business practices, particularly through procurement, can act as a catalyst for transformative change. 

It was noted how, up until recently, work on living wage and income focused mainly on field-level interventions where actions to close gaps were mostly put on the shoulders of producers and farmers. However, impact evaluations of these approaches have shown that these are not nearly successful enough to close living wage and income gaps.  

Drawing on their own company examples, the experts explained how they are utilising procurement practices to drive a positive impact on farmers’ income and workers’ wages. 



Recognising the potential of sustainable procurement practices, Jordy van Honk also outlined the 5 principles IDH believes can

 drive stronger supplier-buyer relationships and the balancing of risks and rewards:  

  1. Longer-term purchasing arrangements  
  2. Improved payment terms and higher (farmgate) price  
  3. Develop and deepen equitable supply chain relationships  
  4. Improve efficiency and enhance transparency  
  5. Reduce volatility and risks for farmers  

The prevailing message of the session was that while sustainable procurement will not be a silver bullet; there is an increased belief that this can be a lever towards change. 


#4 The risks and benefits of upcoming regulation 


The Regulation on deforestation-free products (EU-DR) beginning in December 2024 marks a distinct shift from voluntary approaches to social and environmental duties to a regulatory phase for European commodity sourcing. 

Matthew Spencer, Global Director Landscapes at IDH led a conversation on this topic featuring panellists from companies JDE Peet’s, Touton, Wholechain, as well as Mr. Nguyen Ha Hue, Counsellor from Vietnam, Permanent Mission in Switzerland, who spoke about Vietnam’s cooperation with IDH and JDE and the country’s status as one the first countries in the world to develop an action plan on EUDR. 

The session focused on the positives and negatives of the new EU framework, and its implications for the way the supply chain market operates, including opportunities for farmers who can use greater transparency to secure a fairer share of value, and risks for farmers who are excluded because they can’t meet compliance regulations despite being deforestation-free. 

One of the main conclusions was the need to ensure that regulation is addressed at the jurisdictional level – meaning everyone is included and able to provide transparent, reliable data. The need for industry standardisation was also raised as a means to a successful transition:



#5 Addressing funding gaps through impact investment 


There is a large financing gap in smallholder value chains, limiting development and the ability to overcome challenges relating to poverty and climate change. Agribusinesses and smallholder farmers are facing many hurdles to obtain finance due to a mismatch between financing needs and the requirements of banks and other investors in terms of risks, returns and ticket size.  

Moderator Tokunbo Salako led a session on how to decrease the funding gap in smallholder value chains through innovative investment for a larger pool of agribusinesses, overcoming the challenges, and enabling innovation. 

The panel, featuring Roel Messie, CEO of IDH Investment Management, executives from Avanti Finance and Grassroots Business, as well as a Senior Advisor from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation were asked to identify the key pain points the sector is struggling with and why existing approaches aren’t driving progress at the pace the sector needs.   



It was agreed that when it comes to impact investment, there can be no single cookie cutter approach to if we wish to achieve scalable results, and that testing and capturing learnings is the pathway to creating access to finance for agri-SMEs. Increasing the pool of investable projects in SMEs is therefore essential, through co-investing, bringing in blended finance, and connecting with other donors to make the system work. 


Driving action through collaboration 


As part of the live polling throughout the Summit, participants were asked the question: “How will you challenge the status quo?” to which the majority responded collaborate” above other action-oriented words like “provoke” and “educate”. 



This response captured the overarching spirit of the event, in which attendees expressed their willingness to take the actions necessary to enable scalable, lasting change. It is these exact public-private partnerships that IDH will continue to foster as we push on to discover and innovate new pathways and solutions for achieving large-scale market transformation.


Get an impression from the Summit: