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Inclusive Market-Oriented Development (IMOD)

How do we include the poor in market opportunities? Inclusive Market-Oriented Development – IMOD – is a new approach to “research-for-development” that puts farmers first and moves them on to the path to prosperity. In the IMOD framework, crops are more than just commodities, and systems are more than natural resources; both represent the first steps along a pathway out of poverty.

In this visual representation of IMOD, the large arrow denotes progress from subsistence farming toward market-oriented agriculture. The wheel represents research innovation, which improves productivity, reliability and sustainability of smallholder farming. These steady improvements should help farmers generate food surpluses and cash, some of which is invested in improving the resiliency of the farm. This, in turn, helps to eliminate for social assistance such as emergency food aid (see lower triangular elements of the diagram)

A New Approach to Research for Development

Inclusive Market-Oriented Development (IMOD) challenges the view that hunger and poverty in the dryland areas can’t be defeated – permanently.

IMOD has two major components. The “MOD” in IMOD focuses on making sure that smallholder farmers – the poorest of the poor – gain access to markets and begin to move from subsistence agriculture to commercial farming. The “I” in IMOD is about ensuring that they capture their fair share of the benefits.

IMOD has much in common with traditional value chain economics, but with two important differences – it puts farmers first in the development process (see diagram) and it helps guarantee that smallholders have access to new technologies and innovations.

The IMOD begins with understanding farmers real needs and preferences. It then moves to generating research products and services that harness the power of the market. In addition, IMOD recognizes research-for-development as a long-term continuum, one that requires sequential innovations that help farmers progress from one step to the next.

Under IMOD, markets provide the “pull”– the demand for goods that increase the incomes of farmers who provide them. At its core it is model that leads from progress to prosperity and encourages researchers to develop innovations that capitalize on market forces on behalf of the poor.

It is also about partnerships. IMOD does not assume that all poor people face the same challenges and constraints. Quite the opposite, in fact. It recognizes that there is no one solution to ending hunger and poverty, and embraces the idea that success requires the combined efforts of a wide range of public and private sector organizations. IMOD also requires researchers to understand how development actually happens – how it’s triggered and how it can be sustained.

Key Elements of IMOD

  • Risk Management:  Under IMOD farm-level risk managementis an early and essential consideration. In the past, researchershave often under-estimated the importance of managing risk and developednew technologies without adequate reflection on this criticallyimportant part of the equation.

  • Gender: IMOD mainstreams gender, positioning it within a research paradigm that is initially gender-equitable but, ultimately, gender transformational.

  • Natural Resources: In the past, when researchers talked about protecting the environment they usually meant reducing land degradation. IMOD is different;by design it builds resiliency so that dryland farming can withstand stresses and recover when it occurs.

  • Diversification: IMOD assigns a high value to diversifying crops and cropping systems. If higher profits are the fuel that fires growth, then researchers need to focus not only on improving subsistence crops but also on how farmers can leverage their traditional practices to produce higher value products.

Precursors to Development: Under IMOD, crops and systems management are viewed as precursors to development rather than as an end point. Experience has shown that smallholder farmers want food self-sufficiency before they are willing to connect with markets forces. In that respect, the staple crops that farmers grow actually represent the first step in atransition processthat takes the poor from subsistence farming to market-driven prosperity.
IMOD and ICRISAT: IMOD is a central pillar of ICRISAT’s research-for-development strategy. This framework helps researchers focus on what really matters to farmers, which in turn helps farmers harness markets forces and reduce risk. Subsistence and very poor farmers are highly risk averse – they simply can’t afford to have their crops fail – so research-for-development technologies and innovations must be geared towards helping smallholders manage uncertainties that often preclude them from taking advantage of market opportunities.

Central to the IMOD approach is the delivery of ICRISAT’s six development outputs and outcomes. First among these is food sufficiency. Experience has shown that once household food security is achieved, most farmers are ready to intensify production and produce surpluses that they can store, or that they can sell. Once intensification succeeds, farmers are then able to move up the curve to invest in higher value crops that boost incomes,as well as reinvest in their farms.


Including smallholder farmers in market-oriented development requires doing development differently. Among other things, it means creating new, innovate processes and products across the entire agricultural value chain. It also requires researchers and partners to break free from conventional wisdom. At that point, “the impossible becomes the achievable”.

Processed and conveniently packaged sorghum and millet products are increasingly popular with urban consumers and illustrate the logical outcome of the IMOD approach to agricultural research. Producing the crop is the first step in a process geared towards adding value and increasing incomes of farm households across the semi-arid tropics.