Going deeper with value chain analysis: understanding power relations for animal disease control in Myanmar

Value chain analysis is already praised as a powerful tool for animal disease control. International organisations such as the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) routinely conduct value chain analyses to understand where animals are distributed, and who is involved in managing, moving, processing and purchasing them. In this way, policymakers and practitioners can track animal disease hotspots and identify groups of people potentially responsible for risky practices.

However, in our recently published paper from our work with the Myanmar Pig Partnership, we argue that there is a lot more we can do with value chain analysis (pdf).

Social science research has shed a light on the power relationships and governance issues that can influence value chain actors’ behaviours. Understanding the power relationships and governance of livestock value chains can tell us not only who is involved in moving animals from farm to table and whose practices might pose health risks, but, importantly, also what lies behind risky practices.

In our case, we focused on understanding why value chain actors – farmers, traders, slaughterers and retailers – do not sufficiently contribute to actively preventing the spread and control of pig diseases. Some of these diseases are zoonotic in nature (i.e. can transmit from animals to people) and so go on to affect these actors themselves.

We found that, often, farmers lack scientific knowledge and the financial and physical resources to invest in appropriate animal housing, vaccination and nutritious feed to guard against disease. In turn, traders and slaughterers facilitate the selling of pigs as soon as they become ill, posing risks for disease spread. Retailers then target certain groups of – often poor – consumers to sell meat from sick animals. There is also demand from these consumers for cheap meat.

If we fail to look deeper at the power relationships and governance issues involved in this value chain, our recommendations for improved disease control might be for greater knowledge dissemination, more technical training and better provision of physical infrastructure for value chain actors to improve their practice.

But looking beneath the surface, our research helps us understand why these risky practices persist.

Unintended consequences

Such research has been done before, but not in understanding the dynamics of animal diseases. Originally, researchers in social sciences were interested in understanding the business relationships between value chain actors.

However, value chain research has also been used to understand issues of externality – unintended consequences of business activities. These issues include deteriorating labour rights and working conditions in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), gender-based hardship imposed by the value chain structure, and environmental issues as a consequence of intensified agricultural export. This research shows that actors outside of value chains – those such as consumers, government, and civil society organisations – influence how business practices are conducted and what influence businesses have on workers, wider societies and the environment.

Livestock diseases are an example of negative externality. They are generated as a result of business activities by farmers, traders, animal slaughterers and retailers. They affect not only value chain actors but also the wider public through the consumption of animal-sourced food.

On this basis, our research connects the value chain research community, which has been thinking about how value chain governance interacts with externalities, and animal health researchers and practitioners, who are interested in finding solutions to improve diseases control.

Power relationships and governance

Our case study on the pig value chain in Myanmar shows that people who eat pork, the government in Myanmar and the country’s large-scale farmers have power to influence other value chain actors. For example, when consumers can monitor farmers’ and slaughterers’ practices, they ensure that pigs that are slaughtered are healthy; the Myanmar Government can set rules and ensure that businesses follow these rules through law enforcement; and large-scale farmers, because there are not many of them and therefore pig buyers value the relationship with them more than with numerous small-scale farmers, are powerful.

Like many other LMICs, Myanmar faces many challenges in controlling animal diseases. But why? Why are these apparently powerful actors not doing anything about it?

First, consumers are concerned about only certain aspects of disease control measures. For instance, while they make sure that sick pigs are not slaughtered, their concerns are insufficient to cover all aspects of preventative measures. Indeed, they are not worried about farmers keeping pigs in good housing, vaccinating pigs at the right time and minimising antibiotic use during the production process.

This is partly because they may be unaware of the risks of disease transmission and other health-related problems. But it is also because certain aspects of disease control do not affect them directly.

Therefore, incentivising value chain actors to contribute to disease prevention cannot rely solely on pressures from consumers.

Likewise, the government alone cannot enforce all rules regarding disease control. Even though it is a powerful actor, levels of enforcement can vary across geographical locations. We find that slaughterhouses closer to cities are inspected more often than rural ones. Informal slaughtering practices exist too, and these are difficult to monitor.

When it comes to the Myanmar Government, many departments are struggling with staff shortages and limited funds to implement needed activities. In the absence of Government-led inspection and monitoring, value chain actors are not incentivised (enough) to actively control diseases on their own.

Finally, large-scale farmers are able to impose disease-prevention (biosecurity) measures on traders who come to their farms. We found that traders are incentivised to cooperate with large-scale farmers by, for example, agreeing to disinfect their vehicles upon entering their farms.

On the other hand, medium- and small-scale farmers found it difficult to influence traders, despite being aware of the disease risks when traders visit many farmers across an area to collect pigs.

Informing policymakers

Our research indicates that across the value chain, people do have varying level of knowledge about livestock diseases, the risks and possible prevention measures. While some actors can influence other actors’ practices effectively, others struggle to do so due, for example, to lack of access to knowledge, resources or bargaining power.

But these measures alone are insufficient to control the spread of animal disease – a challenge most recently demonstrated in the swift spread of African swine fever (ASF) across the East and Southeast Asia.

Our studies show that increasing the influence of consumers, law enforcement agencies and farmers might be an effective way forward for Myanmar. For example, collective marketing by medium- and small-scale farmers could be a way for them to influence traders’ practices more widely.

Likewise, a careful value chain analysis in other countries could inform policymakers of the underlying factors influencing the value chain actors in the contexts they work in – and how best to intervene and control the animal diseases that threaten them.

One comment:

  1. Perhaps the best and easiest way to do so is by educating and teaching farmers about these diseases and their preventive techniques. This will minimize, if not eradicate, the problem markedly.

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