The "Hidden Middle," FSG's faculty T. Reardon's Top Cited Paper

Relatively ‘hidden’ from mainstream debate are the middle segments (processing, logistics, wholesale) of agrifood value chains in developing countries—and yet this ‘midstream’ forms 30–40 per cent of the value added and costs in food value chains.

January 29, 2018

Goats transportation
Goats transportation, Tanzania, 2017

Professor, MSU Distinguished Faculty Thomas Reardon, first explained the concept of "hidden middle" in his leading article of 2015: "Assessment of the Quality of Agriculture and Food Security Policy Processes and Institutional Architecture in Tanzania: Results of the 2016 Stakeholder Survey." Since then, this article has been ranked “most cited” in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy, a journal with impact factor of 1.7 (similar to Agricultural Economics and more than JDS with 1.1). This publication is also read widely in Europe, and the "hidden middle" has been referred to in many forums.

Abstract

The food security debate has focused largely on the farm sector and on trade. Relatively neglected or ‘hidden’ from mainstream debate are the middle segments (processing, logistics, wholesale) of agrifood value chains in developing countries—and yet this ‘midstream’ forms 30–40 per cent of the value added and costs in food value chains. The productivity of the midstream is as important as farm yields for food security in poor countries. The article shows that over the past several decades the middle segments have transformed quickly and surprisingly—with a huge volume expansion, a proliferation of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), but also concentrating and multinationalizing (in some places and products), with technology change characterized by capital-led intensification, and with the incipient emergence of branding and labelling and packaging, of new organizational arrangements in procurement and marketing interfaces with farmers and retailers, and of private standards and contracts. Economic policies of market and foreign direct investment (FDI) liberalization, commercial and business climate regulations, hard and soft infrastructure investment, and food safety laws, have paved the path to the expansion and shaped the transformation of the important midstream segment of food value chains

Reardon, T. 2015. “The Hidden Middle: The Quiet Revolution in the Midstream of Agrifood Value Chains in Developing Countries,” Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 31(1), Spring: 45-63.

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