Sustainable Food Value Chains Knowledge Platform

SFVC vocabulary

The definitions in this vocabulary were developed by the platform’s Editorial Board, based in part on commonly used definitions in the public domain and with reference to FAOTERM where applicable (

Achieving impact at scale – having an impact on a large part of an FVC by focusing on leverage points (points through which large volumes of product or large numbers of value chain actors can be reached), or by scaling up or replicating models that have worked well at a smaller scale.

Agro-based concentrations – geographic concentrations of closely interlinked FVC stakeholders. Closely related concepts include agro-based clusters, agro-corridors, agro-industrial parks, agro-based special economic zones, and agribusiness incubators.

Analysis – guides the selection of value chains and examines their structures and the factors that drive their performance. It covers value chain selection, end markets, value chain functions, channels, technologies and actors (mapping), governance structures, service and input support providers, the business-enabling environment, and the natural environment.

Animal health – the physical health of animals for food production, including the presence, risk and control of diseases.

Animal welfare – the broader well-being of animals for food production, covering their handling, feeding, housing, transport and slaughter along FVCs and emphasizing the avoidance of unnecessary suffering.

Associations of value chain stakeholders – formal or informal voluntary groups of FVC actors, such as producer organizations and commodity associations.

Biodiversity – the number of species in an ecosystem. It refers to the variability among living organisms from all sources, including terrestrial, marine and other ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; and the diversity within and among species and in ecosystems.

Business-enabling environment (BEE) – the set of interrelated organizations, institutions, regulatory and legal frameworks, infrastructure and socio-cultural elements that create the broader environment in which the farms and firms in FVCs operate.

Business-enabling environment upgrading – the raising to a higher grade or standard of the organizations, institutions and infrastructure that make up the environment in which FVCs operates. It includes making changes related to socio-cultural elements, such as consumer awareness programmes that aim to reduce food waste.

Business model (and entrepreneurship) – the rationale through which businesses create, deliver and capture value in FVCs and chain actors (entrepreneurs) start such businesses. Particular emphasis is given to business models that involve buying from smallholder suppliers and selling to low-income consumers.

Carbon footprint – the net total greenhouse gas emissions, expressed in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, that are directly and indirectly associated with the food products in an FVC, from the delivery of inputs at the production stage to consumption in end markets.

Community development – improvement in the ability of community members to come together to take collective action and generate solutions to common problems.

Consumer value – the ratio of the benefits of a food product (such as appearance, flavour, safety, image, convenience and so on) relative to its market price, as perceived by consumers.

Contract farming – agricultural production carried out according to an agreement between a buyer and farmers establishing conditions for the production and marketing of a farm product or products.

Cross-cutting elements of sustainability – elements that involve all three of the dimensions of sustainability (economic, social, environmental) in FVCs, including measurement tools, certifications, labels, brands and trade-offs.

Design and implementation – the crafting and operationalization of strategies to improve the performance of FVCs along the three dimensions of sustainability (economic, social, environmental). They include developing a vision and strategy, options for upgrading, achieving impact at scale, planning and implementation, and monitoring and evaluation.

Economic sustainability – the ability of an FVC to maintain profitability, employment (wages), consumer value and fiscal impact at all of its stages, and to achieve long-term wealth accumulation.

End-market analysis – a detailed examination of the elements, structure and dynamics of final consumer markets, including the aspect of food waste.

Energy and bioenergy – the power supplied to and used in FVC operations that is derived from physical or chemical resources, including renewable resources such as solar, wind, geothermal and biomass power produced by living organisms.

Environmental sustainability – the ability of an FVC to endure without exhausting the available natural resources or damaging the health of ecological systems. It includes carbon and water footprints, toxicity and waste, plant and animal health, pests and weeds, energy and bioenergy, biodiversity, soil and water health, and food losses and waste.

Equitable distribution of marketing margins – the fair distribution of profits and wages among actors at different stages of an FVC relative to the costs and risks faced by those actors.

Farm-/firm-level upgrading – raising the operations of farms or firms in FVCs to a higher grade or standard, such as by adopting a new technology, developing a new product, linking to a new market or integrating new business functions.

Financial services – the broad range of services provided by financial institutions and other organizations (including FVC actors) related to funding and securing investments and operations in FVCs.

Fiscal impact – the net impact in terms of public funds generated (e.g. taxes, fees) and public funds used (e.g. subsidies, extension services) in FVCs.

Food losses and food waste – the decrease in edible food mass for human consumption throughout the FVC (loss) and at the retail and consumer end of the chain (waste).

Food value chain selection – the selection of FVCs for development support based on the potential impacts on the sustainability dimensions (economic, social, environmental) of upgrading them. It is closely linked to sustainability measurement.

Gender equity – the equal treatment of women and men in terms of their access to resources and participation in FVCs and of the impacts of this access on the wages, profits, food/nutrition security and health of women and men.

Governance (linkage) upgrading – the improvement of the links between individual firms and farms in FVCs to raise them to a higher grade or standard, both horizontally (e.g. improved producer associations) and vertically (e.g. improved coordination between buyers and sellers). It also includes the links with public organizations, such as extension services and regulatory bodies, and public–private partnerships. The higher grades or standards reflect improvements along one or more of the three sustainability dimensions (economic, social, environmental) and are associated with both the food products and the processes through which they are produced and delivered.

Inclusion of the poor – the degree by which poor households participate in and benefit from FVC development in both absolute and relative terms, as suppliers of agrifood products or services, as wage earners, as consumers and/or as beneficiaries of government programmes or externalities.

Information sharing, trust and transparency – the openness of communications among FVC stakeholders, reflecting their willingness to share information and to believe in the reliability, truth and ability of the other parties.

Infrastructural elements – the physical facilities used in FVCs and generally supplied by the public sector, such as roads, ports, public markets and storage facilities, communication networks and energy grids.

Input and service support provision – the nature and performance of the organizations that provide physical inputs or services (including financial services) to farms and firms in FVCs.

Inputs and services support upgrading – enhancement of the provision of physical inputs, financial services or non-financial services in FVCs to raise it to a higher grade or standard.

Institutional elements – the political, social, business and legal “rules of the game” to which stakeholders in an FVC need to adhere in their production, exchange and distribution activities and that give rise to certain expectations and assurances about the actions of others. These elements include regulations, laws, policies, customs and other socially embedded rules, and private sector-based rules such as voluntary standards.

Job creation/enhanced livelihoods – increasing the supply of wage-earning positions on-farm and in firms in FVCs, or – more broadly –  increasing the capabilities, assets and activities available to households for generating an income.

Labour welfare – the conditions (including the facilities, amenities and services) under which paid labourers work in an FVC, including fairness of income, social protection, personal development, social integration, freedom of association, safety and equity at the workplace, and the prevention of child labour.

Market power – the capacity of FVC actors to influence the terms of their transactions (including price setting) with each other, based on their size, financial strength, network connections and access to information and the presence (or potential entry) of competitors. High market power can lead to exploitive behaviour and is therefore typically subject to regulation.

Monitoring and evaluation – the systematic and routine observation and documentation of information on the implementation and impact on sustainability of FVC upgrading activities. It has four main purposes: to assess performance against targets; to ensure accountability; to inform decision-making; and to promote empowerment of the FVC stakeholders involved.

Natural environment – all the living and non-living things that are naturally present (rather than being created by people) – the soil, water, air, fauna, flora, weather and climate – in the environment where FVC operations take place, including activities for adaptation and risk mitigation related to climate change.

Non-financial services – services provided to actors in FVCs that are not financial in nature. They can be operational day-to-day services, such as field spraying, transport, storage, (fee-based) processing, accounting, information communications and technology (ICT) and laboratory testing; or strategic business development services, such as extension, business skills training, marketing research and product design.

Nutrition and health – the result of interactions between the nutrients and other substances in human food and the health of the population consuming the food. They involve elements such as general food security (e.g. access to food, calorie intake, micronutrients, nature of the diet), food quality and safety, and consumer awareness programmes on healthier eating habits.

Organizational elements – formal structured groups of stakeholders who are bound together to achieve a particular set of objectives in an FVC, such as companies, interprofessional associations, ministry departments and research and education facilities.

Pests and weeds – insects or other animals and wild plants that have a destructive effect on food crops, livestock or fisheries.
Physical input provision – the supply of material inputs such as seeds or packaging materials to actors in FVCs.

Planning and implementation – the development (based on a vision and strategy) and implementation of an action plan for improving the performance of an FVC along the three dimensions of sustainability (economic, social, environmental).

Plant health – the physical health of plants for food production, including the presence, risk and control of diseases.

Post-harvest handling and aggregation – the handling of a crop during the initial stages following removal from the soil or parent plant to minimize quality deterioration. They include such activities as bulking into larger volumes, cooling, cleaning, sorting, grading, packing, transport and storage.

Processing – the transformation of raw agricultural, livestock, fisheries or forestry products into food that can readily be prepared by consumers.

Production – the production of raw agricultural, livestock, fisheries and forestry products.

Profitability – the capacity or potential of businesses in an FVC to generate a profit from the difference between financial revenues and costs. Measures of profitability include return on capital employed, positive net cash flows, and the ratio of net profits to sales.

Public–private partnerships (PPPs) – formalized partnerships between public and private entities designed to address sustainable agricultural development objectives, where the public benefits anticipated from the partnership are clearly defined, investment contributions and risk are shared, and active roles exist for all partners at various stages throughout the PPP project lifecycle.

Reverse channels – channels that recapture, recycle and reuse the remnant value found in waste streams along an FVC. They can also include by-product and sub-product value chains that derive from such waste streams.

Risk management – the establishment of measures to forecast, evaluate and avoid or cope with the risks associated with transactions among actors in FVCs.

Social sustainability - the ability of an FVC to endure by facilitating equitable distribution of the value created (profits, wages, consumer benefits, fiscal impact) and broader social impacts. This requires attention to the distribution of marketing margins, gender concerns, youth, poor people, vulnerable groups, community development, health and nutrition, socio-cultural elements, labour welfare and animal welfare.

Socio-cultural elements – the components that make up the social and cultural context in which FVCs operate, such as language, religion, values, education, entrepreneurial spirit, history, and attitudes related to customary ways of producing, processing, distributing, preparing and consuming food.

Soil health – the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living system within ecosystem and land-use boundaries, to sustain biological productivity, to enhance the quality of air and water environments, and to maintain plant, animal and human health. It includes the soil’s susceptibility to erosion.

Space and time factors – factors related to the influence of space (e.g. urban–rural locations, distances to other actors in the chain, agro-ecological zones) and time (e.g. seasonality, historic developments) on FVCs.

Sustainability – the ability of an FVC to maintain its economic characteristics (profits, jobs, taxes and consumer value), social characteristics (impact on societies) and environmental characteristics (impact on natural resources) over time.

Sustainability measurement and assessment tools – tools for measuring or assessing the performance of FVCs in one or more of the dimensions of sustainability (economic, social, environmental).

Sustainability standards, certifications, brands and labels – the specifications, mechanisms for verifying compliance and differentiated markings for marketing linked to the formal norms, conventions or sets of requirements used in FVCs and related to the dimensions of sustainability.

Sustainability trade-offs - the decisions to abandon one desired option in favour of another (when both are not attainable at the same time) when considering the various dimensions of sustainability during the upgrading of FVCs.

Toxicity and waste – the degree to which FVC operations release substances (e.g. through waste disposal) that can damage living organisms in the natural environment (soil, water, air).

Transaction costs and benefits – the costs and benefits associated with a specific transaction in an FVC, such as product or process requirements (costs) and access to resources or markets (benefits).

Value chain finance – finance that goes beyond conventional finance in two ways: i) it is based on the relationship between two or more actors in an FVC, either directly (one actor provides credit to another) or indirectly (one actor obtains credit from a financial institution based on a sales relationship with another actor); and ii) it has a broader, more systemic and multilevel perspective on finance in that, rather than focusing on a specific target group (e.g. rural finance) or type of finance (e.g. microfinance), it includes all actors in the FVC and all types of financing.

Value chain governance – the processes by which relationships and transactions among FVC actors are governed and coordinated based on rules (formal and informal) and other factors (e.g. market power, trust, services).

Value chain mapping – the development of a flow chart depicting and quantifying the overall FVC to facilitate better understanding of the nature, dimensions and dynamics of the various functions (and associated technologies), actors, linkages and channels from production to consumption. The exercise aims to identify points in the chain where the greatest improvements in sustainability can be achieved.

Value chain upgrading options – the ways in which the functionalities of an FVC can be raised to a higher grade or standard, such as by introducing a new technology, improving the provision of a service or changing a policy.

Vision and strategy development – the multistakeholder development of: i) a realistic vision of the future state of an FVC, with clear sustainability targets; and ii) a strategy that can realistically result in the realization of this vision when implemented successfully.

Vulnerable groups – the segments of the population who are at higher risk of falling into poverty than others because of factors other than gender, youth or income (which are captured under other classifications), such as disability, illness, old age, involvement in wars, geographic location (displacement, isolation, migration), religion or ethnicity. Identification of vulnerable groups includes consideration of how these people are hurt by or benefit from participation in FVCs as entrepreneurs, wage earners, consumers, or beneficiaries of government programmes or externalities.

Water footprint – the total volume of freshwater used in the operations of an FVC, from the delivery of inputs at the production stage to consumption in end markets.

Water health – the health of water bodies (oceans, rivers, lakes), including their biological, physical and chemical properties, and how FVC operations influence this.

Wealth accumulation – the building up of money or other financial assets by FVC stakeholders, including households, agribusinesses and governments, through their involvement in FVCs.

Wholesale and retail distribution – the resale (sale without transformation) and supply of food products from a point of aggregation (e.g. packing house or factory gate) to other firms (wholesale) or end-consumers (retail) in an FVC, including activities such as repackaging bulk volumes into smaller mixed lots, (cool) storage and transport.

Youth equity – the treatment of young people to ensure that they have the same access to resources and participation in FVCs as older FVC actors, and that this access has equitable impacts on their wages, profits, food/nutrition security and health.