Unpacking the Discourse on Social Inclusion in Value Chains

Otto Hospes*, Joy Clancy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


The promotion of social inclusion of smallholders in agricultural value chains is a major concern of policymakers in the fields of development and business. The inclusion of smallholders, who constitute the majority of the rural poor (World Bank 2007), is seen as an important way to improve rural incomes. However, in policy circles the concept of social inclusion is often simply taken for granted, without specification or validation of the assumptions underlying the concept. This chapter unpacks the discourse on social inclusion by specifying doubtful assumptions and identifying major limitations of its use in policy formulation. To overcome these limitations, we propose the use of two theoretical concepts to analyse policies directed at social inclusion: the concept of ‘embeddedness’, as developed in economic sociology, and the concept of ‘scale’, emerging from political ecology. With these two theoretical concepts, we identify mechanisms of exclusion within social inclusion policy, resulting in the opposite of what the policies intend. In a case study of public policy directed at social inclusion in an agro-energy chain, we witness the discourse on social inclusion confronting the realities and rationalities of the people targeted. This case demonstrates how the concepts of embeddedness and scale can be applied to uncover the way social inclusion as a policy discourse may exist in parallel to social exclusion in practice. The case study is that of the national biodiesel programme of Brazil, a large-scale agro-energy programme aimed at social inclusion of family agriculture. It is an example of the worldwide emergence of agro-energy or biofuel value chains. These chains have two distinctive features (Mol 2007). The first is the strong and proactive role of the national government in regulating and supporting biofuel production. The second is that national programmes have been introduced in many developing countries to promote rural development and poverty alleviation through the inclusion of smallholders in biofuel chains (Jull et al. 2007; Rothkopf 2007; UN Energy 2007). The ‘unpacking’ of social inclusion as a discourse, the theoretical proposal and the case study form the three main parts of this chapter. The final section constructs our theoretical argument and proposes the blending of insights from different disciplinary fields for the study of social inclusion in value chains.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationValue Chains Social Inclusion and Economic Development
Subtitle of host publicationContrasting Theories and Realities
EditorsBert Helmsing, Sietze Vellema
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781136724725
ISBN (Print)9780203816806
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012


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