Skip to main content
SearchLoginLogin or Signup

Sustainable Business Model Development for Agroecological Farming in Africa

Published onJun 20, 2023
Sustainable Business Model Development for Agroecological Farming in Africa
Mubita Simataa1 , Rianne Valkenburg1, Henny Romijn1
1 Eindhoven University of Technology, School of Industrial Engineering and Innovation Sciences, CNT building, P.O. Box 513, 5600 MB Eindhoven, The Netherlands
[email protected]

Extended abstract


This PhD proposal aims to contribute to the Urbane Project, which addresses the challenges of sustainable agriculture and food security in Africa. The agro-food sector is a crucial part of the African economy but faces sustainability challenges like climate change and land degradation (Jaffee et al., 2018; Berthe et al., 2019). The proposed research focuses on the application of agroecology, a way of farming that mimics natural systems and reduces dependence on external inputs and food sources (Altieri, 2018), to enhance local resilience and achieve food sovereignty (Altieri,2009; Altieri & Nicholls,2012; Gliessman et al.,2019; Holt-Giménez & Altieri, 2013). Holt-Giménez (2010) defines food sovereignty as the communities' right to produce, access and control food. Patel (2009) argues that food sovereignty is necessary for food security. According to the FAO (2002), food security is a situation where "all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life". The proposed research draws on case studies from six African countries and the author would like to present it in the conference to get further guidance and feedback on the proposed research/dissertation plan. The research aims to answer the research question:

"How can sustainable business models be designed and implemented within the African agro-food sector to address the needs and priorities of different stakeholders and promote the transition to food sovereignty  based on agroecological principles and practices?"

Sustainable Business Models (SBMs) aim to balance economic, social, and environmental sustainability in business practices (Kraus et al., 2020; Evans et al., 2017). They involve ongoing adaptation and innovation (Teece, 2018; Lüdeke-Freund,2020), stakeholder engagement and co-creation (Mihailova et al., 2022; Bocken et al., 2014) and can drive sustainability transitions in societal systems (Meijer et al., 2017). Sustainability transitions refer to a fundamental change in societal systems towards more sustainable forms (Geels & Schot, 2007). 

Ghosh et al. (2021) argue that to decolonize sustainability transitions research in the Global South, researchers must recognize everyday struggles in the Global South, consider the nuances of local dynamics, and implement genuinely participatory research methods. Our goal is to develop business models that account for the complex interactions between different actors and processes within the African food system while also considering the potential long-term consequences of different actions and interventions. The objectives of our study are:

  • To understand the current state of the African agro-food sector. Mapping the different stakeholders and their needs, priorities and challenges. 

  • To co-create sustainable business models that address different stakeholders' needs, priorities and challenges and promote sustainable transitions within the agro-food ecosystem.

  • To identify the key drivers and barriers to sustainable transitions and propose strategies to promote the adoption and upscaling of sustainable business models 


The proposed research explores creating sustainable business models using a design science methodology (Simon, 1988). It adopts the inclusive design validation framework (Romme & Raymen, 2018). It follows the guidance of Romme and Dimov (2021) on the importance of considering problem context, research design, and evaluation methods in design science research. Design Science is not one specific method but a general approach to analyzing entrepreneurial artefacts. It involves considering the current state of these artefacts and their potential future state, intending to gain insights and form theories (Dimov, Maula, and Romme, 2022). We will use a participatory research approach to engage stakeholders, ensuring the relevance and responsiveness of business model innovations to their needs and priorities. The research will undertake three studies using various research designs and methods to answer the main research question. The research design is based on clear theoretical foundations, and the methods used to collect and analyze data are chosen to match the research question (Dimov, Maula, and Romme, 2022).

  1. Study 1: Who are the different stakeholders in the agro-food ecosystem, and what are their needs, priorities and challenges?

This study aims to decolonize sustainability transitions research in the Global South by recognizing everyday African food sovereignty struggles (Ghosh et al., 2021; Holt-Giménez, 2010). The study seeks to understand the current state of the African agro-food sector and the needs, priorities, and challenges different stakeholders face in the agro-food ecosystem. The study will use the Value Framework by Den Ouden (2012) to identify stakeholders, diagnose value gaps, and assess the potential for sustainable business models for agroecological farming. The study will use case studies from Morocco, Senegal, Nigeria, Burkina-Faso, Benin, and Ghana. It will involve interviews with agro-food actors to determine their food needs and priorities. 

  1. Study 2: How can design thinking be used to foster multi-actor engagement and systemic collaborations for co-creating sustainable business models that address the needs and priorities of different stakeholders and promote sustainable transitions in the African agro-food sector? 

Ghosh et al. (2021) argue for implementing genuinely participatory research methods that value research "subjects" and embrace transformative activities and communities of practice. In this study, we aim to investigate the use of design thinking in fostering multi-actor engagement and systemic collaborations for co-creating sustainable business models in the African agro-food sector. Sustainable Business Models require stakeholder engagement and co-creation in their design and implementation (Tolkamp et al., 2018; Mihailova et al., 2022; Bocken et al., 2014). Design thinking is a suitable approach for tackling complex socio-ecological problems due to its user-centred and iterative problem-solving capabilities (Valkenburg et al., 2016; Buhl et al., 2019). Using the same case studies, the research will involve an initial literature review followed by focus group discussions with actors in the agro-food sector. The ultimate goal is to co-create sustainable business models that address the needs and priorities of different stakeholders and promote sustainable transitions in the African agro-food sector.

  1. Study 3: What are the key drivers and barriers to sustainable transitions within the agro-food ecosystem, and what strategies can promote adopting and upscaling sustainable business models for agroecological farming?

Ghosh et al. (2021) advocate for considering the nuances of local dynamics when addressing the issues of power and inequality in the global south. Furthermore, they advocate for using relational approaches to tackle these complex and nuanced issues. The study aims to identify the drivers and hindrances of sustainable transitions in the global south, analyzing them from a local perspective and using participatory research methods. The study will use the same case studies as in the previous studies. In addition, it will involve an initial literature review followed by workshops with key partners in the agro-food sector to recommend strategies for scaling up the proposed sustainable business models.


In summary, developing sustainable business models in the agriculture industry requires considering individual rights, involving multiple stakeholders in creating sustainable solutions, and understanding the complexities of systemic change. The study aims to provide insights into how to design and implement sustainable business models in the African agriculture sector and to address stakeholders' needs and priorities. The results are expected to be useful for practitioners and policymakers promoting sustainability in the agriculture sector and contributing to sustainable development in Africa.


Sustainable Business Model Innovation, Sustainability Transition, Agroecology, Food sovereignty, Global South


Altieri, M.A. and Nicholls, C.I., (2012) Agroecology scaling up for food sovereignty and resiliency. Sustainable agriculture reviews (pp. 1-29). Springer, Dordrecht.

Altieri, M.A., (2009) Agroecology, small farms, and food sovereignty. Monthly review, 61(3), pp.102-113.

Altieri, M.A., (2018) Agroecology: the science of sustainable agriculture. CRC Press.

Berthe, F., Jean, C., Wadsworth, J., Thiebaud, A., Marquez, P.V. and Baris, E., (2019) Pulling together to beat superbugs knowledge and implementation gaps in addressing antimicrobial resistance. HNP/Agriculture Global Antimicrobial Resistance Initiative.

Bocken, N.M., Short, S.W., Rana, P. and Evans, S., (2014) A literature and practice review to develop sustainable business model archetypes. Journal of cleaner production, 65, pp.42-56.

Buhl, A., Schmidt-Keilich, M., Muster, V., Blazejewski, S., Schrader, U., Harrach, C., Schäfer, M. and Süßbauer, E., (2019) Design thinking for sustainability: Why and how design thinking can foster sustainability-oriented innovation development. Journal of cleaner production, 231, pp.1248-1257.

Den Ouden, E., (2012) Innovation design: Creating value for people, organizations and society (p. 196). London: Springer.

Dimov, D., Maula, M. and Romme, A.G.L., (2022) Crafting and assessing design science research for entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, p.10422587221128271.

Evans, S., Vladimirova, D., Holgado, M., Van Fossen, K., Yang, M., Silva, E.A. and Barlow, C.Y. (2017) Business model innovation for sustainability: Towards a unified perspective for creation of sustainable business models. Business Strategy and the Environment, 26(5), pp.597-608.

FAO (2002) The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2001. Rome. Available from [Accessed 1st February, 2023]

Geels, F. W., & Schot, J. (2007). Typology of sociotechnical transition pathways. Research Policy, 36(3), 399-417.

Ghosh, B., Ramos-Mejía, M., Machado, R. C., Yuana, S. L., & Schiller, K. (2021) Decolonising transitions in the Global South: Towards more epistemic diversity in transitions research. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 41, 106-109.

Gliessman, S., Friedmann, H. and H Howard, P., (2019) Agroecology and food sovereignty.

Holt-Giménez, E. and Altieri, M.A., (2013) Agroecology, food sovereignty, and the new green revolution. Agroecology and sustainable Food systems, 37(1), pp.90-102.

Holt-Giménez, E., (2010) Food security, food justice, or food sovereignty. Food first backgrounder16(4), pp.1-4.

Jaffee, S., Henson, S., Unnevehr, L., Grace, D. and Cassou, E.,(2018) The safe food imperative: Accelerating progress in low-and middle-income countries. World Bank Publications.

Kraus, S., Filser, M., Puumalainen, K., Kailer, N. and Thurner, S. (2020) Business model innovation: A systematic literature review. International Journal of Innovation and Technology Management, 17(06), p.2050043.

Lüdeke-Freund, F., (2020) Sustainable entrepreneurship, innovation, and business models: Integrative framework and propositions for future research. Business Strategy and the Environment, 29(2), pp.665-681.

Meijer, L.L.J., Schipper, F. and Huijben, J.C.C.M., (2017) The roles of business models in sustainability transitions: Car sharing in Sydney. In Exploring a changing view on organizing value creation: developing new business models: contributions to the 2nd international conference on new business models, Institute of Systems Science, Innovation and Sustainability Reports (Vol. 8, pp. 72-76).

Mihailova, D., Schubert, I., Burger, P. and Fritz, M.M., (2022) Exploring modes of sustainable value co-creation in renewable energy communities. Journal of Cleaner Production, 330, p.129917.

Patel, R. (2009) Food sovereignty. The journal of peasant studies, 36(3), pp.663-706

Romme, A.G.L. and Dimov, D., (2021) Mixing oil with water: Framing and theorizing in management research informed by design science. Designs, 5(1), p.13.

Romme, A.G.L. and Reymen, I.M., (2018) Entrepreneurship at the interface of design and science: Toward an inclusive framework. Journal of Business Venturing Insights, 10, p.e00094.

Simon, H.A., (1988) The science of design: Creating the artificial. Design Issues, pp.67-82.

Teece, D.J., (2018) Business models and dynamic capabilities. Long range planning, 51(1), pp.40-49.

Tolkamp, J.C.C.M., Huijben, J.C.C.M., Mourik, R.M., Verbong, G.P.J. and Bouwknegt, R., (2018). User-centred sustainable business model design: The case of energy efficiency services in the Netherlands. Journal of Cleaner Production, 182, pp.755-764.

Valkenburg, R., Sluijs, J. and Kleinsmann, M., (2016). Images of design thinking: framing the design thinking practices of innovators. Amsterdam, Boom uitgevers

No comments here
Why not start the discussion?