Insights from the LAC Future Lab for Innovation and Policy
How to design future-proof solutions for the LAC agri-food sector?
On October 13th 2022, SEED and GO4SDGs organised the Latin America and the Caribbean Future Lab for Innovation and Policy. The event was organised as part of the Global Future Lab series, bringing together around 30 regional SME stakeholders, such as policy makers, intermediaries and SMEs to co-create and develop future-proof solution. Designed to connect and leverage the expertise of these key stakeholders, the outcome of the Future Labs will inform a Sustainable SME Action Agenda.
The participatory lab focused on the LAC agri-food sector. As the largest employer worldwide, the agri-food sector remains a key driver of the Sustainable Development Goals, especially as it engages often marginalised groups from peri-urban and rural areas. In the LAC region, the agri-food sector holds a special significance, as it is the world’s largest food net-exporting region. Therefore, LAC is often referred to as the “world’s breadbasket”. At the same time, LAC is one of the major providers of ecosystem services through its large forest areas. Scaling agricultural productivity often clashes with the preservation of the natural environment. The LAC Future Lab analysed how SMEs can drive transformative change in the agri-food sector through the lens of Five Key Action Areas such as Innovation, Non-Financial Support, Finance, Policy and Market.
The event featured some exemplary cases of SMEs, intermediaries and policy makers, who shared their success stories and challenges throughout the event.
The panel brought together a diverse group of SME stakeholders, including representatives from government, intermediaries and green agri-food SMEs. Part of the panel were Natalia Espinola from the Inter-American Development Bank, Alejandro Alvarez from Selva Nevada, Andres Jose Guerrero Alvarado from the University de Los Andes and Teresita de Marco from Yield Lab. Following the panel, a deep-dive discussion allowed for the in-depths analysis of some exemplary solutions and cases. The deep-dive discussions were kick-started with two key input speakers: Andrea Rivera Garré from Sinba and Marcos Alegre from the Grupo Gea.
The discussions analysed how Green SMEs can drive the development of future-proof solutions along the five key areas of action Innovation, Non-Financial Support, Finance, Policy and Market. Initially, it was recognised that 20 to 30 years ago, there were few enterprises engaging in green entrepreneurship. Since then, green entrepreneurship and green innovation have increased substantially, so that today they present a major opportunity to drive the change in the region’s agri-food sector. Following this growth of Green SMEs, they have begun to act as the responsible voice in the market, highlighting frequently where economic actions lead to harmful environmental consequences, while presenting more sustainable alternatives. Nevertheless, there are many barriers for Green SMEs from market access to scaling their activities with the right support programmes. The discussion concentrated on three challenges: first, the need of improved digital infrastructures was recognised. This is a particularly significant challenge for SMEs, who often work in rural and underserved communities were digital infrastructures are often missing. Secondly, the discussion involved SME finance, including the need for innovative ideas to make SME Finance more accessible. Finally, the importance of standards and regulations was highlighted to ensure that green washing can be avoided while enabling targeted support for green entrepreneurship.
These topics and ideas were taken into the deep-dive discussion to identify possible future-proof solutions and critical next steps to realise them. Discussing the case of agri-food waste, the deep-dive concentrated on the way forward towards a circular economy.
These outcomes of the Asia Future Lab, together with the other events in the Global Future Lab Series, will inform the Sustainable SME Action Agenda and help frame pathways for future actions to be ready for the challenges of 2030.