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  • Unity is strength

    Unity is strength

    The irruption of new players in the global commodities trade, greater consolidation of the multinationals, and the effects of climate change are forcing agricultural producers in Latin America and the Caribbean to rethink their strategies for minimizing risks and maximizing results on a sustainable basis. Realities and opportunities Although the research and development (R&D) investments of the “Big Four” (Bayer-Monsanto, ChemChina-Syngenta, Dow-Dupont, and BASF) achieved scientific advances that transformed global agriculture, expanded the agricultural frontier, and increased yields, producers face a dependence on technology and prices that is difficult to mitigate. Although in grains, companies like China’s COFCO or Japan’s Marubeni challenge the power of the ABCD (ADM, Bunge, Cargill, and Dreyfus), and demonstrate the strategic importance of ensuring the supply of commodities for some countries. In this fight, it is likely that corporate acquisitions will continue, or that new commodities platforms will be developed, creating opportunities for groups of producers, cooperatives, or business associations. Finally, the effects of climate change (rains, droughts, frosts, floods, cyclones, reduced aquifer flows, and new diseases) are affecting the producers’ profits, particularly in Central America where the narrow strip of land between two oceans makes climatic distortions even worse. Various ways to partner It is an historic reality that agricultural producers take the greatest risks but capture the smallest piece of the pie because of their fragmentation, difficulties in accessing financing, and minimum added value. However, producer partners in cooperatives that adapted to the dynamics of the market, through internal transformations (including advances in the management of corporate governance), were able not only to improve their incomes, but also to become part of a sustainable business, like Copersucar in Brazil, Conaprole in Uruguay, ACA in Argentina, FNC in Colombia, Colonias Unidas in Paraguay, or Dos Pinos in Costa Rica. In the case of independent larger-scale producers, although they will be able to maintain a certain individualistic profile internally to obtain efficiency and productivity, improving the external profitability is a must. They could take their inspiration from the spirit of cooperatives to create partnerships leveraging their combined volume (with increasing strategic value) and obtaining better conditions, or even process it for greater added value. For example, in Argentina, the 30 partnered producers of Bio4 transform their own and third-party corn to produce ethanol, and the “L” Group partners to sell milk. Similarly, in Mexico, the partnered producers of Proaoass and Gradesa export bread wheat or durum wheat. Although the greatest challenge for farmers under this model was to remain united, and in some cases to delegate the management of the new business to third-party professionals, they were also focused on obtaining better economic results, and also to develop a platform to start new businesses and obtain market intelligence. Looking ahead It is likely that differences in results among producers of a similar scale are due to: (1) more collective than individual actions; (2) a more business-like profile for sustainable production; and (3) the management of individuals or teams that applied the best technology packages. Considering that quasi-state companies, and sovereign funds from Asia-Pacific and Middle East countries are seeking alternatives to ensure the food supply, soon it would not be utopic to think that networks of partnered producers or cooperatives may develop strategic alliances to have their own ports, freezers, or powdered milk plants. Moreover, since these investments require long-term financing, it would not be unrealistic to think that development banking will be financing these projects. As Seneca said: “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that things are difficult.” Subscribe to receive more content like this! [mc4wp_form]

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  • Latin America needs more broadband to capitalize on the data explosion

    Latin America needs more broadband to capitalize on the data explosion

    There are many stories about the origins of chess.  To me, the most colorful is about a king in India who was given a new game consisting of two armies and 64 squares, to overcome the loss of a son in the battlefield. The king was so delighted with this new game that he offered to give the inventor anything he wished for as compensation: “Give me one grain of rice for the first square, two grains for the second square, four grains for the third square, and so on for each of the squares of the game board,” said the inventor.

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  • Why is mobile broadband quality so important for development?

    Why is mobile broadband quality so important for development?

    Latin America and the Caribbean is a region of contrasts. Almost everyone has a cell phone, as evidenced by the exponential increase in mobile phone subscribers from 10% of the population in 2000 to over 70% in 2017. And, the region is home to some of the most advanced mobile internet and avid social media users in the world, led by Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil. Yet coverage varies across countries and millions of people still do not have access to reliable mobile broadband connections, particularly in rural areas. And, even for those with access, service quality is often poor, limiting their potential to take full advantage of the latest technologies and making it difficult to bridge the digital divide.

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  • Sustainability makes business sense

    Sustainability makes business sense

    Far from being a burden, sustainability is a business opportunity, allowing companies to ensure their continuity and positioning and making them more efficient and profitable.

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  • Digital highways and their similarity to transportation highways

    Digital highways and their similarity to transportation highways

    Poor bandwidth infrastructure is like traveling on a dirt road. The technological disruption we are experiencing is something unprecedented. When we compare it to the industrial revolution and the enormous impact it has on per capita gross domestic product (GDP), we can assert with total certainty that this digital revolution is changing everything, from the corporate, to the social, and even the political order. Quite rightly we call it the industrial revolution 4.0. This explosion of technology occurs in the context of the world of data, data that can only be moved with the necessary infrastructure of digital networks. Thus, just like in any traditional highway infrastructure project, without routes to permit the movement of trucks, buses, and automobiles, we could not connect destinations, trades and people. In the world of technology, data would be the means of mobility like automobiles, and networks would be the digital highways or routes available in a country, which is directly determined by the country’s regulatory framework and capital investments in the country made by mobile or satellite telephone service operators. To put the importance of the digital highway in perspective, and using the example of Jose Maria Alvarez-Pallete, CEO of Telefónica España: “It took landline phones 75 years to reach 100 million users and it’s taken Pokémon Go 23 days. Why? Because if networks are digitized, the capacity to distribute a digital product is immense.” In order for companies like YouTube, Airbnb, Netflix and Uber —to cite a few— to offer their services and connect data, information, services and products, it is vital to build and invest in an adequate digital highway. The data coming from these digital highways no doubt have the potential to improve lives and Jose Maria Alvarez-Pallete summarizes this as follows: “Analog life will merge with digital life. Buying patterns, how cars are driven, gas, water and electricity meters, microwaves, the refrigerator, the dishwasher…everything will be connected to the Internet and transmit data.” Thus, we must have digital highways so that this exponential quantity of data can be processed. To ensure the positive effects of the 21st century’s digital economy, constructing and investing in those digital highways must be the priority for economic development and social inclusion in Latin America and the Caribbean. IDB Invest has invested and will continue to invest in the region in projects that help to expand the digital highway, because we know that 10% penetration by broadband has an average economic effect of 2% to 3% on GDP and 2.6% on productivity. Subscribe to receive more content like this! [mc4wp_form]

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  • SMEs and the Challenge to Export

    SMEs and the Challenge to Export

    Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are an essential part of a dynamic and healthy economy. Their increase in number and growth advances competition and strengthens the entrepreneurial ecosystem, with a positive and significant impact on innovation and aggregate productivity. SMEs represent close to 90% of the companies in a typical Latin American or Caribbean country and employ most of the labor force (close to 70%). They also tend to create a substantial portion of new jobs; although many of these jobs do not survive, the net effect tends to be positive. However, the region’s SMEs show a low level of internalization (learning by doing) compared to their peers in the developed countries or other emerging economies, or even compared to large companies in the same sector and country. Exporting: Relevance and challenge There is abundant evidence showing that Latin American and Caribbean countries are behind developed countries, due to the productivity gap. Improving productivity is essential for the region’s economies and expanding exports can help. First, international trade produces a reallocation of resources from less productive companies and sectors to more productive ones. Second, by exporting companies learn (learning-by-exporting) and innovate, which is reflected in significant efficiency gains. Finally, international trade affects the incentives for investment in activities that promote technological dissemination and generates spillover effects in international knowledge. However, companies face many obstacles when they try to enter external markets. They have to contact clients abroad, identify business opportunities, learn about distribution channels and administrative procedures, among other aspects. All these activities generate a wealth of information that can be used by other companies at no additional cost (or lower cost). This scenario generates a problem of free riding in the search for foreign buyers, given that the pioneer uncovers highly valuable information that can be used by other companies to imitate their behavior. In this context, where the private returns of the forerunners are less than the social returns, market incentives tend to lead to a suboptimal level of investment in the exploration of international markets. Thus, the existence of information externalities can negatively affect companies’ internalization process and provides a key rationale for encouraging companies to export. It’s even more difficult for SMEs In addition, SMEs in Latin America and the Caribbean tend to face restrictions in various areas of business — due to various market failures and failures in coordination — limiting their internalization. These areas are primarily access to credit, the intensity of innovation, capacities (human capital) and the organizational structure. SMEs in the region have limited access to credit, due to information asymmetry problems — financial institutions usually do not have the information they need to evaluate and monitor SMEs’ projects, which can cause problems of moral hazard — but also because financial products are not suited to SME needs, particularly due to scale problems related to the fixed costs of the lending process and the lack of long-term financing. In addition, SMEs generally do not have (sufficient) collateral, while their access to credit is highly dependent on collateral and not so much on expected returns as in the case of large companies. The nature of knowledge as a public good, information asymmetries and the lack of coordination particularly limit SMEs’ innovation and competitiveness both domestically and internationally. On the other hand, these companies tend to lack capacities — qualified and experienced personnel — for the export process: identifying, selecting and obtaining information on external markets, designing and implementing marketing strategies, and developing contracts overseas. SMEs have limited knowledge on exportable products and the underlying factors that determine international competitiveness (e.g., packaging, quality regulations, standards, etc.). Also, SMEs face other specific barriers specific related to export activities such as language, paperwork, billing, and sales management. Lastly, SMEs have characteristically weak corporate governance and management and business structures even though in most cases these are companies with personalized and traditional organizational hierarchies linked to a single owner or family. All these factors profoundly limit the export capacity and competitiveness of these companies. A model helping Argentine SMEs to export In 2002, the Fundación Banco Credicoop, with support from the IDB Group, created the Diverpymex program. The objective of this program is to help non-exporting SMEs to successfully enter export markets and exporting SMEs to increase their exports, whether through consolidation and/or diversification. The program consists of three stages that consider the phases in the export development process: Evaluating the company’s export potential: Analyze its skills and competence for operating in international markets. A program coordinator and a consultant visit the company and gather information on its organization, operations and products, and hold meetings with the managers to evaluate the company’s entrepreneurial spirit in terms of export activities and potential commitment to incorporate an intern (in the absence of qualified staff) and to make the investments necessary to develop its exporter profile. Developing an export plan: The company, with technical assistance from the consultant, researches and selects potential markets and clients, and decides which are best suited to them. It also establishes objectives, develops a budget, plans how the exports will be managed, and analyzes financial, logistical, and staffing requirements, as well as other aspects of the export process. Implementing the plan: The company undertakes planned actions in foreign markets. At this point, training and technical assistance activities are carried out on specific subjects that arise during the process of market penetration such as shipments and insurance, quality and environmental standards, design and packaging, marketing channels, tax legislation, and others. How do we evaluate the impact and what have we learned? In a recent study done by IDB Invest, we evaluated the Diverpymex program’s impact on SME’s export behavior, growth and productivity. The study analyzes the dynamics and sequence of the effects, allowing for inferences regarding the mechanisms through which the program affects the companies’ performance. What were the main results? The program has a positive and significant impact on SME’s export behavior, growth and productivity. The positive effect on the likelihood of exporting and entering new markets is significantly greater in the short term, which confirms the importance of high costs for entering foreign markets. The positive effect on the amount of exports, for companies that were already exporting, appears over the medium term, and it is related to the resolution of more specific information barriers to markets and products, allowing these companies to grow and consolidate their efforts in export markets. Finally, the program increases the company’s productivity in the long term, indicating that SMEs achieve efficiency gains due to a learning-by-exporting process. 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