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Systems Thinking - from impossible to impact!


Systems thinking is an approach to integration that is based on the belief that the component parts of a system will act differently when isolated from the system’s environment or other parts of the system. Consistent with systems philosophy, systems thinking concerns an understanding of a system by examining the linkages and interactions between the elements that comprise the whole of the system.  EAMDA uses systems thinking in practice to explore the inter-relationships (context and connections), perspectives (each actor has their own unique perception of the situation) and boundaries (agreeing on scope, scale and what might constitute an improvement). Systems thinking is particularly useful when we address complex problem situations that cannot be solved by any one actor, any more than a complex system can be fully understood from only one perspective. Furthermore, since complex adaptive systems are continually evolving, systems thinking is oriented towards organizational and social learning – and adaptive management.

In its efforts to understand why the the Kenyan market is not effective in serving its' mostly SME farmers (over 80%), EAMDA undertook an in-depth integration and analysis of the agriculture market that identified and highlighted persistent issues that need immediate address in order for the market to be robust and efficient in serving both the producers and consumers. EAMDA undertook this activity because in as much as Kenya (and other Africa countries), has had numerous interventions aimed at putting in place effective agricultural markets in the country, smallholder farmers however still remain poor with limited sustained access to profitable markets and agricultural trade, and constantly registering dismal volumes and value gains in a limited range of agricultural products.

The mapping system below illustrates our Systems Thinking approach aimed at understanding the Kenyan agriculture market system:


Our system map revealed that several key loops are frozen as a consequence of long-term dependency on smallholder production systems in Kenya. This farming practice does not support commercially sustainable agricultural activities and often requires the intervention of governments and donors through subsidies. E.g. (Ref. Loop 7). Although Loop 6 (Value addition and processing) has been identified as having pent-up energy, the team has observed that there is need to introduce an additional loop that delves into resolving the sustainable commercial production issue. This is informed by the fact that processing alone may not adequately resolve the competitiveness question owing to high production costs at farm and aggregation levels.

EAMDA  proposes that a key strategy to arrive at a predominately commercially and profitable agricultural market system with potential to register a 25% growth in agricultural GDP per-capita over the next 10 years, is the active engagement/involvement of medium and large-scale farmers. This has the potential to enhance competitiveness and economies of scale (reduced cost of raw material/commodities for processing).

We realized that the over-dependence on small-holder production systems will be weakened by a shift to medium and large-scale farming.

Ripple effects in the medium term will contribute to:

  • Increased production of high value crops;

  • Increased crop yields per acre/production unit;

  • Reduced costs of commodities for consumption and or onward processing;

  • Increased processing and associated revenue generation;

  • Increased availability of affordable food;

  • Import substitution.

Capacity to deliver and engage stakeholders:

  1. Design a large scale farming system model for piloting.

  2. Socialize the model among social-impact and venture capital firms.

  3. Promote the adoption of modern processing technologies

Example of EAMDA's Systems Thinking Approach