Mercy Corps AgriFin collaborated with Dalberg Advisors, Consumers International and World Economic Forum to create a framework for leveraging digital and data innovation with supporting cases from emerging markets. This playbook will explore transparent, inclusive, sustainable scale models that enable all actors from small-scale producers to consumers to build more efficient, climate-smart markets for healthy and nutritious food. 

>>Download the Executive Summary and the Complete Digital Marketplace Playbook<<


In a few regions of the world, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, inadequate food production is still a major cause of food and nutrition insecurity which leads to the neglect of other areas for the root causes of the food system’s underperformance.

Food systems encompass the entire range of actors and their interlinked value-adding activities involved in the production, aggregation, processing, distribution, consumption and disposal of food products. Sustainable food systems should focus on ensuring affordable and healthy food to all people while respecting planetary and social boundaries.

Source: Digital Marketplace Playbook

This requires integrated actions taken by all stakeholders at local, national, regional and global levels and by both public and private actors. In addition, food systems face a wide range of challenges and complex interactions that impact food security and nutrition. Digital and data-driven solutions are becoming critical enablers of sustainable food systems. However, major gaps remain. 

This playbook will explore transparent, inclusive, sustainable scale models that enable all actors from small-scale producers to consumers to build more efficient, climate-smart markets for healthy and nutritious food. 

The Digital Marketplace Playbook aims to :

  • Map key leverage points for data and digital innovation in the food system
  • Highlight the digital and data solutions driving innovation access the food system
  • Share recommendations for governments around the world on how best to enable innovation across the food system


A digitally enabled, data-driven sustainable food system can guarantee food security, food safety and inclusion. It provides high potential for economic growth and value creation while engaging and supporting smallholder farmers. It also recognizes and applies consumer protection and engagement principles.

Data Solutions as Critical Enablers of Sustainable Food Systems

Source: Digital Marketplace Playbook

Data across food systems acts as a key enabler for many actors involved in the production and consumption of food. The large volumes of data being collected are helping to drive transparency, efficiency and inclusivity in food systems. Data collected in our food systems can inform better farming practices, assess our carbon footprints, reduce supply chain inefficiencies and reduce food waste. Nonetheless, data standards are critical for all types of data collected to ensure transparency and efficiency in data sharing across the food system. 

Types of Shared Data and Data Standards across Food Systems

Source: Digital Marketplace Playbook


After engaging stakeholders across emerging and developed markets, it was found that Latin America (LATAM), Africa and Asia are at the forefront of establishing the inclusive tangible impact of food systems.

  • Latin America: Latin America has recently taken interest in the potential of the ethical use of big data and artificial intelligence (AI) for economic development. Governments have incentivized the private sector actors to invest in infrastructure and digital solutions for the unconnected population. They are instituting data protection frameworks to protect consumers as data and digital innovation gather momentum. In 2020, LATAM demonstrated that existing agricultural e-commerce and hyperlocal platforms can create sustainable food systems in partnership with food manufacturers.
  • Africa: Kenya and Ethiopia are driving data and digital innovation with a strong government focus on including smallholder farmers. These governments are creating enabling environment for innovation by increasing the availability of open government data and data best practices for data analytics. They are also promoting centralized research in the sector and coordinating information sharing in the ecosystem. East Africa demonstrates that collaboration across the private and public sectors is critical for data and digital innovation in food-insecure markets.
  • Asia: Over the past decade, China and India have enacted several schemes and incentives to promote digital and data innovations for agriculture. Their governments are transforming rural internet infrastructure to increase the reach of digital agricultural solutions to boost productivity. They are enabling public-private data sharing to enhance the availability of good quality and reliable data to facilitate the development of AI-based solutions. Asia demonstrates that consumer buy-in and physical infrastructure (ICT, logistics) are the backbones for scaling digital marketplaces.


From reviewing 30 business models and 12 global case studies, we identified key innovative approaches in mainstream data and digital marketplaces:


  • Digital platforms can be inclusive and empowering for farmers and consumers, providing safe and straightforward access to markets, as well as generating data to support productivity, sustainability, and traceability throughout food systems.
  • Smart food markets can help enable innovative supply chain models that provide farmers and consumers with greater agency, facilitating more direct pathways for supplying safe, healthy, and sustainable food at a fair price for all.
  • E-commerce and online trading platforms are well-positioned to provide cross-cutting financial and logistical services to consumers and suppliers alike, although adequate protection must be built into the design of all such services.
  • Innovative digital solutions leveraging IoT, and AI hold significant potential to promote climate-smart farming practices and reduce food waste at all stages of the supply chain but require considerable further investment.


  • Multiple stakeholders must work together to build relevant agricultural data sets to support sustainable food systems, by coordinating data harmonization, collection and sharing efforts with the informed consent of consumers and farmers.
  • On-going lesson sharing to embed a data-driven approach is crucial to ensuring that all data collection and usage is beneficial for national and global food systems, as well as the people within them.
  • Consumer data can enable food suppliers to effectively meet the demand for healthy, safe, and sustainable food, while innovative approaches to data management and stewardship are needed to ensure this is done fairly and equitably.

Ecosystem Enablers

  • Governments have a crucial role to play in connecting sustainable and inclusive supply chain models with public and private investment, as well as creating an enabling environment to encourage data and digital innovation that centers the needs of people and the planet.
  • More capital is required for start-ups and for foundational/core ICT systems that enable innovative applications and services (especially for advanced data analytics at a national level).
  • Instituting data protection frameworks for consumers, and clear agriculture policies that incorporate food safety, nutrition, and sustainability will significantly strengthen data and digital innovation as a force for good.

Across the three case studies, digital platforms for food markets and supply chains, collaborative data management and innovation hubs are emerging as starting points for data-driven, interconnected, digital innovation for sustainable and inclusive food systems. Digital Agricultural Platforms can help engage partners across ecosystems to maximize the scale and impact of digital innovations. Collaborative data management drive product innovation, climate-smart approaches, transparency, efficiency and inclusivity. Innovation hubs can highlight local innovations, act as a conduit of capital and create an enabling environment to support and test new solutions.

>>Download the Executive Summary and the Complete Digital Marketplace Playbook<<


Related Posts