Small businesses are the key to sustainable economic prosperity. Here’s why:

Farmer in Nicaragua

Quick. Name the first company that comes to mind when you think of the global agri-food sector.

Was it Nestle, Proctor and Gamble, or Cargill? Perhaps Danone or Olam? Maybe Coca-Cola?

While the giants of the agri-food sector often receive the most attention, it is the micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) of the world that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) notes will take a leading role in meeting most economic-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

It is the likes of Shan Maw Myae in Myanmar, Saperavi Farms in Ukraine, UCA Miraflor in Nicaragua, or Equator Ltd. in Kenya that will significantly drive economic growth in high-income and low-income countries alike. Whether formal or informal agribusinesses, these are the critical stakeholders in the future of sustainable agriculture and agri-food systems, with the potential to contribute substantially to the creation of decent work for small-scale producers and workers.

On International Micro-, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSME) Day, MEDA salutes the millions of small agribusinesses that are contributing to creating jobs, feeding the world, and sustainably developing their communities and countries.

Perhaps no year has their contribution been more noticeable, and yet more precarious, than this year with the impacts of the COVID pandemic. MSMEs, particularly those led by women, youth, and other marginalized groups, have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. The UN says that more than 60% of women-led small businesses have been significantly affected by the COVID crisis and one in four are more likely not to survive compared to men-led small businesses.

That’s why this year’s MSME Day theme, “key to an inclusive and sustainable recovery,” strongly resonates with all of us here at MEDA.

We have a long history of working alongside small agribusinesses, supporting those who want to strengthen inclusive business models that stimulate business and job growth while also strengthening their resilience and the resilience of the entire agri-food sector. We have seen their creativity and determination shine through during this crisis. MSMEs have gone online for the first time in order to continue selling and buying. Others have launched new products as they responded to shifting consumer needs. But we’ve also seen others struggle in the face of closed borders, disrupted supply chains, an inability to retain staff, and numerous barriers and challenges.

We recognize that MSMEs are part of complex markets and systems that are strongly influenced by political, cultural, and social contexts. Their sustainability should be everyone’s concern. But that sustainability may be compromised unless structural changes, longer-term reforms, and private and public investments are made to strengthen a food system enabling environment that promotes opportunity, equality, and resiliency to the looming climate crisis and other future shocks and stresses.

We must work with other stakeholders to collectively influence those actors whose policies, decisions, and ways of doing business affect the growth of MSMEs and the women and men small-scale food producers who sell to or buy from, MSMEs.

Let’s celebrate MSME Day by recognizing the vital role these enterprises play in feeding and nourishing communities and growing equitable economies. And let’s commit to doing more to support them.

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  • Jennifer King is MEDA’s Technical Director of Market Systems. As an economic development professional with strong technical and programmatic expertise in market systems and private sector development, women’s economic empowerment, and gender lens investment in Canada and around the world, Jennifer provides valuable expertise in inclusive market system development to MEDA’s leadership team. Before becoming a Technical Director, Jennifer focused on women's economic empowerment, agricultural market systems, and gender-inclusive private sector development at MEDA. During this time Jennifer was a Senior Project Manager of a six-year project in Myanmar, and consulted internally and externally on projects in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Nicaragua, and Indonesia. Prior to MEDA, Jennifer was the founding Executive Director of Social Venture Partners (SVP) in Waterloo Region and helped establish Capacity Waterloo Region (now Capacity Canada). Jennifer's background also includes work in regional economic development and ecosystem development, and work in Sri Lanka strengthening the organizational capacity of the Rural Enterprise Network, a Practical Action social enterprise facilitating training and market linkages to micro-scale rural producers, most of whom are women, as well as those affected by the tsunami.