Polycentric governance of global and domestic horticulture value chains: shifting standards in Kenyan fresh fruit and vegetables

Giovanni Pasquali, Stephanie Barrientos and Maggie Opondo


Global value chain (GVC) research has long analysed private governance by Northern lead firms, with an increasing focus on the role of public governance. The expansion of domestic value chains (DVCs) within the Global South, which overlap with GVCs, has been shown to incorporate private governance by Southern lead firms. However, we know little about the role of public governance in this evolving value chain context. Kenya provides an example of rapid changes in domestic retail value chains, combined with the introduction of public standards that replicate private standards in fresh fruit and vegetable (FFV) value chains supplying domestic and global retailers. This paper asks: how are shifts taking place between private and public governance of value chains as GVCs increasingly overlap with DVCs that also intersect with open markets? Analytically, the paper advances the concept of polycentric governance as a dynamic process that reflects the diffusion of lead firms’ power in intersecting value chains vis-àvis the growing importance of public actors. Empirically, it draws on research in the Kenyan avocado and green bean sectors to reveal a private governance void at the intersection between GVCs and DVCs that was recently filled by the government’s introduction of the public standard KS-1758(2). Critically, our paper reveals the limits of lead firms’ dyadic and direct power in governing their interactions with Kenyan suppliers. Rather, we argue that a more diffuse and collective form of power emerges from the intertwining of private and public governance in a polycentric context, spanning global and domestic value chains. Furthermore, despite highlighting significant challenges in implementing public standards, the paper illustrates how polycentric governance in FFV could become the norm as DVCs expand across the Global South.


Polycentric governance, Value Chains, Horticulture, Kenya, Standards

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