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Keywords:

  • global value chain;
  • Kenya;
  • horticulture;
  • smallholders;
  • private standards;
  • GlobalGAP

Private standards initiatives (PSIs) in agri-food value chains raise questions of democratic governance and accountability relating to the voice and agency of those whom the standards are designed to benefit or whom they most affect. We employ the concept of ‘spaces for participation’ to analyse participation in a particular PSI, GlobalGAP, and assess how, and to what extent, it opens up a space for debate about what constitutes good practice in agri-food chains and for whom. We draw on focus groups with smallholders, together with semi-structured interviews and workshops held with actors at the national and international scales to examine PSIs operating in Kenyan export horticulture to examine good agricultural practice (GAP) standards. Our analysis suggests that despite public announcements that these initiatives promote the voice of the farmer, the direct participation of farmers is largely absent from these policy spaces at present. This is related to the way in which invitations to the spaces for participation are constructed, what is deemed to be appropriate subjects for discussion in PSIs as well as the practical challenges associated with the organisation of farmers across spatial scales. The spaces for participation are located largely at the international and national scales with few connections to the local scale. This paper contributes to an extension of value chain analysis that re-asserts the importance of institutional context and how value chains are embedded in particular socio-economic and political systems.