Opportunities For Consumer Researchers in Third World Food and Nutrition Development Efforts


Eric J. Arnould (1993) ,"Opportunities For Consumer Researchers in Third World Food and Nutrition Development Efforts", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, eds. Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothschild, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 172-175.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, 1993      Pages 172-175


Eric J. Arnould, California State University, Long Beach


This presidential session stems from Alan Andreasen's campaign to prod our discipline towards a more fuller realization of its potential. His concern stems from different bases than similar calls made by many recent ACR presidents. His seem to be motivated by his active involvement in social marketing efforts over a good many years, and his desire to see more of us put our skills and expertise in the service of socially desirable outcomes. At the same time, as one of his presidential columns in the ACR Newsletter indicates, he is anxious that CB researchers avoid some of the common problems that beset academic researchers in applied, action-oriented social marketing contexts (Andreasen 1992b). These remarks are offered in the same spirit.

In remarks he made at the European ACR Conference, reprinted in the pages of the ACR Newsletter, Professor Andreasen argued that the discipline might well stretch its boundaries along five major dimensions (1992c). Three of these: increasing intellectual diversity, internationalization, and increasing interdisciplinary cross-fertilization can be met in the context of greater membership involvement in international social marketing initiatives concerning food and nutrition. These are financed by United States Agency for International Development (USAID), The World Bank, other International Development Banks, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), United Nations International Children's Fund (UNICEF), and other multi and bi-lateral donor agencies. They are implemented by scores of academic research units, such as the Post-Harvest Institute at University of Idaho or the Office of Arid Lands Studies at University of Arizona; private consulting firms, such as Winrock International, International Resources Group, Development Alternatives International, Chemonics, and Abt & Associates; and, finally third sector organizations that include Private Voluntary Agencies (PVOs) and Non-Governmental Agencies (NGOs), such as CARE, Lutheran World Relief, Doctors Without Borders, Catholic Relief Services, etc.


Work for the previously-mentioned agencies provides ample opportunities for marketing and consumer behavior researchers to gain international experience. I have personally worked for, with or in competition with, most of the organizations mentioned above over the past fifteen years. These assignments have taken me to over a dozen West African countries on natural resources and food and nutrition projects. On occasion they have also resulted in desk studies of these issues conducted at home. To give two examples, in the summer of 1990 I worked with staff of the Office of Arid Lands Studies on a report for USDA on Guidelines for Incorporating Nutrition and Food Security concerns in agriculture development projects (Arnould and Frankenburger 1990). This study focused on households consumption strategies in coping with varying levels of nutritional risk. And just this last summer, I worked with the Post-Harvest Institute on a study of Nigerien onion export marketing that took me to six countries and included a focus on consumer attitudes and behaviors (Arnould with Iddal 1992).

In arguing for greater involvement of the membership in social marketing activities, I might follow Professor Andreasen (1992a) and appeal to ACR members' desires to meet altruistic social needs. In fact, a consumer behavior perspective is desperately needed in many social marketing projects associated with nutrition and food security. For example, a recent New York Times editorial trumpeted Professor James Borland's "green revolution" strategy for increasing agricultural production and productivity in Africa; a strategy endorsed by former President Jimmy Carter. But green revolution strategies are akin to the familiar production orientation in consumer marketing. In response to a production orientation toward food and nutrition, consumer behavior researchers would be quick to point out that needed calories do not equal desired foods, well aware as we are that needs and wants are two different things. They might also point out the necessity of giving consideration to pre-existent product complementarity in proposing new or "improved" crops to African farmers.

Professor Borlund seems fated to repeat the mistakes of early green revolution projects in Latin America and Asia. In Latin America, these projects focused on diffusing improved yields of hybrid corn to peasant producer/consumers. In some cases, impressive yields led to rapid adoption, but then to the social marketers consternation, equally rapid rejection of the so-called "improved" seed. Why? The hybrid maizes lacked the binding enzymes that made tortillas possible. What good is food you cannot eat? Increased food crop production need not lead necessarily to improved nutrition either. As marketing oriented consumer researchers, we would also point out that at least 3 other "P"s merit consideration before jumping to such a conclusion.

Further, as Professor Andreasen pointed out in an ACR Newsletter article (1992c), consumer behavior researcher's long-standing interests in household allocation decisions could both enliven, and benefit from the ongoing debates in social marketing. This knowledge is applicable to programs designed to bring about improved household food security and achieve nutritional equity in the Third World. Given our interest in diffusion and new product adoption, consumer researchers also have something to contribute to farmers decisions to allocate scarce household resources to purchase of expensive, foreign, novel agricultural inputs as well. To take another example from early "Green Revolution" experiences in the Philippines high-yielding "miracle rice" often was not adopted by farmers. Why? As marketers pointed out, using the miracle rice required four times more inputs of supplies and twice as much labor inputs, and dramatically increased farmers' financial exposure when compared to traditional rice. Use of the rice required changes in farming household's fundamental pattern of resource use and decision-making (Felton and Sorenson 1967).

A list of consumption research questions generated in the context of another study is included in Table 1. Consumer researchers can judge to what extent they have something to offer in response to such questions, and could imagine other questions they might address.

Consumer behavior insights are also needed at the international policy level. Critiques of the activities of the World Bank over the last half-dozen years have focused in part on the impact on consumers of World Bank macro-economic "structural adjustment policies" imposed on numerous Third World governments. These policies focus on currency devaluation, relaxation of trade barriers, and ending of government agricultural subsidies. Consumer belt-tightening has been one of the primary results in many countries that have adopted the World Bank's medicine. One might well argue that had scientists with a deep understanding of both the macro and micro dimensions of consumer behavior been more involved in policy formulation, some of the Bank's production and export-oriented economic policies might have been moderated in favor of consumers.



Of course all these arguments in favor of increased ACR member participation in social marketing are based on President Andreasen's suggestion that at least one of the reasons people join ACR and become consumer researchers is that participation in this community meets altruistic social needs.


Professor Andreasen has pointed out in his Newsletter columns that it is unlikely that ACR members will become involved in action-oriented, applied research out of compassion and commitment, but rather out of long-term research potential (Andreasen 1991; 1992a). Sadly, I must concur with his assessment.

Even if motivated by the "doing good" agenda of the public sector social marketer, the barriers to entry into the field of social marketing can be formidable. My own experience confirms this. First of all it is expensive to develop the expertise required to work in the alien organizational cultures of the major multi- and bi-lateral donors. I well remember my own bemusement trying to make sense of the alphabet soup of acronyms casually tossed about by veterans in the business. The bureaucratic procedures and formats of donors, consulting projects and consulting project reports, can also be foreboding. The solution to this problem, however, comes with experience. It has the happy result of considerably broadening one's interdisplinary competence. The Public Administration-based language of project planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation soon becomes second nature to the social marketing professional.

A second barrier to entry, is the investment in specialized technical knowledge and interdisplinary collaboration involved in public sector social marketing work in nutrition and agriculture, resource management and allocation, or health care delivery. Social marketing is often team work. On any given assignment, one is apt to find oneself thrown together with unfamiliar colleagues of other scientific persuasions. Not infrequently they may harbor considerable skepticism about the merit of marketing science or consumer research. Thus, one sometimes is simultaneously trying to establish ones' intellectual turf, educate team members about one's own disciplinary perspective, and, at the same time, gather information about the problem at hand. This is quite a juggling act. But the solution to the twin problems of disciplinary bias and technical proficiency leads again to the broadening of disciplinary perspectives Professor Andreasen and other ACR presidents have advocated. After more than a decade of working with natural scientists in West Africa, for example, I have become familiar with a variety of basic concepts and relationships in geology, pedology, agronomy, climatology, ecology, and remote sensing. Unfortunately my technical expertise is limited to West Africa so I know more species of West African trees than North American, more about growing millet and sorghum than wheat or maize. More pertinently, I also know quite a lot about African marketing systems and African consumers, and this knowledge has been enriched by collaboration with colleagues from these other disciplines.

A third barrier to entry into social marketing consulting is that it typically involves work in unfamiliar cultural contexts. Second and even third language competence is often required. This too is expensive to attain and retain. Even after ten years of classroom French, I became fluent only after working in francophone bureaucratic contexts. And as for my African language ability, it is always a struggle to learn, its easily forgotten, hard to practice, and after all, useful in a limited region. Worse no one cares. On the other hand, foreign language proficiency further opens the doors to both intra- and inter-disciplinary perspectives of foreign colleagues and a broad array of surprising new consumer experiences.

A fourth barrier to entry is that work in the Third World is often uncomfortable, and although my experience with bullet dodging is fairly limited, it happens. Worse though is the mediocrity: it gets old fast staying in crummy hotels, and eating crummy food. On the other hand, the human interactions with colleagues, counterparts, and consumers are something I treasure. The scenery is nice too. This leads to a final point about increasing intellectual diversity and personal and professional outcomes.


In spite of the barriers to entry, there are good selfish reasons for ACR members to get involved in applied, action-oriented research associated with nutrition and food security, health care marketing, market system development, and management training, and other similar areas. This is because such work can contribute to one's own long-term research interests. This can and does happen in the two ways that Professor Andreasen (1992b) suggests. One is that social marketing research provides opportunities to apply concepts and methods already developed in new and challenging contexts that can establish their robustness. Consumption status can be threatened by a variety of factors in the agricultural system. To summarize from an earlier report (Arnould and Frankenberger 1990), food consumption deficiencies can result from:

1) inadequate production of acceptable food stuffs

2) adequate production but inadequate income levels

3) unhealthy consumption patterns or consumer pathologies

4) political constraints on consumption decisions

5) economic constraints on consumption decisions

6) social constraints on consumption decisions

Consumer researchers have worked on similar topics in other domains. Concepts developed in these domains could easily extend to nutrition and food security.

The other long term benefit of social marketing research in nutrition and food security is that social marketing research provides opportunities to extend and enrich present concepts and theories by trying to understand behavior and behavior changes processes in new and different circumstances.

To these intangibles, I might add a tangible benefit of the proposed research program. The resources available to the donors dwarf those available to organizations such as Marketing Science, and usually come with fewer strings attached than do those made available by private corporations.

As for outcomes, participation in social marketing activities has provided me with a real opportunity to test concepts in other contexts and hopefully to extend and enrich them in the process. My dissertation is a product of research conducted on an African development project concerned with resource management and marketing (Arnould 1982). The research outcomes of my recent work in social marketing is reflected in two previous JCR articles (Arnould 1989a, Wallendorf and Arnould 1988), and a Society for Macromarketing Conference Proceeding (Arnould 1989b). These dealt with issues related to product meaning and the diffusion of innovations. As an aside, I mention that several articles based on marketing-oriented research in food, nutrition, and resource management have appeared in development, anthropology, and Africanist journals (Arnould 1990, 1989c, 1988, 1986, 1985). These same publishing opportunities are available for others. And as we all know from Marketing 101, product line diversification spreads around the risk of single product failures! Last summers research on onion export marketing produced some interesting findings on the relationship between product quality, price, and purchase behavior that I hope will lead to future publishing possibilities.


Development agencies cannot rely on broad generalizations in the formulation of policy and programs designed to address nutrition and food consumption issues in agricultural development. Nor should they have to look only to specialists in agronomy, economics, rural sociology, anthropology, and health sciences for an understanding of consumer behavior. In particular contexts, development interventions should be targeted at one or more of the many linkages between production and consumption. The critical mediating steps towards improving food security, the sine qua non of economic development are formulating strategies for supporting indigenous strategies to cope with threats to consumption, and improving production/consumption linkages at the household level. With their diverse theoretical corpus and catholic methodological tool-kit their would seem to be ample opportunity for members of ACR to contribute to these aims while benefiting themselves professionally and contributing to broadening of our discipline.


Andreasen, Alan (1991), "Notes from the President Elect," ACR Newsletter, December, 3.

Andreasen, Alan (1992b), "On Doing Social Marketing," ACR Newsletter, June, 2-4.

Andreasen, Alan (1992a), "So What's An Association Anyway," ACR Newsletter, March, 2-5.

Andreasen, Alan (1992c), "President's Column," ACR Newsletter, September, 2-4.

Arnould, Eric J. (1990) "Changing the Terms of Rural Development: Collaborative Research in Cultural Ecology in the Sahel," Human Organization 49(4), 339-354.

Arnould, Eric J. (1989a), "Toward a Broadened Theory of Preference Formation and the Diffusion of Innovations: Cases from Zinder Province, Niger Republic," Journal of Consumer Research 16 (September), 239-267.

Arnould, Eric J. (1989b) "Agricultural Development Projects in West Africa as Social Marketing: A Post-Mortem," Proceedings. Macromarketing Seminar XIV. Toledo, OH: University of Toledo.

Arnould, Eric J. (1989c), "Anthropology and West Africa Development: A Critique of Recent Debate," Human Organization 48(4), 135-147.

Arnould, Eric J. (1988), "Indigenous Responses to Economic Development: An Introduction," Urban Anthropology and Studies of Cultural Systems and World Economic Development 17(1), 1-5.

Arnould, Eric J. (1986), "Merchant Capital, Simple Reproduction, and Underdevelopment: Peasant Traders in Zinder, Niger," Canadian Journal of African Studies 20(3), 323-356.

Arnould, Eric J. (1985), "Evaluating Regional Economic Development: Results of a Regional Systems Analysis in Niger," Journal of Developing Areas 19(2), 209-244.

Arnould, Eric J. (1982), Regional Market System Development and Changes in Relations of Production in Three Communities in Zinder Province, Niger Republic. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation. Tucson: Department of Anthropology, University of Arizona.

Arnould Eric J. and Timothy Frankenberger (1990) Guidelines for Including Food and Nutrition in Agricultural Projects. Food and Agricultural Cooperative Agreement. DAN-5110-A-00-9095-00. Office of Nutrition, U.S. Agency for International Development. Tucson, AZ: Office of Arid Lands Studies.

Arnould, Eric J. with Sidi Mohammed Iddal (1992) Niger Onion Marketing Study. Post-Harvest Institute for Perishables, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID and USAID-Niger.

Felton, Edward J. Jr., and Ralph Z. Sorenson (1967), "Commentary On Seed Corporation of the Philippines," The Seminar Workshop on the Economics of Rice. Paper presented at a Conference at The International Rice Research Institute, December 8-9, 1967.

Lipton, Michael with Richard Longhurst (1989), New Seeds and Poor People. London: Unwin Hyman.

Wallendorf, Melanie and Eric J. Arnould (1988), "My Favorite Things": A Cross-Cultural Inquiry into Object Attachment, Possessiveness, and Social Linkage," Journal of Consumer Research 14(March): 531-547.



Eric J. Arnould, California State University, Long Beach


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20 | 1993

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