Scaling the Rural Enterprise

Principal InvestigatorDr Catherine Mulligan

Researcher: Dr Giaime Berti 

Funder: EPSRC

Duration: July 2012 – June 2015

Scaling the Rural Enterprise was a three year project between the UK and India to bridge the gap between urban and rural areas in order to improve living standards. One key means of achieving this is to improve enterprise in rural areas but they often lack the necessary infrastructure to develop sufficient scale which inhibits entrepreneurial activity. This project examines the ways in which digital technologies can enhance the inter-connectedness of rural economies.

Unlike large multinationals, rural businesses are often at the bottom of the supply-chain and unable to locate a new customer-base for their products, selling mostly to the larger organisations. Rural communities remain largely unaware of the opportunities to scale-up their endeavours and cannot access the IT capabilities to enhance this, leaving them unable to engage in the global economy. Scaling the Rural Enterprise will develop innovative approaches to both manage the local business and in developing suitable technologies to support it.

Key Research Questions

Over the last decades the sustainability of the conventional food system has been, and continues to be, contested and the transition to “sustainable agri-food systems” has become a core policy objective of the new millennium in local/regional national and international arenas.

The project explored how digital technologies can support the aggregation, management and coordination processes necessary to enable local communities to not just develop and create digital co-ordination around the supply and distribution of food in cities but to also help them achieve scale and critical mass. This will help enable increased quality of food in urban environments, and the increased prosperity of those rural communities dependent on delivery into these supply chains.

The project was arranged around two key areas of investigation:

a) How can DTs in the creation, management, coordination and the scaling up of the AAFNs? In response to the multiple crises of the conventional agri-food system the last two decades we have witnessed the emergence of alternative agri-food networks (AAFNs) of small size and scale farms, consumers, retailers, logistics and other actors that embody alternatives to the more standardised industrial mode of food supply, relying on the notions of ‘quality’, ‘place’ and ‘nature’. The research will specifically investigate the emergence of the “digital food hub” as very promising instruments for the scaling up of AAFNs.

b) How digital platform can support the coordination mechanisms necessary for the planning and the implementation of Urban Food Strategies?

The urban-rural connectivity is a crucial dimension since the cities can be a driver in fostering a healthy, sustainable agri-food system. Local public policies and governance as Urban food strategies’ are emerging as very promising instruments for promoting food democracy through a local sustainable food supply and distribution system to the cities.


  • Catherine Mulligan presented a keynote to the Executive Management Group of the World Food Program on the use of DLT for International Aid for their strategy summit.