The purpose of this paper is to introduce the viable system model (VSM) as a valuable tool to the food industry. A sugarcane supply chain was used to evaluate VSM's applicability to the food industry by exploring how VSM can help to understand its complexity.
VSM and qualitative research methods were combined in an interactive manner to produce a VSM diagnosis.
The VSM diagnosis highlighted that while continuity of the system is not at risk, many improvement opportunities exist. For example, the local mill management lacks autonomy, essential operational measurement cannot be realised, coordination is deficient and a vision or identity for the mill area and a joint effort to engage in strategic considerations is missing. Miller-grower fragmentation surfaced as one cause of these shortcomings.
Although VSM revealed shortcomings, it was unable to facilitate interventions for improvement. VSM's capacity in dealing with shortcomings should be strengthened and the merit of VSM in other food-related supply systems should be investigated.
Millers and growers need to become genuine partners and work jointly on the issues that challenge the system to realise the full potential that is embedded in the system.
VSM has not been applied in the sugar industry context and the amount of researches that explore sugarcane supply chains holistically is limited.
This research was funded by the South African Sugarcane Research Institute (SASRI) and the National Research Foundation. The members of the project team are thanked for their support and valuable input. The authors would also like to thank the various industry stakeholders who gave up their time to participate in a number of interviews and workshops. Administration and support staff at the University of KwaZulu-Natal are thanked for their continuous support. This work is largely based on the doctoral dissertation of the first author.
Hildbrand, S. and Bodhanya, S. (2014), "Application of the viable system model in a complex sugarcane supply chain", British Food Journal, Vol. 116 No. 12, pp. 2048-2068. https://doi.org/10.1108/BFJ-06-2013-0158
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