Agribusiness - Harvard Business School MBA Program


Course Number 1915

Professor David E. Bell
Spring, Q4, 1.5 credits
14 sessions

Course Overview

The course will provide a survey of the global food and agribusiness system. The primary focus is on understanding the business model and practices of farmers, processors and traders in traditional agriculture, both grain and protein. A few cases will explicitly consider the issues facing branded consumer goods manufacturers and food retailers. The case discussions will also reflect consumer trends, technological advances, public policy issues, food safety and risk management. An undercurrent in the course is the question of whether the food system is capable of feeding 9 billion people. The pervasiveness of food and agribusiness makes the course suitable for future consultants and investment bankers in addition to those who have a direct interest in the industry; it may also be of interest as a general management course due to its integrative, cross-functional approach and emphasis on strategy.


Crop Production: We consider the typical challenges faced by farmers and processors involved with grains, fruits and vegetables. We look at where the margins are and the challenges of distribution. Cases last year were Vegpro (Kenya), Zespri (New Zealand), Simplot (US) and Climate Corporation (US).

Protein: Similarly we consider the structure of beef, chicken and fish (aquaculture) producers, and opportunity for improvement. Cases were Friona (US), BRF (Brazil) and Marine Harvest (Norway).

Trading: Countries, by and large, aspire to self-sufficiency. But the reality is that supply and demand are not perfectly aligned. We examine the business (and lifecycle) of trading with cases on Olam (Singapore), Louis Dreyfus (France), Cofco (China) and Continental Grain (US).

The Consumer: The course ends with a module that explicitly considers how consumer needs and habits play into the food system, both good and bad. Cases include Dominos (US) and Nestle (Switzerland). The course ends with a class on nutrition.

Course Requirements

The course is offered on a 14 session plus exam basis.