Lean Management in Sustainable Agricultural Production: Practice, Performance, and Determining Factors

October 2015 to September 2021
Lean Management
Lean Agriculture
Sustainable Performance
sustainable agriculture
Primary Production
University of the Western Cape (South Africa)
Research fields
Agriculture and Food Sciences
Business and Economics

This PhD study investigates the application of lean management methods and strategies in agricultural primary production in a developing country context. Specifically, the study details the lean operational configuration and determinants of sustainable performance for agricultural primary production, including the development of a multi-item lean maturity scale, to assess lean maturity in individual grower operations. The determining factors, identified through a systematic review of the available literature, are thematically synthesized, conceptually framed and utilized for the development of a case study. The developed scale which is trialled among a sample of 132 fruit primary producers in South Africa. The development and application of the multi-item scale serves to investigate the relationship between lean practice maturity and sustainable performance of the fruit growing in developing South Africa.  Principles components analysis applied to the collected operational data identifies two latent dimensions of managerial practice for fruit farmers, a primary dimension linked to internal operations management and a secondary, less significant dimension, linked to coordination with supply chain partners. Cluster analysis of the lean operational data reveals a 2-cluster optimal solution, including 44 growers in high lean maturity cluster and 88 growers in a low lean maturity cluster. MANCOVA applied to this data reveals significant differences in lean practice maturity across all 10 of the lean measures in the multi-item scale. This analysis further reveals that farm size is a significant determinant of practice maturity, for 6 out of the 10 lean maturity scales. Further, ANOVA applied to the practice performance data supports for significant differences in operational performance between the low lean maturity and high lean maturity clusters. This exposition of lean management practices in agricultural primary production, and their contribution to the sustainable performance of grower operations, represents a new contribution to the body of literature linking lean and sustainable organizational performance. The study should support further development of lean management research and operationalized lean methods within the fruit horticulture subsector as well as the broader agri-food context.