Deregulation and globalisation has altered the views of public involvement in development and led to strategies focusing on private sector participation. An implicit assumption seems to be that these linkages will enhance the technological capacity of smallholder producers by way of more cost-efficient technologies trickling down through the value chain or by quality requirements inducing best practices. The argument put forward in this paper is that sustainable non traditional agricultural chain development requires more purposeful actions and institutional transitions, both in the public and private spheres, targeting improved upstream innovative capacities. Empirical findings from a Dutch-Vietnamese partnership on sustainable floriculture development are used. Research revealed that the pest and disease control solutions applied by smallholder rose growers were incremental adaptations of experiences obtained in former food crop cultivation practices. Floriculture however may require more drastic changes in cultivation practices to make the sector more environmentally benign. In the case of smallholder Vietnamese flower producers, this implies adaptation of knowledge and skills currently not present. An important hindrance in promoting this knowledge and skills appears to be the weak vertical linkages between flower growers and public and private research and development organizations.