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Since 2013, Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, a USAID-funded program, has partnered with nearly 100 organizations working to commercialize agricultural innovations in smallholder markets. In each case, partners sought to fill unmet needs in the smallholder market, whether it was a lack of inputs, equipment, financing, or market linkages, and turn them into profitable business opportunities. As a result, these companies have developed a diverse array of business models to commercialize their agricultural innovations.

Through these partnerships, Partnering for Innovation has identified a number of different models and lessons learned on what factors facilitate or hinder success. Starting this week, we will explore four of these models: the aggregator model, the mechanization services model, the embedded rural advisory services model, and the consumer financing model. This week, we will discuss the aggregator model and factors that have made companies successful when using it, and in the coming weeks will explore the other the models.

Aggregator Model

Smallholder markets often lack linkages between agricultural suppliers and purchasers. Aggregator models introduce an intermediary actor that aggregates supply and often provides other ancillary services such as agronomic advice or access to inputs, thereby lowering transactions costs, reducing sourcing risks, and building farmer loyalty and retention. This model expands market access and increases productivity and income for smallholder farmers. Partnering for Innovation supports a wide range of aggregator models through partnerships with International Charity Fund Community Wellbeing (ICF CW) and Danone in Ukraine, Babban Gona in Nigeria, and Txopela Investments in Mozambique.

From the Real World

Danone buys raw milk from dairy farmers supported by the Ukrainian NGO ICF CW. These farmers are organized into ICF CW-facilitated cooperatives that assist in collecting and storing the milk. ICF CW provides training to cooperative and their farmer members on milk quality and hygiene, fodder production and animal feeding, farm and cow management, cooperative development, financial management, and milk marketing. ICF CW also provides critical assets to family farms such as milking machines, ventilation systems, and cold storage tanks. This aggregation of large volumes of milk benefits Danone and smallholders alike. Danone is able to reduce its supply and logistics cost, while farmers are connected to a cold value chain that ensures higher prices for their milk.


In Nigeria, Babban Gona organizes smallholder farmers into a cooperatives and provides good agricultural practices training, sells improved agricultural inputs, and offers financing and a market for their commodities. By aggregating these farmers, Babban Gona is able to sell inputs to farmers at a lower price and also earn a higher price for the goods it sources from farmers, allowing it to make a profit from increased margins. In turn, farmer members benefit from access to agricultural input loans, inputs, training, increased productivity, and a guaranteed, high-value market for their commodities. Babban Gona can secure premium prices for its members’ commodities by ensuring that they produce a high quality product and through aggregated volumes.

In partnership with the cooperative COPAZA, Txopela Investments is establishing an improved seed and commodity company in Mozambique. It uses an outgrower model where smallholder farmers not only expand production of Txopela’s certified seed but also sell their commodity back to Txopela to process and export. Through aggregation, Txopela is able to capitalize on both revenues from seed and commodity sales while its outgrowers benefit from access to quality seed, agronomic training, and a guaranteed end market for their output.

Lessons Learned

Through these three partnerships, Partnering for Innovation identified a number of factors that help aggregator business models succeed in commercializing products and services in smallholder markets. First, aggregators must be committed to investing in and building their relationship with farmers. Second, since they compete with middlemen, they must offer an attractive value proposition to farmers to discourage side-selling. Finally, the aggregator model succeeds when companies engage farmers on multiple levels through offering a range of services and products.

Given that individual smallholders have small-scale output and demand, aggregators play a key role in organizing farmers into groups that increase their overall profitability and economies of scale. Next week, we will discuss the mechanization services model and how companies can successfully implement it!


Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation is a USAID-funded program that partners with private sector companies to commercialize agricultural innovations in smallholder markets. Through these partnerships, the program learns a lot about what works and what doesn’t work to get innovative products and services to smallholders. Partnerships with three companies recently ended: Grameen Foundation in Kenya, Zamorano University in Honduras, and the Metal in Bangladesh. These companies had the dual goals of growing their business and addressing unique challenges in their countries, including a lack of affordable microcredit in Kenya, an alternative to chemical pesticides in Honduras, and a need for mechanization services in Bangladesh. Over the course of their work with Partnering for Innovation, each partner achieved notable successes and identified important lessons learned.




When Grameen Foundation and its commercial microfinance partner Musoni began their partnership with Partnering for Innovation, they hoped to use Musoni's digital technology to expand smallholders' access to affordable microcredit. Musoni had already entered the smallholder microfinance market with the Kilimo Booster loan, which includes favorable terms and a customizable grace period based on a farmer's seasonal cash flow. Through the partnership, Musoni and Grameen Foundation built a tablet-based software that streamlined the loan application and management processes, allowing Musoni to reach more farmers. To date, Musoni has made more than 14,000 Kilimo Booster loans, 54 percent of which went to women.


To achieve this success, Grameen Foundation engaged directly and consistently with stakeholders. First, they used a human-centered design process that addressed the needs of both loan clients and bank officers, and then they repeatedly tested their software and developed a strong field team of wealth creation officers. Through stakeholder engagement, Musoni was able to identify potential risks and design solutions. Through repeated testing and feedback, Musoni ensured that its product would be high quality and problem-free after entering the market. Finally, Musoni used wealth creation officers to provide financial information and extension services to clients and potential clients. By connecting directly with smallholders, these officers were instrumental in increasing uptake.


zamorano_university.jpgZamorano University originally developed its biological pest control product, NemaPower, to provide smallholders in Honduras a safer, more effective, and environmentally friendly alternative to chemical pesticides. Zamorano University became a Partnering for Innovation partner to help it meet rising demand and scale up production of NemaPower. Through the partnership, Zamorano University built an improved laboratory that reduced production time from 55 to 12 days, increasing annual supply by a factor of 20, and selling more than 9,000 doses of NemaPower.


Zamorano achieved this success through its understanding and support of both smallholders and distributors. Throughout the partnership, Zamorano needed to build demand for biological pest controls in a market dominated by chemical pesticides and develop a sustainable distribution network. To do this, Zamorano built a multi-step training program for farmers and leveraged relationships with local cooperatives and companies that could act as distributors. By using technicians to develop strong relationships with farmers, Zamorano was able to collect feedback and improve its training and distribution. Most recently, Zamorano partnered with Walmart to train Walmart's technicians in using NemaPower. Now, Walmart orders pest control products from Zamorano's distributors and trains the farmers from whom it sources to use these products to grow chemical-free produce.



The Metal hoped to capitalize on the unmet need for rice and wheat harvesting services in Bangladesh by introducing a low-cost, quality mechanized reaper. Initially, however, The Metal struggled to sell the reaper to local service providers in smallholder markets, as many farmers were unfamiliar with the technology and continued to rely on labor intensive harvesting methods rather than renting reaper services. To overcome this challenge, The Metal partnered with Partnering for Innovation to test and develop a comprehensive marketing campaign. By concentrating interventions in one geographic area, the Metal was able to create a "control" group and an "experimental" group to evaluate the effectiveness of the marketing campaign. In addition, The Metal tested a wide variety of marketing strategies - from field and market day demonstrations to managing retail outlets to hiring sales and technical personnel - and compared them for cost-effectiveness.


Through its data-driven and scientifically designed strategy, The Metal successfully built the community awareness and product knowledge needed to commercialize the reaper. In total, it sold 87 reapers to local service providers in the "experiment" province. In turn, these operators provided reaping services to more than 4,000 smallholders. In the future, The Metal will use the results of its tested interventions to develop and implement marketing campaigns across the rest of Bangladesh.


Although their partnerships with Partnering for Innovation have ended, these three companies will continue applying their lessons learned to grow and provide smallholders with sustainable access to agricultural technologies and services.

In Bangladesh, members of the AgTech Team* are working with The Metal, an agricultural company that is commercializing small-scale farm machinery through its farm machinery hubs. In collaboration with Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, The Metal is introducing and selling mechanized reapers to local service providers who in turn offer reaping services to smallholder farmers. The reapers are sold through six full-service farm machinery hubs that sell, service, and promote mechanized equipment. Sales are coupled with extensive operations, maintenance, and business training along with a broad-reaching public awareness and marketing campaign.


The partnership to commercialize the reaper services through the farm machinery hubs started in 2016, and since then many lessons have been learned that are useful for sharing with members of the AgTechXChange. One of the key lessons is that mechanization products (reapers, tillers, etc.) are still not affordable or practical for smallholder farmers to purchase because they have limited financial resources and small plots of land. They simply cannot afford the relatively expensive machinery.


Given the limitations for smallholder farmers to purchase machinery, The Metal adjusted its business model to identify entrepreneurs who could aggregate farmers into groups. In doing so, farmers could rent reaper services. The local service providers learned, by working through this model with The Metal, that they were able to pay off the loans they took out to purchase reapers and make a profit by offering reaping services to farmer groups.


One 35-year old entrepreneur, Hafizur Rahman, became a local service provider and began offering reaper services to other farmers in his community. Hafizur bought a reaper from The Metal and received training in reaper use, maintenance, and marketing. In the recent rice harvesting season, he provided services to fifty smallholder farmers and earned $1,050. This amount covered his operating costs within just 25 days of the season starting. You can read more about Hafizur and other entrepreneurs who are benefiting from The Metal’s business model by clicking here and you can see The Reaper in action below! You can also read about business models that are generally relevant to effectively working in smallholder markets here

* The AgTech Team is the staff of Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, a USAID-funded program that helps to commercialize agricultural innovations in smallholder markets.

The Metal (Pvt.) Limited.Matthew Krause Bob Rabatsky

In August 2015 Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation initiated four partnerships with private sector companies in Ukraine focused on enhancing the productivity of small-scale farms. As in many countries, small-scale farmers in Ukraine lack access to knowledge, financing, and quality inputs. The four partnerships are working to mitigate barriers in the agriculture sector and increase productivity and profitability among farmers. Through this work the companies have realized several key lessons for success.

Farmer Adoption Requires Behavior Change

One of the largest hurdles for adoption of new products or services in Ukraine is the cultural norms and attitudes of farmers. Many farmers have used the same practices for years, and with limited resources are hesitant to invest in something new without seeing its benefits firsthand. Agribusinesses must convince farmers of the benefits of a product or service through capacity building and demonstration. In the case of AGROBONUS LLC, an agro-input distributor that established a new soil testing business, the company found great success in using seminars to promote both behavior change and its soil testing services. The seminars were designed to demonstrate the advantages of knowing soil content and adjusting nutrient application for maximum production. Agrobonus began to conduct seminars explaining the benefits and offered farmers a free first test so they could experience firsthand the soil testing process and Agrobonus’s recommendations. These seminars and free tests clearly benefited the farmers, but they also helped provide Agrobonus with a much deeper understanding of the challenges small-scale farmers face and what they expect from soil testing services. Understanding these challenges, Agrobonus is able to better design seminars to build capacity and promote behavior change among farmers, which has led to widespread adoption of its services.

Creating Demand

Many partners have realized that in order for farmers to be repeat customers, they must create market demand for the farmers’ end product. Without an end market for crops, farmers will not continue to return to purchase products or services. For example, Agrico Ukraine Ukraine supplies high quality potato seed to farmers. Through engaging with small-scale customers it learned that many small farmers could only sell potatoes at small local markets. These small markets bring small profits, making it difficult for farmers to invest in quality seed again the next year. Agrico realized an opportunity to help its clients access larger markets, while also catalyzing growth for the company. By buying back potatoes, packaging them, and selling them on to an existing network of retailers, Agrico will create new markets for its small-scale farmer clients, increasing their profitability and enhancing loyalty among its repeat customers. This allows Agrico to grow both its seed potato and consumer potato business.  

Importance of Strong Networks

Strong networks are critical to the distribution of products and to knowledge transfer, and can greatly increase outreach to farmers. BAYER, an agrochemical producer working to better educate farmers, is working with strategically selected distributors to provide capacity building to farmers. Using a training the trainers method, Bayer trains distributor staff in various topic areas designed to increase farm productivity and profitability. In turn, the distributor staff train the farmers they work with on a day-to-day basis. By using this method, Bayer has been able to reach a much larger number of farmers over a wider geographic area than if the company were to conduct the trainings itself. Additionally, Bayer is able to reach farmers through networks they already know and trust, which can increase the rate of adoption of practices. Over the last two years, Bayer has piloted this method of engaging with farmers and has seen such great success that it plans to fully integrate the practice into its core business model.

This September will mark the end of Partnering for Innovation’s work in Ukraine. But the companies it works with there will continue to build the capacity of small-scale farmers, while integrating lessons learned into their business models. By applying these and many other lessons, the companies will continue to expand their reach in Ukraine, building sustainable businesses that help farmers produce more and make more money.

In Kenya, urban produce vendors in Nairobi get up as early as 4 a.m. to purchase fresh produce grown in rural areas from urban wholesale markets, which account for more than 95 percent of fresh produce sold in the city. But urban vendors face high prices for the produce they source,  because the supply chain includes multiple middlemen, long distances traveled to get the produce from rural farmers to urban markets, and fluctuations in quantity and prices at wholesale markets. Bananas, for example, are sold by urban vendors and have the potential to be very profitable. However, the average farm-gate price of bananas, at just 14 US cents per kilo, increases to about 50 cents per kilo by the time it gets to urban vendors. Twiga Foods, a Kenya-based fresh fruit and vegetable supplier, developed and is using a mobile platform to decrease these costs so that producers get more income, vendors get a higher return, and consumers can access higher quality and more consistent fresh produce. To find out how, watch this video and check out the details below.


In partnership with Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, Twiga Foods is expanding its network of rural collection centers to source more quality fresh produce from rural farmers to supply vendors in Nairobi. The mobile platform allows for “smart” collection in order to create efficiencies across the value chain. Farmers sell more produce, vendors don’t need to travel early in the morning to wholesale markets where prices fluctuate day-to-day, and Twiga stays in business to continually provide economic and social value to the market. Twiga Foods is making its technology company a successful venture that creates added value for smallholder farmers, vendors, and consumers. Some of the ways it is doing this are:


  • The Twiga mobile platform aggregates more than 600 vendors in Nairobi and then customizes purchases from smallholder farmers to supply vendors with more accurate volumes of fresh produce. This cuts costs for the vendors because of reduced (or zero!) travel costs, time savings, and getting consistent price and quantity that wholesale markets do not guarantee. 
  • The Twiga platform allows the vendors to offer consistent quality and volume to their customers, thus helping to stabilize and/or increase their sales and also helping Twiga to source ever more accurate volumes of fresh produce from smallholder farmers.
  • Twiga’s model helps rural farmers sell more of their produce directly to Twiga, rather than less of their overall crop to multiple middlemen. Additionally, producers are able to diversify their income by selling a variety of grades of produce to fulfill diverse inventories that vendors in urban markets demand.
    • The Twiga business model is that of a technology company rather than a food distributor, adding efficiencies within its supply chain and also across the value chain that equal gains for Twiga, smallholders, vendors, and consumers.
    • Twiga is focusing on continually innovating its technology platform and operation plan to maximize the gains it is currently seeing. This pathway will take it from supplying 600 vendors to 9,000 in Nairobi alone.


Check back on the Learn blog for updates from Twiga, write them directly through the AgTechXChange, and/or post your comments and questions below!


What We Are Reading

Posted by community.manager Jul 10, 2017

Check out some helpful resources that the AgTech Team is reading!


The Ag Tech Market Map: Maps out 100+ startups that are “powering the future of farming and agribusiness” around the world with a particular focus on the U.S. Check it out to learn about cool new ag technologies and to find out who is funding them.


WeedScout is a Bayer-developed software that crowdsources experts’ images to identify weeds. Dr. Hans-Joachim Santel, Weed Scientist at Bayer, says that weed identification is the initial step in weed control and to ultimately helping reduce errors that affect farm profitability. When a farmer correctly identifies a weed, they can apply the correct practice and treatment to control the weed, meaning less time purchasing unneeded chemicals.


In Uganda, Pineapple Crisps Are a Money Maker for Nakiwala. Nakiwala is processing fresh fruits for sale locally and in the EU and is continually innovating her business model to create more profit. Learn from her experience to kick-start your off-the-shelf business solution that supports development outcomes.


Agricultural systems don't just feed the world, they create jobs that keep rural and urban citizens employed and national employment levels growing. Learn about how smart partnerships boost job creation by centering planning on business models that connect farmers, buyers and the public sector.


Women in Mozambique bear the brunt of civil war, droughts and floods, which ultimately affects entrepreneurs and how they overcome civil unrest to keep their business’ going while creating strong social value locally.


Should America Keep Giving Billions Of Dollars To Countries In Need? This article discusses a fundamental disconnect between Congressional expectations for what aid should measure up to, namely national economic gains where funds are dispersed (rather than the outcomes discrete program are geared to contribute to, like agriculture gains, education improvements, etc.). Helpful for understanding current debates about US foreign aid.

Facebook, Google, Amazon…why are these among the most powerful companies in the world? One important, and undeniable, reason is because they understand consumer behavior. These top companies understand what drives their customers' decision-making, and they capitalize on that knowledge. What’s more is that they’ve done this by applying simple metrics and marketing frameworks such as segmentation, targeting, and positioning. Information that companies are already collecting - such as demographics, usage patterns, and monitoring what their customers like, what they search for, and what they purchase - can be put to even more work sooner rather than later.


Smallholders are our customers. Whether we are agrodealers selling inputs to smallholder farmers, buyers/processors sourcing products from smallholder farmers, financial service providers lending to smallholder farmers, or development practitioners, smallholders are crucial to our business models as valued clients. Understanding their behavior and what drives their decision-making has enormous potential in improving our businesses. Quality farmer-level data generate important insight that supports marketing and our overall businesses.


However, getting the right data at the right time, while fostering trust among value chain actors, can be complicated and the costs and considerations associated with data collection and analysis can be daunting. We need to recognize the need to invest in quality data rather than let its layers of complexity stop us from collecting it, analyzing it, and using it. Data doesn’t have to be complex. Basic metrics can be extremely valuable despite the numerous variables that need to be thought through for collecting it. The work needs to be put in, though - there is no silver bullet, no one metric, that will solve all marketing issues. There is no one data collection strategy that will work for every scenario. The practical challenges are the ones to focus on and solve.


Importantly- all the data collection, and later analysis, must all be done within our often razor-thin profit margins.  Therefore, data must be robust yet low-cost. Check out the two webinars below, if you haven't already, to get tips about the value of data, what types of data to collect to support marketing, how to collect quality data, and how to use all of this data using the concepts of segmentation, targeting, and positioning.

Have more questions, thoughts, or ideas? Simply ask and post them below! 


* Farmer-level data can also be used for social impact reporting, an integral part of working with any development donor working with private companies in smallholder markets. Check out this article for more on that!

Collecting Marketing Data


Using Marketing Data


Smallholder farmers represent a huge and largely untapped market segment for agricultural companies. Despite there being 500 million smallholders in the world, most of these farmers lack commercial access to inputs, storage, loans, and other products and services that would increase their productivity and incomes, and build strong agricultural sectors in countries across the world. But smallholder markets are risky to enter, being poorly understood and producing small margins, so even companies that want to expand into these markets are hesitant. Donor funding, such as United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funding through Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, can help offset the initial risk of entering or expanding in those markets, providing companies with the ability and confidence to invest their own money in new products, services, and strategies in smallholder markets.


Many of Partnering for Innovation’s partnerships help companies implement new distribution and marketing activities targeted at smallholder farmers, unlocking this massive market segment for these companies. Once companies are established in smallholder markets, they serve as a sustainable, long-term presence (unlike most development projects), providing access to agricultural products and services that are essential for smallholders to produce at a commercial level, increasing the amount and quality of food available as well as incomes for farmers and others working in agriculture like input suppliers and aggregators.


With a program investment of $25.8 million, Partnering for Innovation has generated $42.2 in private sector investment through its partnerships. For example, Partnering for Innovation’s $6.4 million investment in commodities trader Export Marketing Company Limited (EMCL) in Mozambique spurred EMCL to invest $13.6 in building 23 new agricultural hubs in underserved rural areas, providing smallholder farmers with access to inputs, mechanization, and storage, and greatly expanding EMCL’s commodities sourcing. With Partnering for Innovation’s support, EMCL is both expanding its business and providing smallholder farmers with the products and services they need to build productive and profitable farms.


Donor funding can be key in enabling companies to expand in emerging and developing markets. By helping offset the risk of entering these market, donors like USAID are spurring sustainable, private sector-led development that puts US taxpayer dollars to good use building markets and increasing incomes across the world.

Although most rural families keep chickens in Ethiopia, the most common breeds are highly susceptible to disease and have low weight gain and egg-laying productivity. Because of low productivity and high demand, farmers have been missing a key opportunity to improve nutrition and generate income. One Ethiopian poultry company, however, is changing that.


EthioChicken is addressing this market gap by commercializing improved chicken breeds and expanding its network of sales agents to reach rural farmers. Agents raise chicks for the first 40 days and receive a commission for each sale thereafter. In addition to training its sales agents and providing last mile access to more productive chickens, the company also expanded its sale of high-quality poultry feed.


In two years, with support from Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, EthioChicken sold 3,073 MT of feed and more than 3 million day-old chicks, well over its goal of 2.2 million, to almost 350,000 rural households, and employed an agent network of 1,500 entrepreneurs.


A few keys to EthioChicken's success were:

  • Developing a strong training program for its sales agents that included both proper poultry raising strategies and savvy business practices. This program enabled EthioChicken to reduce losses and increase productivity.
  • A strictly for-profit business model that allowed it to effectively attract investors in addition to donors.
  • Working in close partnership with the Ethiopian government and Ministry of Agriculture, which helped EthioChicken market its products to rural customers.
  • Flexibility in its marketing model. In addition to focusing on economic benefits, it advertised the nutritional benefits of poultry, especially for women and children, making chicken more attractive for smallholder consumers.

  In addition, EthioChicken also noted a couple of trends: 

  • It found that smallholder farmers care a lot about value for money, and thus are willing to pay more for a high quality product.
  • Because of the limits of working in a developing country, EthioChicken had to take on more of the value chain operation - producing both chickens and chicken feed - than it might have in a different country. Companies operating in similar circumstances should be prepared to expand operations vertically.


Have you found that these are important factors to consider when working in smallholder markets? What are some of the lessons you've learned for commercializing a new product aimed at smallholder customers?

Andrew Bracken David Ellis Ethio Chicken

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Partnering for Innovation is finding that data based understanding of farmers' motivation and behavior helps gear commercial sales to suit the needs of their customer, smallholder farmers. A recent survey conducted by one of Partnering for Innovation’s partners in Mozambique reveals that understanding smallholder farmers' thinking and behavior can help drive technology and adoption, resulting in increasing their company's sales while opening pathways for farmers to make earlier decisions about their farming businesses by buying certified seeds early, when they have cash in hand from their recent production.

This recent survey was conducted in part to inform the company’s business with regards to the development of a sales management information system as well as a general understanding of stakeholder behaviors to increase the sale of improved seeds so that farmers could opt to buy seed early. Below are major findings from the survey:


  • Payment structure- Farmers may not be willing to pay additional cash for the improved seeds from their pocket or may not have the savings available. Partners' experiences in other countries suggests that giving farmers the option to receive partial payment for cash crop sales in the form of high-quality seed at the time of sale, increased adoption of the seed.


  • Timing- Linked closely to payment structure is the timing of seed sales. Marketing and sales of seeds is often focused on the planting season. This is months after the farmers have been paid for their crops and often when they have the least amount of disposable income. By moving up the selling season to the same time that farmers are receiving money the company did not even have to offer alternative payment options as the farmers had the cash to purchase seeds.


  • Cost-Benefit of seed: Improved seed significantly increases the cost of production, representing 15-25% of total value. This high cost tends to decrease adoption rates of seeds in favor of adopting lower-cost good agriculture practice measures such as efficient land preparation and planting as well as the use of inoculants. Mechanization and inoculants have fewer added costs and significant impact on yield. The company will use this as entry points with the farmer, paving the way for the adoption of improved seed in the future.


  • Sales point locations- Farmers must travel long distances to get the improved seed. By increasing the sales points to be closer to the farmers, there is a higher likelihood for them to buy the seeds.


  • Trusted seller- Farmers can be skeptical of improved seeds and if what they are buying can really be trusted. They do not want to spend their money on seeds that will not provide improved results.


Combining seed sales with other services such as mechanization is one strategy to increase seed sales. Should the company be able to offer reliable mechanization services that is another business line and could help to increase seed sales and could greatly be improved by supporting stakeholders in profiling their clients, identifying their location and creating a more efficient schedule.

What are other examples of how commercial companies have used social sciences to increase adoption or sales? Reply below or message Mark Sevier

Shocks like conflict and extreme weather have a disproportionate impact on smallholder farmers, especially women. Most smallholder farmers live harvest to harvest and don’t have a safety net to fall back on in case of events like drought. USAID and the larger development community have been increasing their investment in recent years in building farmers’ resilience to these shocks.


Such investments have been through programs that spread the availability of improved inputs like drought- and heat-tolerant seed varieties and irrigation technologies, and training farmers in good agricultural practices that increase crop diversification, reduce fertilizer and pesticide use, conserve water, and grow more on less land (“sustainable intensification”). Additionally, by increasingly focusing on agriculture as a business, development organizations are helping increase farmer incomes, enabling farmers to invest more in resilience-building activities and providing a financial cushion when shocks reduce or even prevent production.


As the private sector’s role in agricultural development increases so does its role in building farmer resilience. As providers of inputs and services, companies ensure that farmers have access to the products and services that enable farmers to prepare for and survive shocks. Private sector companies are also important drivers of innovation, developing and commercializing technologies that help build resilience. For example, better irrigation technology allows farmers to grow more with less water and legume inoculants reduce the need for nitrogen fertilizer by harnessing plants’ natural nitrogen fixation. Some companies also provide services like training and demo plot management that help farmers learn good agricultural practices that build resilience. And unlike most development programs, which usually only last for a fixed period of time, private companies are invested in building a long-term, sustainable market presence.


With the donor community increasingly focusing on resilience, companies interested in partnering with donors like USAID may want to consider how resilience is built into their business operations and how this can help build stronger partnerships.


How is your company helping build farmers’ ability to get through shocks like drought or flooding? How might your activities connect to USAID and other donor development goals for smallholder farmer resiliency?

Sudden drought, floods, and other extreme weather changes gravely affect the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. Weather fluctuations make vulnerabilities more difficult to plan for, let alone overcome. Unfortunately, these extreme weather variations also impact women more than men.*


International institutes and individual country governments are beginning to respond to this “asymmetrical” effect on women. For example, the Paris Agreement includes gender equality as a guiding principal, and forty countries have explicitly integrated gender into their nationally determined contributions (NDC) to the Paris Agreement. However, consider this fact: there are only 28 countries in the world that have equal land rights for women and men. This is in spite of research that shows women’s access to land is paramount to a nation’s food security.

Large-, medium-, and small-sized businesses are also contributing more and more to women’s equality in agriculture. They are recognizing the benefits women bring to their companies and to the social well-being of the communities where those companies operate. Below are three examples of companies that are explicitly focusing on women to find success in business and build progress towards social equality.

Before you read on, think of a few things your company is doing or could do better to explicitly integrate gender issues within your operations. What will you do to make it happen, and how can others help? Let us know in the comments section below!

  • Stewards Globe, a woman-owned company in Zambia, produces and sells certified seed varieties of groundnut, soybean, common bean, sunflower, and cow pea. In a country where the seed market is dominated by companies producing maize seed, Stewards Globe represents the first commercial supply of these food crop seeds that finally meets the growing demand among farmers. Stewards Globe uses an outgrower scheme – outsourcing production to smallholder farmers – and a marketing strategy that increases awareness of its brand through demonstration plots, field days, and promotional materials. It is working to have the majority of its outgrowers be women farmers. 


  • Solar Sister, also a women-owned company, operates in three countries - Uganda, Tanzania, and Nigeria. Its team of business development associates trains and advises women solar entrepreneurs. It also taps into the social network of the solar entrepreneurs to distribute solar energy solutions to the “last mile” of rural women.


  • Export Marketing Company Limited (EMCL) in Mozambique identified and selected 38 women entrepreneurs, training them on business management skills for marketing and sales of agriculture inputs and mechanization services. EMCL also equips the women entrepreneurs with technical expertise about the products and services, helping them to increase sales and thus income.

Importantly, the examples above are also creating community-level changes through business solutions. Smart business contributes to social and economic equality and stronger markets – tell us how your business is part of the solution!

* Read more here and check out more from the John's Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies Global Women in Leadership work!


What is striga weed?

Posted by community.manager Apr 10, 2017

Striga, commonly known as witchweed, is a parasitic plant that affects maize, East Africa's dominant agriculture crop. In Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, 1.4 million hectares of land are affected, causing as much as 80 percent crop loss. Such losses have catastrophic implications for the farmers that depend on growing maize because they often need to abandon their fields to the striga. With the African Agriculture Technology Foundation, a remedy is being commercialized: StrigAway. The video says it all:


StrigAway is an herbicide-coated maize seed that, when planted, reduces striga. It saves entire crops and incomes because it reduces farmers' risk of losing their business to the noxious weed. Commercializing it takes a mix of building demand, training farmers how to use the seed, packaging it for farmers to be able to afford, and demonstrating how it increases yields so that a farmer recoups the cost of the slightly more expensive seed. As Gospel Omanya says in the video below, "The math is clear because the yield brings the difference." What is that difference? With StrigAway seed, a farmer pays $20 to grow at least $200 of maize as compared to the conventional seed, for which $14 yields only $20 of profit.


Despite the fact that StrigAway brings such a clear benefit to farmers working in striga-prone areas of East Africa, it is not simple to promote it among farmers. A few lessons about commercializing seed that come from StrigAway include: 1) Packaging must clearly denote the seed's ability to knock out striga; 2) Agrodealers must be trained to market the product in terms of its properties to overcome striga; and 3) Most technologies, including seed, will need to build in climate-smart aspects in order for farmers to fully benefit, for example by bundling irrigation solutions.

The AgTech Team is always keeping up to date with interesting agriculture and technology-related resources and news. Below are some articles that we are reading and talking about. Have one you want to share? Simply post to Connect! or reply to this post below.


Measuring the impact of initiatives focused on smallholder farmers: Check out successful examples of tracking smallholder impact from the Grow Africa working group to help you better report and market how your company is beneficially impacting smallholder farmers.

Better Business. Better World.: If you aren’t familiar with the UN Sustainable Development Goals but you are working in emerging markets, this primer makes clear the connections between how businesses can profit while they contribute to the sustainable development goals.


Developing a Mobile Client Facing Interface: Musoni and Grameen Foundation are finding success in making loans profitable for farmers and the Musoni loan portfolio. Check out details about how to get inspired on ways for breaking into smallholder markets.


AgFunder News: This outlet always has great news about agriculture, technology, and investment. Check out their latest round-up of news from Latin America.


Global Accelerator Survey: Did you know that 70 percent of respondents to a recent GALI (Global Accelerator Learning Initiative) survey operate in emerging markets? To find an accelerator near you, or to better understand how an accelerator can help grow your business, check it out! While you are at it, consider applying for a SOCAP scholarship, where you meet entrepreneurs, funders, and businesses of all sorts who are making ‘doing good’ their business.

Last week, we examined how to read, understand, and respond to funding opportunities. In this final blog post on applying to funding opportunities, we explore how doing research and outreach can help your proposal succeed!

Research and outreach is a critical component of acquiring funding that should be done at every stage of the process. Research and outreach can help you identify future funding opportunities, build relationships with partners and donors, and strengthen your proposal.

While identifying funding opportunities, research your competitors and similar projects to see who they have acquired funding from in the past. Their donors can be potential sources of funding for your organization as well. You should also pay attention to trends in funding, but be careful not to go beyond the scope of your organization. If you notice that donors have a tendency to fund projects focusing on women farmers, than you may want to consider incorporating a stronger gender strategy into your organization in the long term.

Once you have identified a particular funding opportunity, research other successful projects and competitors that the donor has funded. You can even contact these projects or organizations with questions. Use these examples to identify what the strengths and weaknesses of the projects were, what parts of their structure the donor liked, and what the donor’s funding trends are. These insights can make your proposal more appealing to the donor.

You should use outreach to build a relationship with the donor by attending events, question and answer sessions, contacting the donor’s local office, and contacting the point of contact for funding proposals directly with questions. In addition to strengthening the relationship, you may also be able to acquire additional information. This networking should be an ongoing process, not just when a funding opportunity is released.

It is also important to make partnerships with other organizations early. If it is your first time seeking funding, it is especially valuable to make partnerships with organizations that have received funding in the past. For smaller business, these partnerships can also help solve problems of limited scope and capabilities.

Before you write the proposal, take field trips to the target country so you can meet with stakeholders and understand the unique context you will be working in. An important quality that donors look for is that your solution is tailored to meet the specific needs of the country and community you will be working with.

Finally, if you do not win a funding opportunity, you can still contact the donor to ask for connections or technical expertise. In many cases, the donor will refer you to other organizations or have experts on staff that can give you additional support. You should also apply multiple times to the same donor organization!

Now that you’ve finished our series on understanding funding opportunities, you can apply your new skills and find funding on the AgTechXChange!

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