Highlights from Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation February 19 Webinar by Deborah Hamilton, Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation Knowledge Exchange Lead.

Leapfrog+Technology+Webinar+2014-02-19.jpgThroughout history, change has been gradual and linear, but with rapid advances in technology in the 20th Century, change is moving faster than ever. Businesses are leaping into big data, the Cloud, sensors, nanotechnology, biotechnology, solar power, aeroponics, 3-D printing, and even robotics and rushing to bring these technologies to emerging markets. The dominant example is Internet and cell phone technology (ICT), which has allowed developing economies to leapfrog over the laborious chore of wiring with landlines. However, other technologies are emerging and Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation is exploring the game changing new technologies in agriculture and how we can help them stick in developing countries.

  • What are some of the examples of successful leapfrog technologies in any field and how can we transfer the best of these experiences to agriculture?
  • What leapfrog technologies are being prototyped for agriculture and what could change as a result?
  • Where are their older technologies and practices that, if transferred to developing countries, could have leapfrog potential?


Thomas Campbell, Associate Director for Outreach, Research Associate Professor, Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science (ICTAS), Virginia Tech is a maven on “leapfrog” or “disruptive technologies”. In fact, his motto is “think disruptively”, and he recommends that we follow technology leaders on Twitter (e.g., @tomcam1) and LinkedIn, read constantly and outside of your field (e.g., Scientific American, trade magazines, etc.) connect the dots between disciplines, and write and present your own ideas at conferences and other events.

opp intl.jpgSome of the technologies that Campbell is tracking include energy harvesting aka Vortex-Induced Vibration, which is on-demand harvesting of clean, renewable energy from tides and rivers; geothermal energy applications for agriculture, including grain drying with low efficiency propane burners and energy efficient greenhouses. Finally, he cautions that when adapting disruptive technologies for smallholder farmers, remember that the approach must be holistic. Farmers want to see the technology’s direct value, and they will need training and other resources to help them adapt the technology.


Photo: Opportunity International

John Magnay is the Head of Agriculture for Opportunity International and brings more than 30 years of experience to his current work to bring financial opportunities to rural agriculture communities throughout Africa. Magnay is working on technologies that would allow rural farmers to access mobile money platforms, leapfrogging over brick and mortar banks. Opportunity International coordinates with all stakeholders in the value chain, which they believe is critical to the farmer’s success. Known as “The Rural Model”, this practice reduces risk for banks and microfinance institutes. They are also pilot testing the use of tablets to capture digital data, for account opening, and loan processing and an aggregated mobile money platform. In addition, Magnay underscored the importance of village-based extension, which “are vital and should be available to smallholders on a continuous basis”. 


Samir Ibrahim, Managing Director of SunCulture (K) Ltd is bringing solar-powered irrigation to Kenya. Ibrahim provided an overview of the opportunity: 83 percent of Kenyan arable land is unsuitable for rain-fed agriculture and requires irrigation, yet only four percent is currently under irrigation. SunCulture’s goal is to streamline a disconnected value chain for smallholder farmers, meaning that input suppliers, banks, soil /water analysis labs, irrigation system suppliers, etc. are not communicating consistently and effectively with smallholder farmers. Currently they are targeting farmers with more than five acres of land who grow fresh fruits and vegetables and have high water requirements. However, they are developing small irrigation kits for farmers for plots as small as 1/8th of a hectare. Making water available year round helps farmers extend the growing season and thereby their productivity and income.


Bob Rabatsky , Director of Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation moderated the session and asked the speakers about how they protect their intellectual property, especially in the “wild west” economies of the developing world. For Ibrahim, is about providing quality over quantity. Magnay adds that most of Opportunity International’s technology is open sources, and he believes that “strategy trumps privacy.”


Rabatsky also asked the speakers what technology they would invest $100,000 of their own money in?


ICT, drip irrigation, crop insurance, robotics, cloud computing—what would you choose?