February 7, 2014. Agriculture means business, and technologies can help solve farmer problems to increase their productivity and income. However, increasing farmers’ ability to access technologies is easier said than done, and the forgotten factor in technology scale-up is the business enabling environment in the agricultural sector. woman+with+mobile.jpg

Weaknesses in the business enabling environment – the laws, policies, regulations, and institutions- restrict both the development and distribution of agricultural technologies within countries and across borders. Market-distorting policies and weak institutions inhibit the growth of the agricultural sector in many developing countries. As a result, smallholders find everything from prohibitive cost to inefficient distribution standing between them and proven agricultural technologies. A more efficient enabling environment can improve economic growth, reduce poverty, and increase food security.

The USAID - Enabling Agricultural Trade (EAT) project’s goal is to shed light on how to navigate the policies, laws, regulations, and institutions that encourage certain types of market behavior. With this information, policymakers can work to change the environment to make life easier for farmers.


A soon-to-be published EAT policy brief will provide examples and best practices to lower technology costs for smallholders and encourage investment in agricultural technologies. The brief focuses on the distribution and utilization of agricultural technologies that can be supported by the public sector.Here’s a preview of the key lessons for scaling up technology.


The brief looks at three stages of bringing a technology to market, starting with


  1. Providing  public funds for basic research, leading to
  2. Using research to develop marketable technologies, and finally
  3. Marketing technology to smallholders.
At each stage, policymakers have the opportunity to create an enabling environment that promotes technology scaling. Here’s how they can do it:
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PRINCIPLE I: Improve agricultural R&D.
The private sector may not have the incentives to invest in basic research, given that it is typically classified as a public good. The public sector can bridge this gap. It’s important to remember that evenly publicly-funded research priorities should be aligned with the needs of the market.

PRINCIPLE 2: Create incentives for the private sector to take research from the lab to the marketplace.
Publicly-funded, basic research alone has limited commercial impact – further development is required to make practical agricultural technologies ready for use. The resulting technologies are a private good and subject to market pressures best handled by the private sector.


PRINCIPLE 3: Enact laws and regulations to make it easy for small farmers to adopt agricultural technologies.
Farmers, like all business people, want a return on their investment. By backing rural financial markets and market infrastructure, governments can help smallholder farmers maximize the value of new agricultural technologies and strengthen their adoption.


While bridging the gap between agricultural R&D and smallholder technology use is a major challenge, policymakers can overcome these challenges – from research, through development, to distribution – and help bridge the gap between agricultural research and farmer adoption. By following these principles, policymakers play a key role in taking technologies to scale.

UPDATE: You can find the full-length USAID-EAT Policy Brief here.
Written by Eric Firnhaber, the USAID-Enabling Agricultural Trade (EAT) Project