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 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.