At a recent seminar and webcast hosted by the Office of Microenterprise and Private Sector Promotion at USAID on Scaling Feed the Future Innovations through Market Systems, Richard Kohl from the Center for large Scale Social Change presented findings from interviews with USAIDs recommendations and observations tracked closely with what we are learning at Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation (FTF-PI) through our technology commercialization grants and other activities, including a recent workshop for drip irrigation distributors in Africa.
Kohl led with three points:
- It's not about more USAIDs about more reach AND more impact, especially leveraging partnerships and external resources.
- It's not (only) about how many numbers USAID can reach directly (i.e., direct beneficiaries).
- It’s about reaching a critical mass or tipping point to trigger spontaneous commercial scaling and reach population scale with indirect beneficiaries.
He emphasized that with this is new approach for USAID. The focus should no longer be on individual projects because change doesn't happen in five-year increments. Supporting longer-term engagements yields better results. Most importantly, for scaling to be successful, the private sector must be the driver and the government should be in a supporting role.
Large numbers of smallholder farmers have been exposed to new technologies and some of these farmers have successfully adopted technology and have improved yields and incomes however it is also important to note that to be successful technology should come in packages; for example, fertilizer and production training included with sales of improved seeds.
- We are seeing significant multiplier effects of adoption by indirect beneficiaries. For example, the private sector “rule of 6” is in effect: for every one beneficiary/adopter, there are six indirect beneficiaries
- Input supply at the retail distribution is improving.
- Communities with lead farmers, village advisors, and to a lesser extent agrodealers are creating extension services. However, affordable extension is a persistent challenge.
What are the Challenges?
- The ability to move from subsistence to commercial farming depends on what resources are available.
- Scalable technologies involve packages with fertilizer, seeds, mechanization, pest management, etc. We need to get better at identifying what bundles are being proposed or implemented, and which parts of that bundle could be scaled.
- These packages require a much greater investment of capital and labor than single technologies leading to a greater need for credit and risk mitigation, affordable inputs (and output markets), and most importantly good extension.
- We need a greater focus on the business case for adopting new technologies as well as and annual cost-benefit analyses.
What's the Tipping Point?
Dictionary.com describes a "tipping point" the point as the point at which an issue, idea, product, etc., crosses a certain threshold and gains significant momentum, triggered by some minor factor or change. In order for agricultural technologies to reach scale, there need to be a tipping point. This leaves us with a dilemma and a challenge:
How can we change the project planning cycle to maintain consistent assistance over two or three project cycles? How can we hit the "tipping point" for game-changing agricultural technologies in developing countries?