3 Posts authored by: dhamilton

Cell Phone Ag.jpg 

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: 

  1. It's not about more USAIDs about more reach AND more impact, especially leveraging partnerships and external resources.
  2. It's not (only) about how many numbers USAID can reach directly (i.e., direct beneficiaries).
  3. 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.


What’s working?


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?

Let us know what you think. We're listening.Dr. Frasier Crane.jpg









Fintrac Model Field Arusha.JPG

Dr. Fipps, a Professor and Extension Agricultural Engineer at Texas A&M University, has mapped areas of Africa that could increase their year-round supply of water and found that there are large areas of Africa that have shallow surface water or deep aquifers that can support irrigation schemes. He says that using innovative approaches in water harvesting, from ponding to subsurface dams, etc.,  can help support improved agriculture through irrigation.


Innovative approaches would be particularly useful in areas that are traditionally dry for parts of the year and for other areas feeling the effects of climate change. One challenge is to tap into these water sources, and another is to teach the agriculture community to use this water efficiently. Not surprisingly sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest rate of irrigation usage, with only five percent of the land under some form of irrigation compared to more than 40 percent in Southeast Asia, for example. Of the many ways to irrigate a field, surface irrigation is least efficient, on average wasting about 50 percent of the water applied. Drip irrigation in contrast is 90 percent or higher. Challenges in promoting drip irrigation are many, including very poor or non-existent extension systems, lack of understanding or experience, and the high cost of water storage.


Here is a snapshot of Dr. Fipps’ recommendations:



  • Small landholder farming predominates
  • Drip irrigation is adaptable to most field sizes and configurations
  • Low-cost drip systems are available and in-use
  • Multiple studies conclude that increase use of irrigation will significantly increase food production and incomes
  • Wind and solar energy systems costs continue to decline




  • Farmers have little experience with drip irrigation
  • Weak Extension networks in much of Africa
  • Drip systems must be properly designed (pressure, flow, filtration)
  • Drip systems require routine maintenance and repair


Ensuring Long-term Success

Technical and design considerations:

  • Gravity systems (elevation of tank vs operating pressure requirements), volume of storage
  • Proper filtration
  • Clogging control for permanent drip systems
  • Irrigation water management and proper scheduling
  • System for quickly completing minor repairs
  • Creative ways are needed for “economics of scale”
  • Affordable financing options for farmers
  • Notch systems for the long haul, which requires and training requires more skill to operate.


Dr. Fipps presented at the 2014 Partnering for Innovation AgLab in Arusha, Tanzania. For background and more information from the AgLab, click here.

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