Approximately 870 million people in the world remain hungry. Moreover, 98 percent of them live in developing countries. The world’s population is projected to exceed nine billion by 2050, requiring at least a 60 percent increase in global food production. Under the aegis of Feed The Future, the US government’s global hunger and food security initiative, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) created a new program called Feed the Feed The Future: Parterning For Innovation and selected Fintrac, a woman owned and US-based consulting company that develops agricultural solutions to end hunger and poverty, to implement the program. Partnering for Innovation was launched in the fall of 2012 and will make approximately $50 million in grants to businesses, research institutes, universities, and other organizations by 2017. The program specifically looks for proven technologies that can be commercialized into new markets with a goal of helping smallholder farmers, especially women – who make up 43 percent of agricultural labor in developing countries – increase their efficiency and profitability in a commercially sustainable way. “Our grants program helps create incentives for companies by reducing the risk of entering into a new market,” said Brenna McKay, Grants Program Director for Feed the Future: Partnering for Innovation.
Partnering for Innovation funds technology grants through a process of two requests for concept papers a year, called “Expressions of Interest.” The program is currently accepting Expressions of Interest though July 31. Partnering for Innovation funds pilot testing and demonstration of proven technologies in new markets through one-year grants, as well as larger multi-year grants to bring a technology that has proven promising in a market to commercial scale.
Examples of technologies targeted include:
• New seed varieties
• Biological pest management products
• Animal genetics and vaccines
• Drip irrigation and water harvesting systems
• Production and postharvest mechanization
• Postharvest and value-added technologies
• Internet and cell phone technology
In addition to grantmaking, Partnering for Innovation is developing an online presence to share models and effective examples of agriculture technology innovations. Some examples
highlighted to date include:
John Deere started a tractor-equipment promotion program in Zambia in 2010 for maize farmers as a way to boost the output for smallholder farmers. Deere provided selected farmers with three-year loans to purchase tractors and equipment and gave them extensive training in how to provide services to other farmers. Of the 18 original participants, two have repaid their loans early and the remaining 16 are on schedule to pay off their loans. An unexpected outcome from this program has been more than a doubling of tractor units sold in the country outside of the program itself.
Blue Skies Holdings, Ltd., a fresh fruit processing and exporting company located in Ghana, is an outgrower scheme that has several unique features including: (1) locating its processing facilities close to its producers; (2) creating relationships with its outgrower farmers built providing reliable technical assistance and a market instead of producer contracts; (3) paying farmers within 14 days of receiving the product; and (4) monitoring and continually improving agronomic practices through training.Blue Skies employs 1,600 workers in its processing facility and works with several hundred smallholder farmers as commercial producers. It runs a state-of-the-art processing facility where hundreds of local employees clean, cut, process, and package fruit to meet the strict retail standards of the European Union (EU). The processing facility sources fruit from Ghana as well as from nine other West African countries to fill off-season production gaps and keep the plant running at capacity year round. An information and communications technologies system tracks seasonal planting, fertilization, pest management, and harvesting schedules. It also manages transport, airfreight, and departure and arrival schedules with its customers. “We didn’t start Blue Skies to be philanthropists. We give people work and pay them fairly,” said the founder of Blue Skies, Anthony Pile. The company accounted for more than 25 percent of Ghana pineapple exports in 2012. Blue Skies employs more than 2,000 seasonal workers, its management team, including the plant general manager, is 40 percent female, and on average Blue Skies’ smallholders earn the highest returns per hectare in Ghana.
Examples of Partnering for Innovation’s early grants that have been awarded in the past three months include:
Supporting Purdue University to introduce its low-cost grain storage bag (known as“PICS” or The Purdue Improved Crops Storage) in Rwanda to improve smallholder storage practices and reduce postharvest storage losses. Purdue, which has successfully brought its hermetically sealed plastic bags to 10 countries in West Africa for cowpea storage, under this grant will work with Kigali-based EcoPlastics—a commercial producer, distributor, and recycler of plastic products—to provide production and marketing capacity-building services for EcoPlastics to introduce the PICS bags for new crops such as maize and bean.
Another grant supports Driptech, a US company with offices in Pune, India. Driptech produces affordable, high-quality irrigation systems designed for smallholder farmers. The company distributes its products through local input agriculture supply shops, commercial exporters, and nongovernmental organizations. Founded in 2010, Driptech’s innovations include a process to produce low-cost plastic tape that delivers uniform water flow using a patented laser hole-punching process, and an easy-to-install “dripkit in a box” that can be installed in as little as three hours. This system is specifically designed with the smallholder farmer in mind. Driptech has begun working with two distributors, Champion Agro and The Global Green Company, plus a network of 250 independent dealers to begin to reach some of the estimated 600 million smallholders in the Indian market. “Ninety percent of the world’s farmers are small plot, meaning they work on five acres or less. Drip irrigation, which already existed, is the best solution, but everything on the market was too expensive,” said Driptech founder Peter Frykman in a recent article in Forbes Magazine. “In designing for emerging markets, you have to be excruciatingly sparse,” he added. Thus, Driptech’s mantra is “radical affordability.”
Seventy percent of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa, and Partnering for Innovation is funding the World Cocoa Foundation and its partners (including the Grameen Foundation and mobile phone company Orange) to provide farmers with the know how they need to increase their yields, quality, and income. In Cote d’Ivoire, a pilot for the new CocoaLink+ mobile platform will enable lead farmers called community knowledge workers to provide their neighbors with up-to-date agronomic information on pest and disease control, purchasing and using inputs, planting, postharvest handling, and other practices that improve yields and quality. CocoaLink+ goes beyond SMS mobile extension systems by allowing for multimedia access for demonstrations of plant care, geographically specific guidance on procuring quality inputs, access to pest management services, and tracking of farmer productivity from season to season. In addition to local delivery of extension information, cocoa farmers who subscribe to CocoaLink+ will receive and share practical information with industry experts via SMS text and voice messages in local languages.
• Working with PortaScience, Inc. to improve milk productivity and quality for smallholder dairy farmers in Rwanda with an inexpensive and easy-to-use udder infection detection technology called UdderCheck™. The dipstick allows farmers to more easily and inexpensively detect mastitis infection early on and reduces the extreme losses in milk that result from late-stage infection. When dipped into fresh milk, UdderCheck detects an enzyme, Lactate Dehydrogenase (LDH), which is present when cells are damaged due to infection. In two minutes, the strip, which costs less than $1, will change colors to indicate moderate, high, and very high levels of LDH infection. In Rwanda, it is estimated that mastitis losses amount to more than $400 per cow per year, amounting to a total annual economic loss to the country of $3.5 million. With an increased number of smallholders owning dairy cows, early low-cost detection of udder infection is critical to the viability of the dairy industry.
According to Partnering for Innovation’s Director, Bob Rabatsky, “There have been many changes in agriculture in the past two decades, and in the next two decades Africa is going to be a good place to invest in agriculture. I have no doubt it is the sleeping giant.” Partnering for Innovation aims to help those who offer the base of the pyramid market with financing and other assistance to jumpstart their agriculture technology sales. For more information on Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation,
Written By Deborah B. Hamilton, Communications and Knowledge Management Lead, Feed the Future: Partnering for Innovation
All Photos by Fintrac, Inc.