by Jorge Rojas-Ruiz, Humanitas Global
Each month Agrilinks — an online platform for agriculture specialists and practitioners to access current information and resources on important agriculture and food security related topics and issues — hosts an Ag Sector Council Webinar to offer a dynamic, collaborative learning environment. October’s Ag Sector webinar was on Scaling Agricultural Technologies Through Public-Private Partnerships.
The webinar brought together three experts; Bob Rabatsky from Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, Mike Gavin from PortaScience, Inc. and Sara Boettiger from Syngenta Foundation/UC Berkeley to discuss scaling models and applications. More specifically, the presenters discussed how donors, implementing organizations, developing country partners and the private sector are exploring new models to scale agricultural technology innovations through public-private partnerships to reach a greater extent of farmers and entrepreneurs.
Bob Rabatsky led off the webinar discussing how the Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation Program helps increase smallholder’s access to technologies through four commercialization models; distribution, acquisition, aggregation and accelerator. These four models have different commercialization components, such as establishing or buying into a commercial chain, working through an established commercial network, or building connections between technologies, farmers and investors. For example, he discussed how Driptech, an international water technologies company based in Silicon Valley, is able to distribute its affordable high-quality irrigation system to over 600 million smallholders in the Indian market. This would not be possible without the company’s partnership with two major established distributors (Champion Agro and the Global Green Company) and a network of 250 independent dealers who are actively involved in reaching smallholder farmers in every corner of the country.
Mike Gavin followed and discussed how PortaScience, Inc. is scaling its inexpensive and easy-to-use udder infection detection dipstick technology called UdderCheck to dairy farmers in Rwanda. UdderCheck when dipped into fresh milk detects the Lactate Dehydroganase (LDH) enzyme which is present when cells are damaged due to infection. With economic losses in Rwanda ranging in about $3.5 million per year due to this infection, early and low-cost detection of udder infection is critical for the viability of the dairy industry. PortaScience, Inc. has partnered with African Breeders Services Total Cattle Management Limited (ABS TCM LTD) to manage the supply of UdderCheck at the local level in order to substantially increase productivity and grow family incomes.
Sara Boettiger, lead of a study looking at practical issues in scaling agricultural technologies in rural markets for adoption by poor households, discussed the major themes of the project and described the processes that might improve the ability to plan for scaling agricultural technologies. Boettiger stated that successful scale has to be driven by an understanding of farmer’s decision-making such as the risks they face, their return on investment and availability of product diversity among others. Moreover, she argued that we ought to strive for sustainability over time, plan for scale that is sustainable in the long-run in order for it to supersede the availability of grants or subsidies.
Dr. Boettiger made the case for the importance of private sector involvement in scaling. The private sector has useful and unique capacities that the public sector does not have access to, such as technological innovation that enables scale, a more efficient real-time measurement to improve operations and an effective mechanism to connect farmers to markets. Additionally, scaling strategies can be informed by thinking through specific risks and returns, and that is a way public-private partnerships will successfully deliver results over time. Sara Boettiger noted that there is no assumption that the public sector will somehow “hand off” to the private sector. There will always be crops, varieties and populations not served by the private sector. The public sector’s role in scaling changes with public-private partnerships, but its responsibility for stewardship of the underserved does not.
This month’s webinar was an excellent opportunity to discuss and learn effective ways in which a collaborative environment with the private sector for agricultural technology innovations yields positive results for scaling that impact the lives of smallholder farmers and entrepreneurs from all around the globe.
For more information on this and upcoming webinars visit the events section on the Agrilinks website and follow the conversation on Twitter using #AgEvents.