October 16th 2014 is World Food Day, and in line with this years International Year of Family Farming, the theme of this World Food Day is “Family Farming: Feeding the world, caring for the earth” aiming to raise the profile of family farming and smallholder farmers. Across Africa, smallholders account for 80% of Africa’s farmland and produce 80% of the food in Asia and Sub Saharan Africa. However due to a lack of suitable infrastructure, access to inputs, technology and storage, the majority of smallholders farmers are not well connected to markets.
After a warm welcome and opening remarks from our very own Katrin Glatzel, and introductions from H.E. Ambassador Neil Briscoe, the UK Permanent Representative to the Rome-based Agencies the panellists shared some of their experiences, successes and challenges from their diverse fields of work.
We heard first from Sharada Keats from the Overseas Development Institute as she provided a comprehensive overview of the key findings and recommendations of the 2013 Leaping & Learning report, sharing that there is no silver bullet for scaling up. Attempts to scale up often do not reach the poorest and most vulnerable and social safety nets must be put in place to ensure that those most in need are adequately supported during the uptake of the project. Thom Sprenger from HarvestPlus supported that reaching the farmers and consumers most affected by micronutrient deficiencies is a barrier to scaling up and that there is a need to mitigate risks associated with the adoption of a new crop – through credit, insurance, input incentives, and market connections.
Whilst working with Acumen on a forthcoming report: Growing Prosperity , Chris Mitchell from Bain & Company interviewed over 320 farmers across 4 countries to find out how to successfully drive the adoption of agricultural innovations, finding that the biggest driver of product uptake is the perceived advantage provided to the smallholder farmer. For example, more than 60% of farmers surveyed said they tried a new product or service because it would increase their wealth.
Alex Simuyandi from AgDevCo shared some lessons learnt, including that the varying level of commitment from investees and smallholder farmers varies and that even in the ‘best case’ scenario, there are set-up costs that may not be recoverable. He did however give Rungwe Avocado Company (RAC) as a good illustration of a successful project supported by AgDevCo but concluded that overall a lack of expertise, skill and knowledge on how to structure commercially viable smallholder programs is a barrier to scaling-up.
Stephanie Hanson from the One Acre Fund (OAF) stated that by providing all pieces of the puzzle (distribution, finance, training, and market facilitation) OAF not only provides farmers with the tools they need to increase their yields and incomes, but also shows them how to use them in order to maximise their returns and supports them in accessing markets with their product. She stated that it is the combination of these factors that makes it possible for ultra-poor farmers to begin a path out of poverty and for projects to be successful and expand.
While our panellists approach the question of scaling up from very different angels and see the factors that contribute to the success and failure through different lenses, the discussion raised some crosscutting key issues that need to be highlighted and addressed in order for successful pilot projects to be scaled up more widely. First – there is no one size fits all approach to scaling up, but through knowledge sharing, including the sharing of failures, projects can learn from each other’s’ mistakes and adapt the approaches more rapidly for the local context they are working in. Donors are particularly well placed to encourage learning and disseminate lessons. Second – the lack of expertise, skill and knowledge on how to structure commercially viable smallholder programs is a key barrier to the successful scaling up of projects and connecting smallholder farmers to markets. Finally – if successful cases are to be successfully scaled up to increase their impact and reach, then a variety of processes and models need to be considered. As the Leaping & Learning report states, scaling up does not lie in a particular and specific arrangement: a particular form of contracting, or an ideal agricultural cooperative.
Governments, donors, civil society and the private sector all have a key role to play to facilitate the scaling up of successful projects, but more needs to be done to encourage sharing of information and adaption to the lessons learnt.
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