Module 14: Innovations in Agriculture

Case Study 1: Agricultural Innovations in the Millennium Villages Project(1)

The Millennium Villages Project is working to reverse the decline in soil fertility with subsidized fertilizers. Millennium Villages is also providing improved crop varieties appropriate for the location, empowering agricultural agents, and establishing grain storage facilities. Initially, there was a high cost for fertilizers and limited access to them. Improved crop varieties were used by fewer than 10% of farmers. Post-harvest losses were as high as 50% due to pests and improper storage, resulting in lower net crop yields.

The agriculture strategy in the Millennium Villages is to increase and sustain crop production using subsidized mineral fertilizers and improved seeds. The villages also use improved crop germplasm, farmer training by empowered extension services, organic inputs, agroforestry, cover crops, compost, manures, small-scale water management, soil conservation, storage and post-harvest management. Farm diversification for income generation was also implemented through cash crops, backed by market studies, farmer producer groups, business training, agro-processing, access to loads and savings, and links to markets and agro-input dealers. Millennium Villages also provides nutritious crops in farms and schools, food preparation and preservation, school meals, safety nets for vulnerable groups and climate shocks, as well as crop insurance and food-for-work cash transfers.

In Mwandama, Malawi, raised cribs were created for drying their maize cobs. In Sauri, Kenya, the farmers were trained in safe methods of dusting maize grain with pesticide to reduce attacks by the large grain borer. Croplands were subsidized in many cases. Farmers were encouraged to partially repay these inputs through in-kind payment to the school meals programs or to community grain banks. Farmers were also trained in early planting, plant spacing, seed and fertilizer placement, harvest and storage methods, and small-scale water management. Food storage options also provide farmers with the option to sell crops several months after harvest when prices can be twice as high compared to immediately after harvest.

In Bonsaaso, Ghana, cocoa production was low because plantations were old and neglected, and the links to markets were poor. The productivity of farmers was directly impacted by training farmers in agronomic practices and by providing links to markets. There was a significant increase in the production of food for consumption at home and for sale. Diversifying crops increased their nutritional value, and education programs were implemented on nutrition and food preparation. Loans and savings were essential for irrigation, agroprocessing, and equipment.

Case Study 2: Guatemala’s Farmer-to-Farmer Movement(2)

A Green Revolution in Guatemala dating back to the 1940s-1970s appeared to be the answer to hunger in Guatemala with farmers being able to have better-looking crops despite shorter working hours. However, these practices took a heavy toll on the land, leaving 75% of it severely degraded. The soils were less productive and more prone to erosion. Then, a new movement took place. Non-profits like World Neighbors began helping communities mobilize and organize themselves around sustainable production. These nonprofits worked with community leaders, or promotores, to implement collaborative research on practices using the promotores’ own land.

Non-profits provided resources and support for the promotores to share these techniques. Promotores created new promotores by passing on their agricultural methods to other members of the community. A network was created around sustainable practices and land conservation. Degraded lands were repaired, and yields increased significantly. However, the Guatemalan Civil War from 1960-1996 caused this movement to disperse; but it is now re-emerging with promise for the future of sustainable agriculture.

Farmers today face challenges since they use chemical fertilizers with large heavy metal content, pesticides that are often internationally banned, and tillage and crop residue burning. Farmers are aware of the damaging effects of these chemicals, but often do not know about alternative solutions. There is currently a lack of support for farmers in Guatemala, with only 17 government farmer consultants for its one million corn farmers. It has been reported that much of the advice offered by these government officials is influenced by the chemical companies who are affiliated with the government. In an effort to combat these challenges and revive the agricultural movement, Semilla Nueva (New Seed) was created. This organization is a non-profit focused on sustainable agriculture, and the goal is to revive the agricultural movement by empowering promotores to mobilize the communities and promote sustainable growth. By working within just a few communities, Semilla Nueva will ultimately be able to reach many farming families through a community network. The promotores system is an effective way to build farming communities, as well as to share practices and knowledge among farmers. By harnessing the power of the promotores, Semilla Nueva is enabling Guatemalan farmers to work towards sustainable farming practices that will benefit their communities now and into the future.

Case Study 3: The Benefits of Organic Cotton in South India(3)

In Andhra Pradesh, India, a report by Greenpeace has shown that organic cotton is more economically profitable than genetically-engineered cotton. Farmers in this area mainly rely on organic farming techniques, but some use genetically engineered cotton seeds (Bt cotton) from the company Monsanto have recently found their way into this region. The Greenpeace study showed that organic cotton is significantly more profitable for small farmers than growing its genetically-modfied counterpart, Bt cotton. After factoring in the prices of seeds, pesticides, fertilizers, and interest on the loans required to purchase the new seed varities, the cost of cultivating Bt cotton is approximately twice as expensive as growing organic cotton. This, of course, completely forgoes the environmental damage that the cultivation of genetically-modified cotton varieties entails, Bt cotton cultivation alone requires the use of over 26 different pesticides on their crops.

Interestingly, organic cotton actually shows greater resistance to pests than genetically-modified varieties. Therefore, the use of pesticides is actually quite needless and excessively harmful to the environment. The results from this study can be applied to other farming communities worldwide.

Case Study 4: One Acre Fund(4)

One Acre Fund is a nonprofit organization that helps East African farmers to sustainably grow food to combat hunger. The organization uses a "market bundle" approach to tackle the hunger crisis faced by East Africa. This market-based approach consists of several components. The first is to empower local groups of farmers by using existing community groups especially targeted towards female farmers. These groups allow farmers to work together and to learn about existing markets in which they can sell their crops. The second aspect is agricultural education provided by the One Acre field officer. The field officer takes the latest practices from agronomist academia and translates the research into simple and culturally-appropriate lessons. The third component is environmentally-sensitive planting materials and fertilizers. Fertilizers that are provided by the organization are high in nutrients, which is a necessity for the soil which lacks nutrition. The fourth component is the provision of a direct connection to local harvest markets, which is accomplished by One Acre acting as a bulk-selling agent on behalf of the smaller farmers. This allows the farmers to recieve much higher prices for their goods than if they were to sell them individually in the village market. The fifth component of One Acre's approach is the creation of crop insurance that comnpensates farmers for their financial losses in the event of a significant drought or disease. This “market bundle” approach provides an effective solution to poverty for farmers who often enter the program with no capital. The One Acre Fund model is concentrated on one-acre smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa. A comprehensive market system, complete with support, agricultural education, and a basic insurance designed specifically to protect farmers from crop failure makes it possible for impoverished rural farmers to generate a permanent and sustainable income. One Acre Fund currently operates in 6 districts across Kenya and Rwanda.

Case Study 5: Acumen Fund Agriculture Portfolios(5)

The Acumen Fund has invested in agriculture enterprises in order to improve farmer access to better agricultural inputs and equipment.

Global Easy Water Products (GEWP): An Affordable Drip Irrigation for Small-Scale Farmers

Roughly 100 million smallholder farmers in India live on less than a $1 a day, and 500 million are part of small farmer families. Modern irrigation technologies cater mainly to large farming communities of four hectares or larger. This is not an affordable solution for small farms. In India, the amount of water available for agricultural purposes is quickly declining, and small farms are disproportionately affected by these shortages.

GEWP utilizes the market by relying on existing small-scale manufacturers and a network of private local dealers to reach its target customers in rural India. GEWP’s products have been shown to raise the income of its customers by an average of $400/year. This is done through the conservation of water and energy, as well as increased crop yields. In 2003, Acumen Fund invested in GEWP’s parent organization, International Development Enterprises (IDEI). GEWP has supplied 30,000 small farms with drip irrigation since Acumen invested in 2008, and the program is expected to reach 285,000 additional farmers in the next 4 years, representing 1.4 million individuals impacted.

Jassar Farms: Improving Livestock Productivity in Pakistan

Jassar Farms (JFPL) is developing affordable, high-quality methods for breeding livestock in Pakistan. Within the livestock sector, milk is the largest and the single most important commodity. In Pakistan, over 75% of livestock owners are poor farmers owning less than four cows. Additionally, a majority of poor small dairy farmers face the challenge of low milk productivity in cows. However, it takes six Pakistani cows to produce as much milk as one cow in the U.S. or Europe. If livestock productivity were increased, the resulting increase in milk yield would be substantial. Hindrance of better milk productivity is due to a poor breed of cows, poor farm management, and the use of low-quality feed.

Breed improvement in cows can be achieved through artificial insemination using quality bull semen. Small farmers in Pakistan have not able to access this because prices are too high. JFPL aims to establish an affordable and top quality local semen production facility for impoverished Pakistani dairy farmers. The use of low-cost, high-quality artificial insemination would enable small farmers to increase lifestocks' milk production over time, leading to increased incomes for farming families.

Micro- Drip: Affordable Drip Irrigation For Farmers in Southern Pakistan

In Pakistan’s Tharparkar desert in Sindh Province, 80% of the region’s farmers live on less than $1 a day. Poverty is directly related to access to water, droughts, and unpredictable precipitation patterns. Lack of access to water forces farmers to find alternate sources of income and leads to increased rural-urban migration. This constant uprooting and dislocation carries negative economic and social impacts.

Thardeep set up Micro- Drip, a for-profit drip irrigation company that acquires drip systems from India, and then markets systems to poor farmers in the water-scarce regions in Pakistan. The drip irrigation system delivers water directly to the spot where the crop is planted, maximizing plant growth and ensuring major input cost and water savings. Thardeep and Acumen Fund partnered to enable the production of affordable and highly-efficient micro-drip irrigation technologies from Global Easy Water Products. The distribution and use of Micro Drip’s system will allow farmers to become more economically secure and reduce dependence on rain-fed farming. Year-round farming, which is made possible by irrigation, means that farmers do not have to uproot their families and migrate to cities during the dry season.

Western Seed: Improving Productivity of Farmers in East Africa

A large %age of Kenyan farmers hold plots of less than 2 hectares of land. Maize is a staple crop, serving as a primary source of food and accounting for 14% income for rural households. The use of inefficient technology, however, is leading to small and irregular crop yields for smallholder farmers. Western Seed Company Limited (Western Seed) has invested heavily in crop research to produce hybrid seeds which provide more than double the yield of existing farm-saved seeds.

Acumen Fund’s investment aims to expand Western Seed's production capacity, which will increase the supply of available hybrid varieties. The use of Western Seed’s hybrid varieties will allow farms to double crop yields and increase income from maize crop sales. Western Seed will also pioneer a Direct Access Sales program to sell the hybrid varieties to rural farmers in Kenya where most farms use low-yield seeds for what is primarily sustenance farming.

Case Study 5: The Need For Better Innovation in Agriculture(6)

According to an article by Andy Hall, a researcher at UNU-MERIT and Susanna Thorp, director of WRENmedia based in the UK, “agriculture needs better innovation, not technology.” With the unprecedented growth in technology, it is believed that rural farming techniques should be improving accordingly. However, rural farmers’ skills and resources are often most influenced by their networks and opportunities to exchange ideas. Thus, pilot projects in Nigeria and India have been created to test this idea. The projects focus on the Fodder Innovation Project (FIP), which works to strengthen networks between farmers and to change exisiting working practices.

While the project is still in its early stages, many developments have been made. The project has mapped the links between those involved with the raising, selling, and distribution of livestock and subsequently have established a committee to talk about collective action that can be taken to improve outcomes for livestock producers. In India, FIP’s partner began consulting livestock-related specialists to see how they could work together. Representatives from veterinary services and dairies from both the public and private sectors were invited to 'cattle health camps’ in villages , which facilitated collaboration amongst the different parties. In Nigeria, FIP has encouraged research into the surveillance of livestock disease that has resulted in improvements in the timely reporting of animal disease outbreaks. Experience has demonstrated that increasing agricultural innovation requires having an effective network that involves locals who can encourage interest and interaction from community members, while also involving government organizations, research institutes, and private sectors.

Case Study 6: Involving Farmers in Research and Development(7)

An article by King et al. evaluates agricultural innovation and describes the adoption of a nitrogen testing innovation. Focus groups and a mail survey provided feedback about factors, variables, and technology transfer strategies associated with the adoption of this innovation. Farmers indicated that economic factors and information sources strongly impacted their decision to use the technology. Involving farmers in the research, development, and introduction of this technology may have improved the uptake of the education program. Traditionally, an approach known as the ‘Transfer of Technology’ has been adopted, a process where researchers develop the innovation, change agents promote it's use, and farmers thereby either adopt or reject the innovation.

Participatory assistance is a farmer/farm-centered process that seeks to improve economic and environmental factors that may influence the behavior of researchers, change agents, and farmers during the research development process. It seeks to determine the technical knowledge necessary for an innovation's use and adoption. The program increases farmers' role in the research and innovation process, which enables them to share their perceptions while also gaining insights into current agricultural innovations. Change agents also gain a better understanding of the farmers' needs, and they become more sensitive to the innovation’s role and uses. Farmer involvement in the development of agricultural technologies ensures better promotion of an innovation’s adoption.

Case Study 7: IDEI Rural Irrigation Systems(8)

IDEI is an Indian nonprofit organization that works in the development of small scale irrigation and the rural mass marketing of simple, affordable, appropriate and environmentally sustainable technologies for small farmers. IDEI uses donor funds to create demand for affordable technologies, and to develop a supply chain for these technologies. IDEI operates in selected districts and currently works in 15 states throughout India.

IDEI has developed a pedal pump for areas with shallow water. The device is operated manually and has been adopted by almost 750,000 farmers in Eastern India, in part due to the fact that women are able to easily use the machine and contribute to the farming labor. IDEI has also developed drip irrigation technology for semi-arid areas. Consumers attest that the system has been a great investment and is effective in conserving water, especially in times of drought, and enhances crop growth in. This allows farmers to increase their incomes. Operating with the support of various stakeholders, IDEI focuses on enhancing participation of the rural poor in the market.

Case Study 8: KickStart(9)

KickStart’s mission is to get people out of poverty quickly, cost-effectively, and sustainably. They identify opportunities and businesses that will be profitable to the people in their context and place. They design tools that will make these projects possible, establish a supply chain, and evaluate how they can best produce these products in order to offer them at an affordable cost to poor farmers.

Innovative products include the Super MoneyMaker Pressure Pump that can push water uphill; the MoneyMaker Hip Pump that is a lower cost and lightweight portable pump able to irrigate an acre or more; the Stabilized Soil Block Press that can produce 500 building blocks a day, compacting a coil/cement mixture under high mechanical pressure; and the Cooking Oil Press, an oilseed press that works well for small-scale sunflower oil pressing in East Africa.

KickStart measures its successes in a unique and effective way. Following the purchase of a product, the organization send teams of two to follow up with customers. The team assesses impact after one month, eighteen months, and then three years after purchasing products. This is a challenging process, since farmers often do not have a set address, and they frequently live miles away from any town. After connecting with the farming family, the team builds a report, asking what they have grown. How much land do they cultivate? What convinced them to buy the product? Asking questions in an accurate and honest way enables KickStart to collect valuable information about the people they are serving and enables them to further improve their products according to customers' feedback.

Case Study 9: What TV Can Do for Rice Farmers(10)

Pamphlets and complicated educational tools are often ineffective media for communicating global health issues, knowledge, and techniques. The medium of film, however, is an incredibly effective tool for delivering information to the indigenous populations of developing countries. 80% of the world’s rice is grown by smallholder farmers who are illiterate, though they have extensive knowledge about valuable techniques in land cultivation, knowledge of the local lands, and growth processes.

In order to connect farmers with one another, enabling networking and the exchange of ideas, the African Rice Center has adopted a simple solution of farmer-to-farmer videos. The AfricaRice films were created as a joint effort between researchers, farmers and producers, and have been an effective means of exchanging various agricultural techniques amongst farmers. Bangladeshi farmers have benefitted from the videos of farmers in Benin, which depict ways of improve rice crop yields through parboiling. Farmers in Mali have gained knowledge from those in Bangladesh, as they learned about seed-drying, preservation, and soil fertility management.

The films have been translated into over 30 languages, and AfricaRice Filmers has partnered with over 300 radio stations and 500 organizations. A total of 130,000 farmers have been involved in the production and screening of the videos. In Central Benin, “women who viewed the films, as opposed to those who sat through traditional training efforts, were more likely to apply learned material from the lesson”. 95% of women who watched the AfricaRice videos started drying rice on tarps and removing their shoes before stirring. This unique approach to facilitating communication amongst farmers is unique and can be applied to many other rural farming communities across the world.

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(1) “Harvests of Development in Rural Africa: The Millennium Villages After Three Years.” (2003). Accessed 1 July 2010.

(2) Bornstein, J. “Can Guatemala’s Farmer-to-Farmer Movement Rise Again?” (11 June 2010). Accessed 11 July 2010.

(3) Parsons, S. “Report Shows Organic Cotton More Profitable Than GE Cotton Farming.” (15 June 2010). Accessed 10 July 2010.

(4) “One Acre Fund.” (2010). Accessed 10 July 2010.

(5)  “Acumen Fund: Agriculture Portfolio.” (2010). Accessed 10 July 2010.

(6) Hall, A. and Thorp, S. “Agriculture needs better innovation, not technology.” (16 September 2009). Accessed 10 July 2010.

(7) King, R.N. and Rollins, T.J. “An Evaluation of an Agricultural Innovation: Justification for Participatory Assistance.”  Journal of Extension. (August 1999). 37:4 Accessed 8 July 2010.

(8) “IDEI- International Development Enterprises, India.” Accessed 12 July 2010.

(9) “KickStart.” Accessed 12 July 2010.

(10) Chen, Te-Ping. “What TV Can Do For Rice Farmers.”  (16 June 2010). Accessed 12 July 2010.