Thursday, 18 July 2013

Smallholders access to improved technology:Challenges and Opportunities

Goats loitering outside one of Equity Bank branches.

Whenever you pry in to the the world of agricultural publications, two major keywords stand out from the rest. Technology and smallholder farmers

Technology in this case being any creation/idea that makes life easier in a more efficient way. This could be low cost tech or non tech innovation with a potential for replication in other areas be it in the area of improved seeds variety,facilitating access to farm inputs,provision of better ways of storage and access to information among many others. Such if adopted by smallholder farmers have the potential of Increasing yields, improving labor productivity hence increasing agricultural productivity which in turn raises their incomes and subsequently boosts the economic growth of a country.

But this isn't the current scenario  in most developing countries.

Smallholder farmers happen to be the bulk of farming in developing countries. In Kenya for instance, they  take 75% of the total agricultural production with very few having access to improved technology. With a view to improving the situation through dialogue, Agrilinks sought to unveil the reasons behind this by featuring experts Milton Lore of  Kenya Feed the Future Innovation Engine, Bob Rabatsky of  Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation and Kristen Gendron of   USAID Development Innovation Ventures in a Twitter Chat dubbed "Smallholders Access to Improved Technology". 

Fostering discussions on Twitter under the guidance of selected questions, (See them Here), and the #AskAg , key players and agricultural enthusiasts were able to air their views as to what are the major reasons behind low tech adoption for smallholders in developing countries were. Among those stated include:
  • Lack of pre-investment education and subsequent training on product service agreements and product guarantees.
  • Lack of access to finances/capital for the smallholders to buy equipment and improved inputs.
  • Lack of after sales service especially where equipment sale to rural farmers is involved. Breakage/ malfunction of one part renders the whole equipment useless.
  • Unwillingness to invest in the technology as they lack beliefs on the importance of the new innovation.
  • Illiteracy especially where the technology isn't translated to languages the smallholder farmers can understand.
  • Cultural beliefs and values in certain communities might hinder technology adoption.
  • Lack of proper demonstration of the product use which in turn renders the product ineffective.
  • Limited number of agricultural extension workers to aid in technology adoption.
  • Environmental factors and poor infrastructure. Farmers are unwilling to invest in new technology if their produce has no hope of reaching the market.
  • Lack of participatory approaches between farmers and the developers of technology.
  • Uneven subsidies for farming inputs and government regulations inhibit adoption too.
  • Market failure while introducing these new technologies.

Nevertheless, not all is lost. Interested companies can assess the technology needs and size of the bottom of Pyramid agricultural markets by:
  • Ensuring the presence of on the ground partners who have a wide range of knowledge on both local crop science and institutional constraints.
  • Viewing the market with a local perspective. Foreign entities have a tendency to amplify the addressable market using a foreign definition of the need.
  • Engaging the grassroots of the farming communities in research and technology development for ease in technology adoption.
  • Presence of demonstration projects that allow smallholders to experiment firsthand with the technology and define the technology value for their communities.
  • Encourage iteration by investing in stages to test,adapt and scale new approaches based on prior evidence gathered. 
  • Understanding customer profiles and the agricultural value chains as composition of BoP markets differ across countries.
  • Taking note of intercultural sensitivity when introducing new technologies.

Despite these opportunities, companies are still unwilling to package and market these technologies to smallholder farmer with major reasons being:
  • Lack of market information on the needs of smallholder farmers that highlights their unmet demand.
  • Lack of willing partnerships to cover the problem of lack of access to finances.
  • Poor protection of intellectual property.
  • High costs involved as pertains to reaching smallholders be it in transportation, training or in the development of distribution channels hence projecting a low Return on Investment.
  • Conflicts and political instabilities in some areas.

When all is said and done, the situation is not all that bleak. Some ventures across the world are facilitating smallholders' access to improved technology. These include, but aren't limited to;

  1. Sygenta's  Kilimo Salama , a weather based insurance application
  2. Harvest Mark who are are using QR codes for traceability of produce and food.
  3. Freedom Fone who use interactive Voice Response and SMS to address illiteracy barriers
  4. Digital Green inexpensive video technology that helps farmers share innovations in India
  5. The Purdue ag Hermetic grain storage technology that increases small scale farmers capital with storage of grains during off season for sale during peak seasons .
  6. Promethean Power a thermal battery off-grid refrigeration at dairy cooperatives in India

Are you aware of other technological innovations aiding smallholders access to improved technology? Feel free to share in the comments section below.

For a complete list of the shared links during the chat,kindly visit

Also you can read through My Storify for a quick summary of the Tweet Chat discussion.

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