TechnoServe’s approach to applying the Four A’s framework: a response to Acumen and Bain’s Growing Prosperity report


Simon Winter


Growing Prosperity: Developing Repeatable Models® to Scale the Adoption of Agricultural Innovations, the new report by Acumen and Bain & Company, produced with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is intended to help entrepreneurial companies, and others, get smart about scale and unlock the full potential of smallholder farmers.

In a series of blogs, to be published over the last few days, the views of investors, capacity builders and others on the opportunities outlined in the report will be presented. You can read the previous posts here>

It’s a tough world out there for smallholder farmers. In the nearly 50 years that TechnoServe has worked with these enterprising people in developing countries, we’ve seen firsthand how much grit, skill and ingenuity it takes to overcome the obstacles that prevent so many of them from earning a reliable income.

That’s why we were excited to advise on – and learn from – Acumen and Bain’s ground-breaking report on how to scale innovations that can truly improve the lives of smallholder farmers worldwide: Growing Prosperity: Developing Repeatable Models® to Scale the Adoption of Agricultural Innovations. It’s all too rare to find a thoughtful, deeply researched analysis that can also serve as a field manual, and we’re happy to have such a sharp addition to our toolkit.

At first glance, the Four A concepts that form the foundation of this analysis may appear straightforward. But in practice they present a multitude of complexities. As both a strategic adviser and on-the-ground implementer, TechnoServe grapples with these complexities on a daily basis.

Our approach starts, broadly, with understanding the market potential for small-scale producers (the advantage of the Four A’s), or the opportunities for the market to grow. Then we look at which critical changes are required for smallholder farmers to take advantage of those opportunities.

On the farmers’ side, this can be a combination of new inputs, practices or tools, specialized training, or reduced logistics and delivery costs, which includes the possibility of aggregating farmers’ demand for inputs to improve their access to a consistent supply. On the market side, it can include aggregation models for trading and storage purposes, such as local dairy co-ops that run chilling facilities, or market service centres for fresh fruit sales. Working out the model that offers the right mix of incentives to the farmers (the promise of more income, for instance) creates the potential for advantage.

Once market access is established, the key is ensuring that farmers are able to respond accordingly. Here, the pioneer firms can realize their own market opportunities with the smallholder farmers as customers (or suppliers) as they deliver innovative inputs, equipment and ways of accessing markets and finance.

To drive adoption of these innovations, questions of awareness, affordability and access come into play. Since this involves the challenging task of changing farmer behaviour, holistic support is critical: orientations to introduce the market opportunities, training in adult-based educational modes, demonstrations/role-modelling of success, peer-to-peer networks, support and encouragement, and advisory support to overcome challenges as they emerge.

Pioneer firms have a key role to play in driving adoption, and (to the extent they can build repeatable models) this can happen at larger scale. These firms also usually require a larger cast of actors across the relevant market systems to enable the requisite behaviour change, such as financial institutions and companies that can ensure improved inputs are available as and where they are needed, as well as providing the end markets for the farmers’ improved produce (detailed in section five of the report).

That’s where facilitating organizations like TechnoServe, specifically focused on building capacity and market systems, can make a difference. This wider mandate allows us to analyse incentives and obstacles for players across the value chain and – while remaining sensitive to local context – determine how these different groups can work together in a way that will improve prospects for smallholder farmers, communities and industries over the long term.

With this report by Acumen and Bain in hand, we feel better equipped to do so.

Register now for a webinar and discussion on Thursday, 29 January  at 10am EST with three of the authors of Growing Prosperity.

Simon Winter is senior vice president of development at TechnoServe.

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