Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Selecting sites to make science work, some thoughts from Bihar (India)

One of my jobs at ILRI is to support the site selection for our Livestock and Fish program. Some of you might think, this is an easy task, as one just need to take care that we take some different agro-ecological zones into account. However, science has changed over the last years,  we want to do relevant science, science for development : a science that has impact on the poor.
To have impact as a scientist, one needs to do science for people who really need it. But because research is not a development agency, we need to work hand in hand with development partners, but also with the private sector and any other stakeholder on the ground.

Selecting sites in such an environment has become more complex, as not only the agro-ecological diversity is needed for getting relevant scientific output, but also the right set of partners who can help to define what is relevant and can promote the different result back to the farmers and other stakeholders. Involving these partners into our goals means finding common ground where science and development can make sense of each other.

Last week I was visiting Bihar in India to select the sites for livestock and fish dairy value chain. It has been a long process starting with analyzing geographical layers and identify where the poor livestock keepers are. In a second stage stakeholders have defined what other criteria should be considered. For Bihar they have, for example, mentioned the level of agricultural development, the type of livestock breeds, accessibility or social capital. Also the stakeholder have ranked all the district for these criteria.

As a result of this we had a set of 4 promising districts, we visited (or in our jargon groundtruthed) to make a final selection. We met interested and dedicated people on the ground, we have seen agricultural systems, dairy cow and buffalo, rice and banana tree... It has been a long journey full of adventure, lessons learned and great encounters.

In the upcoming weeks, my blog will take you along this journey under the Bihar sites series, sharing with you some of the most impressive stories! I hope you will enjoy the virtual trip!

I would like to thank Vamsi, the ILRI value chain coordinator for India, and all the NGO representatives, governmental representative, farmers, vendors, sweet sellers, directors, drivers and anyone else who crossed our journey for having made this visit such a beautiful and interesting experience. 

All picture in this post are from Avinash from Kaushalya foundation

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Inclusive businesses to lift smallholders out of poverty ?

At the AECF conference, from which i reported last week, i was one of the few lucky people who was given this fantastic book on "is inclusive business for you?", produced by CTA , the technical center for agricultural and rural cooperation.

It is a book that brings together cases studies from different African countries about companies that integrate or go for contract farming. It gives an amazing overview that reveals what is already happening in terms of integration on the African continent.

For me the most fascinating story presented in this book is the one from Novos Horizontes in Mozambique where contract farming was apply to the poultry sector. The particularity of this company is that the contract paid farmers based on the weight gain of the chicken, which is the only variable that a farmer can influence. It seems to be success story.

However, would it work for my chicken farm? where the chicken are not broiler (the chicken kept for meat) but a hybrid that will not gain so much weight, and should be fed on waste to reach the taste for which there might be a premium market and not per se getting too big?

The book really shows you that there is not one unique way to do contract farming. Each example in the book is different, has different products, different contracts has different objectives even within the same sector. It is a nice illustration of the fact that integration is  about setting the incentives right and to find creative solutions that fits the given context.

Get your own copy of the book from  here : http://edepot.wur.nl/310397

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Be the change you want to see : or how to empower African businesses to succeed

Last week, the annual  African Enterprise Challenge Fund conference took place in Nairobi. It was an amazing conference bringing together social entrepreneurs from the whole continent to share their experiences and learn from each other.

Often those events have a huge registration fee, and i always wonder how social entrepreneurs who use all their small money to make the change they want to see happen spend 600 usd to attend a 2 day luxury event. So when you go to these events, you meet a lot of "wannabe save the world" people, who talk a lot but there is nothing behind.

AECF conference was different, not only i was allowed to participate for free, but even my parking fee was covered (the organizer were extremely generous as interested people could just register and join). People who joined the conference all where running businesses with their ups and downs or were investors in such ventures. For me, with my emerging poultry enterprise, it was mainly a space to learn, to understand new trends, and discover that my philosophy is part of a bigger movement. 

I learnt so many things, from contract framing, to poultry and investment strategy, which cannot fit in one blog post only. So let me start a new series under the label AECF on this blog, and take you through each of the lessons learned in small steps.

For today, the first lesson is about what AECF is. I discovered that this is a fund that allows start-up with disruptive ideas in agribusiness to get funded. It is a fund that does not help poor people with hand outs or any NGO, it just support enterprise who have the potential to bring a change to the poor in a business environment.
The ​​African ​​Enterprise ​​ Challenge ​​Fund ​​(AECF) ​​is ​​a ​​US$250m  ​​challenge ​​fund ​​for ​​agribusiness ​​in ​​Africa, ​​established ​​ in ​​2008. ​​AECF ​​provides ​​support ​​to ​​the ​​private ​​sector ​​for ​​new ​​and ​​ innovative ​​business ​​ideas ​​in ​​agribusiness, ​​rural ​​financial ​ ​services ​​and ​​renewable ​​energy/adaptation ​​to ​​climate ​​change  ​​that ​​will ​​benefit ​​Africa’s ​​small ​​farmers ​​and ​​rural ​​ households.
AECF is supported by ​some ​of ​the ​biggest ​names ​in ​development ​finance ​and ​hosted ​ by ​the ​Alliance ​for ​a ​Green ​Revolution ​in ​Africa ​(AGRA). The aim of AECF is ​to ​encourage ​private ​sector ​companies ​to ​compete ​for ​ investment ​support ​for ​their ​new ​and ​innovative ​business ​ ideas. AECF ​provides ​the ​minimum ​amount ​of ​concessionary ​finance  ​to ​make ​business ​ideas ​happen ​that ​otherwise ​would ​not. 

AECF funds ​innovative ​business ​ideas ​in ​agri-business, ​rural ​ financial ​services, ​renewable ​energy ​and ​technologies ​to ​assist ​ small ​farmers ​to ​adapt ​to ​climate ​change. (Taken from here)

It is a fund in which big donors make finances available for businesses, and it is managed by a committee chaired by Prof. Rudy Rabbinge, who I came already accross during my PhD time at Wageningen University, reminding me how small the world can be.

On Friday night I left the conference with the conviction that AECF is  one of these unique schemes that does things right : helping people to invest into their innovative ideas to lift smallholders out of poverty with their own means and let the market decide what works and what not. Isn't that how aid should be?