Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

On to 2014 with (Scaling) GLEE

This article was written by Bob Rabatsky, Program Director for the Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation program.

I recently attended the Feed the Future Global Learning and Evidence Exchange (GLEE) on scaling up adoption and use of agricultural technologies.

Held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the GLEE brought together Feed the Future partners throughout Africa to, as the name implies, share challenges and best practices so that current project implementation and future project planning strategies are more consistent and based on lessons learned from successful programs. This includes reviewing experience-based approaches to overcome constraints, explore proven methods for analysis of opportunities and constraints, ensure greater access to tools and resources, support developing scaling outcomes and impact, and identifying resources that Missions can use in their scaling plans.

Eighty-five participants ranging from USAID/Washington staff, USAID Mission staff from across Africa (and India too!), implementing partners from the CGIAR centers and Feed the Future Innovation Labs, and a few from the private sector, joined the GLEE.

Johannes Linn of the Brookings Institution kicked off the event with a summary of his research on taking innovations to scale.

Key points:

  • Successful scaling requires coordination of individual project activities AND donors
  • Continuity over several project cycles
  • Planning systematically and EARLY for post-project hand-off

Many of the points made by Johannes were demonstrated in practice by Khalid Bomba, the CEO of Ethiopia’s Agricultural Transformation Agency. This relatively new agency, which reports to the Ethiopian prime minister, identifies bottlenecks, coordinates and supports implementation across government ministries, and builds capacity. It’s an interesting concept --  apparently based on models in Asia,  particularly South Korea -- and is accomplishing some early and quick wins in boosting tef, Ethiopia’s traditional staple cereal crop, production, assessing soil fertility, and identifying opportunities for public-private partnerships. A small and nimble agency worth keeping an eye on.

Implementing partners were open in sharing experiences from producing soybeans in Mozambique and rice in Nigeria and Senegal. They described both successes and failures that helped expose gaps to address for future success.  Panels and breakout group work started with scaling and addressed policy issues (in my group, there was a lot of great information shared on the diversity and problems with fertilizer policy across missions in Africa), public-private partnership efforts on scaling technology, how value chain work contributes to technology adoption and scaling, and of course, what is needed to monitor scaling successes.

A great but unfortunately short discussion by Dan Swift of the USAID Ethiopia Mission covered cost-benefit analysis, which USAID is using to evaluate project investments. Over 100 economists at USAID have been trained and implementing partners are hereby advised to be ready to share updates about their activities using this tool.

Other takeaways:

  • The valuable contribution of the private sector in sustaining scaling (but a keep-it-simple approach applies as the private sector is extremely cost and resource-conscious)
  • A look at extension including the time it takes for new technologies to be adopted (attention donors: It can exceed a five-year project cycle to achieve scale!)
  • The importance of focusing policy change regionally (inputs such as seed and fertilizers will be less expensive if cross-border policies are harmonized)

Many issues put on the table and each could have used more thought and discussion. Could working group commitments be made, and communities of practice formed around these issues to continue these discussions and make recommendations?

The GLEE organizers should be commended; they convened world-class expertise in relatively short order and showed just how effective and valuable such a gathering can be. USAID Bureau for Food Security Chief Scientist Julie Howard, along with facilitators Emmy Simmons, Ed Salt, and Peter Ballantyne, and the USAID Bureau for Food Security team, put together an agenda heavy on practitioners who provided much post-holiday food-for-thought. The facilitation kept all of us our toes as we provided feedback on presentations and contributed to the agenda. The stimulating dialogue, along with ample quantities of Ethiopia’s excellent coffee, kept this jet-lagged participant engaged and appreciating the give-and-take and after-hours networking.

The next scaling GLEE, uniquely designed for Feed the Future partners in Asia and Latin America, is happening this week in Bangkok. It’s sure to inspire further dialogue and inform Feed the Future’s concentrated focus on scaling technologies for impact.

This implementer is looking forward to checking out the scaling page on Agrilinks for updates and materials as we all work together to support transformative, country-led agricultural development to help reduce hunger and poverty.