Ag Sector Council Recap: Public-Private Partnerships to Scale Ag Tech
October's Ag Sector Council continued to explore the theme of scaling agricultural technology (see July's Ag Sector Council on bringing research to farmers and the market), this time through the lens of public-private partnerships. Margaret Spears of USAID/BFS gave opening remarks and summed up the relevance of this topic perfectly: To ensure that donor projects live beyond their grant periods, it is necessary to work with the private sector to make sure that proven technology can be commercially viable and in turn, widely available to smallholder farmers. All three presenters discussed the benefits of building relationships between public funders like USAID and private entreprenuers and implementing partners.
Bob Rabatsky of Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation began the presentation with a discussion of business models that bring subsitence farmers to the commercial sector. Often times better agricultural technologies are commercially available, but that alone isn't enough for smallholders to adopt them. If there isn't a business model in support of technology, then the prospect of scaling technology is low. Cost is often a major barrier to technology adoption, so thinking creatively about alternative ways to access expensive tools rather than outright ownership is important. Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation uses four models to decrease financial barriers and scale technology based around distributors, aggregators, acquistioners, and accelerators.
As an example of specific agricultural technology that was brought to scale, Mike Gavin discussed PortaScience's role in developing test technologies for the dairy industry and highlighted his partnership with African Breeders Services Total Cattle Management Limited (ABS). The UdderCheck product is being piloted in Rwanda to detect milk infections, and ABS has distributed similar projects in several countries in East Africa with the help of USAID, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Danish International Development Agency, and the United Kingdom's Department for International Development.
To close out the webinar, Sara Boettiger from Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture and University of California - Berkeley discussed the Planning for Scale project, which resulted in a white paper on demand-driven innovation and some crowdsourced lessons on scaling, both of which are summed up as briefs on Agrilinks. Boettinger touched on the importance of the private sector in making many of the connections necessary to scaling technology, and ended with four calls for action. They included:
- Build institutional capacity in brokering public-private partnerships;
- Improve metrics (particularly in the public sector);
- Better understand the role of private sector capital (including financing private equity, impact investing, and corporate social responsibility); and
- Recognize the limitations of the private sector; some populations are not well served by the private sector, and there is still a need for public investment.
The webinar concluded with a discussion of some big questions on this topic, including defining "scale". How to best work with the private sector to disseminate knowledge, and the evolving role of the public sector in scaling technologies. For more information from the Q&A portion of the webinar, check out the recording or the webinar transcript which both can be found on the event page under event resources.