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

Partnering in an Age of Innovation

This blog was cross-posted from Feed the Future Partnering for InnovationThe post was originally written by Jamie Holbrook.

The recent USAID Frontiers in Development Innovation Marketplace featured innovations that are helping increase incomes, improve health, make agriculture more productive and address other needs across the developing world. Making Cents International demonstrated an interactive game that helps farmers plan their production cycles better, improving their output and increasing their incomes. AidData showed how geo-spatial data can help development practitioners create focused, relevant solutions to development challenges across sectors. Alon Millet of Bergen County Academies explained to a rapt crowd how plant-eating bacteria could increase plants’ biomass, hardiness, and glucose, dramatically improving yields.

Not lost on exhibitors and visitors alike, however, was the increasingly recognized truth that merely coming up with an idea – even a good one – isn’t enough. An innovation is only useful if it reaches the people it is intended to help. Demonstrating this, the Innovation Marketplace also featured talks and exhibits on how to bring innovations to people and markets, such as Management Systems International’s model for scaling innovations, which focuses on local capacity-building and engaging a wide spectrum of stakeholders throughout the process.

Like the multi-faceted problems that the innovations on display at the event seek to address, solutions to global poverty are also multi-dimensional and require diverse stakeholders to work together to address the many aspects of a given problem. Because of this, partnerships are fundamental to ensuring that innovation is not just an empty exercise.

The importance of partnerships to innovation was clearly demonstrated at the Innovation Marketplace by Mercy Corps Guatemala’s Country Director, Peter Loach, who gave a DevTalk on Farmforce, a mobile platform being introduced into Guatemala by a partnership that includes Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, Mercy Corps Guatemala, Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA), and Fair-Fruit, a local exporter.

Forthcoming compliance with the Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) could threaten Guatemalan smallholder farmer access to the United States’ $280 million snow pea import market. FSMA requirements will require Guatemalan exporters to adopt more extensive traceability procedures to allow importers to track production back to individual farmers. Farmforce was designed for aggregators managing smallholder outgrower schemes. It provides an affordable, appropriate software solution to meet aggregators’ business needs, including export requirements; improved data-driven production methods and farm management; and full source traceability.

The partnership that is bringing Farmforce to the Guatemalan market represents the whole process of effective innovation:

  • SFSA (the innovator) developed the technology and is selling it to exporters;
  • Mercy Corps (the facilitator) lent its expertise in obtaining funding to bring the technology to scale;
  • Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation (the financier) provided financing to scale the technology and introduce it into the Guatemalan market; and
  • Fair-Fruit (the buyer and user) is purchasing and using Farmforce, benefiting smallholder farmers by enabling them to continue producing for the US market.

With the support of this network of partners, a technology has been developed that addresses a real need and is being brought to the people who need it. Without this partnership, this innovation would have likely remained simply an interesting idea.

As innovation becomes an increasingly popular concept in development, we would do well to remember that it cannot exist in a vacuum. Partnerships that bring innovations to scale for the benefit of people in developing countries are essential for impact. If the public and private sectors along with donors like USAID work together, innovation can address the world’s most pressing challenges and transform millions of lives.