Tag Archives: Scaling

Taking agricultural innovations to scale: RTB scaling fund awards first grants

Researchers who develop new technologies often face challenges in translating them into adapted innovations that people and enterprises will use. The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) consequently created a flagship project dedicated to improving livelihoods at scale (Flagship 5), which is facilitating the design and implementation of strategies for scaling innovations to achieve the greatest possible impact.

One of the mechanisms created for this is the RTB Scaling Fund, which recently awarded its first grants to three teams of scientists as part of a broader effort to help them take their innovations to scale. Those teams will share approximately US$2 million to scale three promising technologies: 1) an approach for controlling the banana disease BXW known as single diseased-stem removal (SDSR); 2) a method for conserving sweetpotato roots to produce planting material known as Triple S; and 3) a technology for turning cassava peels into an ingredient of animal feed.

A woman reads a flyer as part of efforts to increase the uptake of the SDSR technique. Photo: B.vanSchagen/Bioversity International

“The scaling fund is truly unique in the CGIAR and it shows RTB’s commitment to the scaling of innovations,” says Dr Marc Schut, a researcher with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Wageningen University & Research (WUR) who leads Flagship project 5.

Schut observes that researchers tend to invest much more time and energy in developing and improving technologies than in understanding the market, policy and cultural aspects of the enabling environment that can facilitate or hinder their efforts get those technologies to farmers or other end-users. He explains that in addition to the funding awarded for the three technologies, the Flagship 5 team will provide guidance in the design of scaling strategies and monitoring progress toward impacts, while drawing lessons to inform critical thinking about scaling processes in agri-food systems.

According to RTB Program Management Officer Claudio Proietti, the Scaling Fund adds value to and works in synergy with existing projects and ongoing partnerships. He explains that RTB management sent out a call for concept notes on innovations seeking Scaling Fund support in August that resulted in 12 submissions. An independent panel assessed the scaling readiness of those technologies and asked five of the teams to submit full proposals. Those five innovations were assessed and scored, and the three with the highest scores were awarded funding.

SDSR allows smallholders to reduce BXW incidence without destroying large numbers of plants. Photo G.Blomme/Bioversity International

One of the innovations to be funded is SDSR: a method for managing BXW by cutting down symptomatic banana plants, sterilizing tools, and removing flowers from healthy plants to prevent insects from infecting them. SDSR allows smallholders to reduce BXW incidence to very low levels without destroying large numbers of banana plants, which means they can continue producing fruit and earning money.

Dr Boudy Van Schagen, a social scientist with Bioversity International, explains that while approximately 20,000 households in Central and East Africa have adopted SDSR, more than 20 million households in the region have been impacted by BXW. The initiative’s goal is to get approximately 100,000 households in Burundi, DR Congo, Rwanda and Uganda to adopt SDSR while making it more gender-responsive and adaptive to farmers’ needs.

Another innovation funded, Triple S (Storage in Sand and Sprouting), involves storing sweetpotato roots in sand during the dry season and planting them in seedbeds 6-8 weeks before the rains are expected, which allows farmers to produce enough vine cuttings to plant when the rains resume. Margaret McEwan, a social scientist working on seed systems at the International Potato Center (CIP), explains that Triple S has been successfully tested in varied agroecologies and used by farmers across nine sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries. CIP and partners will use the Scaling Fund grant to train trainers and run gender-responsive mass media campaigns with the aim of getting 80,000 farmers in Ethiopia and Ghana and other spillover countries to take up the technology.

“We want to institutionalize Triple S into existing programs,” she says, adding that the scaling efforts will piggyback on other sweetpotato vine dissemination interventions.

Triple S involves storing sweetpotato roots in sand during the dry season and planting them in seedbeds 6-8 weeks before the rains are expected. Photo: E.Abidin/CIP

McEwan notes that the process of applying for the Scaling Fund included assessing Triple S’s scaling readiness and developing a theory of scaling. This led her team to modify the approach to include training in best agronomic practices and positive selection of roots, in order to produce better harvests. She adds that because Triple S scaling will be done in collaboration with the Sweetpotato for Profit and Health Initiative, which works across 17 SSA countries, there is potential for using strategies developed and refined in this initiative to scale Triple S elsewhere.

“Scaling requires a certain level of standardization, but we need to learn how to ensure that scaling can also be adaptive and responsive to local contexts,” says McEwan.

The third innovation funded is a technology to turn cassava peels – a waste product from garri and lafun production in Nigeria – into a high quality cassava peel (HQCP) mash that can be substituted for 15-60% of the maize in livestock or fish feed. According to Dr Iheanacho Okike, an agricultural economist consultant with IITA, Nigeria’s cassava processing industries produce more than 12 million tons of cassava peels annually, the disposal of which constitutes an environmental problem but holds potential for income generation. While a few factories in Nigeria have already adopted the HQCP technology, IITA and partners plan to engage government institutions, cassava processors and feed producers to scale it out for greater economic and environmental impact.

“Involvement in the competition for the Scaling Fund helped us to deepen our thinking around what we should be doing, our scaling strategies and/or models, and who we should be engaging with,” says Okike.

HQCP powder can replace 15-60% of maize in animal feed. Photo: I.Okike/IITA

Proietti notes that the two innovations that weren’t funded this year are also quite promising and should be top contenders for the next round of funding. Those innovations are: 1) an initiative to expand the use of OFSP puree in baked goods in East and Southern Africa; and 2) the promotion of a technology for waxing cassava roots to increase their shelf life in Tanzania and Uganda.

According to Proietti, the process of developing proposals and assessing technologies’ scaling readiness served as an exercise that helped researchers better understand their innovation’s adaptability to the conditions in target countries. “We’ve encouraged scientists to take a more systems view of their technologies and address how well adapted they are to the real world,” he says. “This process is resulting in new insights on how to improve scaling strategies, partnership arrangements and a learning process that can support adaptive management.”

Schut notes that while each context is unique in terms of agroecology, end-user needs, market, infrastructure and policies, there will be lessons learned from these scaling experiences that can be applied to other crops or technologies. He adds that the Scaling Fund contributes to critical reflection on the return of RTB investments, helping to determine which investments have the highest potential for scientific progress towards achieving agricultural development.

“We have already learned a lot, and many scientists have provided us with feedback that the scaling fund has made them much more aware that scaling requires other types of approaches, capacities and partnerships,” he says. “However, the principle objective is to ensure that the initiatives funded contribute to achieving the RTB outcomes.”

by David Dudenhoefer

RTB Symposium at International Conference on Global Food Security to address the challenges of scaling agricultural innovations

Whereas private companies have successfully rolled out new technologies in less-developed countries, innovations developed by research centers to help smallholders improve their food security and incomes often reach only a fraction of the people they were created to help. As the stakes for agricultural research for development rise in an increasingly warm and crowded world, this gap between research and impact is becoming a major concern of governments, international organizations and donors.

In an effort to help researchers develop innovations that people are more likely to use, the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) has teamed up with Wageningen University & Research (WUR), in the Netherlands, to develop, test, and apply ‘science of scaling,’ in order to make better decisions about which kinds of innovations, research and partnership investments will lead to development impacts. Scientists who are involved in these efforts will share their insights and research on scaling during a symposium this Sunday, December 3, as part of the Third International Conference on Global Food Security, in Cape Town, South Africa.

Entitled “Science of scaling: connecting the pathways of agricultural research and development to improve rural livelihoods,” the symposium brings together scientists and development professionals from several international research centers and companies. Their presentations will cover cases ranging from work to improve smallholder cocoa and coffee production in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) to an International Potato Center led partnership initiative that has gotten nutritious, improved sweetpotato varieties to more than 2.8 million households in SSA.

Getting the products of agricultural research to the smallholders who need them can be a major challenge. Photo H.Rutherford/CIP

For Dr Marc Schut, a researcher with IITA and WUR and the leader of the RTB Flagship on Improved Livelihoods at Scale, the first lesson is that “scaling does not happen just like that. It requires strategizing, competence and investment.”

Schut adds that the good news is that a growing number of tools are available to help research-for-development scientists make better decisions in terms of the type of research they do and the partnership investments they make. “Evidence-based design, implementation, and monitoring of scaling strategies can help us to achieve better impact,” he says.

One of the symposium’s presenters, Dr Elisabetta Gotor, who heads the Development Impact Unit at Bioversity International, observes that most scientist don’t know how to go about getting the innovations they develop into the hands of large numbers of users. She explains that when a researcher develops a new agricultural innovation – whether it be an improved crop variety or an approach for managing a crop pest or disease – it is important that they start by analyzing and measuring the likelihood of its success in the given context.  She adds that this is a complex task, because there are gender and cultural elements that must be taken into account, but it is essential for an innovation to be successful.

“As researchers, we have the obligation not only to develop technologies, but also to ensure that those technologies are transformed into products that are usable by the populations we want to influence,” Gotor says.

Scaling agricultural innovations requires understanding local demand and cultural elements, a well designed strategy and investment. Photo G.Smith/CIAT

Gotor’s presentation will cover efforts by RTB scientists to connect foresight research and impact assessments in order to establish feedback loops through which those methods can inform one another. She notes that this will enhance the scaling of innovations while producing information that donors or policy makers can use to guide future investments in research for development.

Adebowale Akande, an Agribusiness Development Specialist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), will give a presentation on scaling the Alfasafe bio-control product in Nigeria, in order to reduce aflatoxins in agricultural value chains, as well as current efforts to turn that technology over to the private sector. He recommends that researchers demonstrate the proof of concept of their innovation to the private sector, engage both the private and public sectors to create an enabling environment, and gain access to financing to successfully scale their innovations.

Dr Graham Thiele, Director of RTB, will present an overview of the measures that RTB has taken to help scientists assess the readiness of their innovations for scaling and work toward getting them widely adopted. “There is huge interest right now in scaling and RTB is ahead of the curve on its thinking,” he explains. “Scaling is right at the top of the agenda for many donors as they look for enhanced impact.”

People attending the International Conference on Global Food Security can learn more about scaling by attending the “Science of Scaling” symposium this Sunday, December 3 at 12:30. It will be held in Aloe Hall, in the Cape Town International Convention Centre.

“This is a great opportunity for us to share our approach on scaling with a broader group in an important forum, to show people what we have and get feedback to improve further,” says Thiele. “I’m really looking forward to this event!”

RTB is applying the science to scaling to ensure that agricultural innovations have the greatest possible impact. Photo H.Rutherford/CIP


More details on the symposium are available here.
Learn more about RTB’s work on scaling and participation at the event here

RTB launches second phase and enhanced partnership with Wageningen University & Research

Wageningen University and Research (WUR) hosted a seminar and launch event on 11 May at its campus in the Netherlands to celebrate the second phase of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) and its enhanced partnership with the university. The event brought together over 50 participants and included a lively discussion of the role of the private sector, seed systems and youth during a panel debate.

Arthur Mol, Rector Magnificus, WUR, opened the launch and stressed the need to address the social dimension of technological change to achieve development impacts for root, tuber and banana crops. He noted that in this regard the Knowledge, Technology and Innovation (KTI) group at WUR will play an especially important role in the enhanced partnership with RTB.

Arthur Mol, Rector Magnificus, WUR, opened the event on May 11. Photo: WUR

“The second phase of RTB which runs from 2017 – 2022, places an enhanced emphasis on scaling, a key element in the stronger partnership with WUR,” explained Graham Thiele, RTB Director. He went on to note that “RTB has reorganized by interdisciplinary ‘flagship projects’, which are made up by a number of smaller ‘clusters’ or projects dedicated to key research areas. And we are really pleased to have a team from KTI leading a cluster on scaling and partnerships, including a novel method for assessing scaling readiness.” Thiele added that the scaling of innovations lies at the core of achieving RTB’s ambitious targets of reaching millions of beneficiaries by 2022.

“Traditionally, the scaling of innovations or technologies was done at the end of a project with a finished package that was supposedly ready to be adopted by a broader group perhaps linked with summary sheets shared with policy makers. The scaling readiness method will allow scientists and societal partners to think systematically about how scaling of their proposed technology depends on a combination of technological changes, and also the enabling social-organizational environment. Discussing these matters with stakeholders helps to improve scaling strategies and conditions for scaling,” explains Cees Leeuwis, a professor of KTI who leads the RTB scaling cluster.

RTB’s collaboration with KTI first began with research on multiple root, tuber and banana seed systems with Conny Almekinders a KTI researcher. Since then, this work has evolved to include a broader range of tools such as seed tracer studies, and is now a core component of another RTB cluster on “Access to quality seeds and varieties”, for which a workshop was underway concurrently with the launch. A joint presentation during the event by Almekinders and Margaret McEwan of the International Potato Center (CIP) showed why thinking about seed is more than genes, and how these perspectives are critical for sustainable interventions.

L to R: Margaret McEwan, Cees Leeuwis, Graham Thiele and Conny Almekinders participate in the panel discussion on seed systems. Photo: WUR

“In Chencha, Ethiopia, a seed tracer study of seed movements found that surprisingly wealthy male potato farmers most effectively multiply and share seed with poorer farmers including women,” McEwan explained during the presentation. Understanding how seed actually moves can guide improvements in seed system interventions and successful scaling.

“WUR is an exciting and dynamic partner who brings new perspectives and expertise to RTB, especially from the social sciences, around seed systems, scaling and innovation. This is highly complementary to our CGIAR skill set,” says Thiele.

“Often we have great technologies, but they can get stuck in the local pilot site where we began testing. In those cases, it’s essential to know what happened and why the technology didn’t go further. Of course there are excellent examples of scaling in RTB such as with orange fleshed sweetpotato, but there are too few cases like that. So we need to understand better the secrets of success and began to plan for scaling from the beginning,” he adds.

A participant asks a question during the lively panel discussion. Photo: WUR

The partnership also brings potential new capacity development opportunities through the mentoring of students who may be able to conduct research with RTB and WUR towards their MSc or PhD projects.

“I hope that we can find a conducive balance between doing interesting science, and being relevant to international development. And I hope we can operationalize this in part through offering candidates from development partners the possibility to obtain a PhD. Such trajectories are a very effective way of combining research, capacity development and partnership development,” says Leeuwis.

Together both RTB and WUR are working to achieve large-scale societal impact for the benefit of smallholders throughout the root, tuber and banana value chains, and the launch event of RTB Phase II provided an opportunity to celebrate the steps that are being taken towards achieving that shared vision.

Starting from Tuesday 16 May, RTB will release a series of blogs dedicated to the program’s new flagship projects in Phase II.

Spotlight on scaling agricultural technologies

The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) has ambitious targets to improve the lives of millions of men and women who depend on root, tuber and banana crops by 2022. Achieving those targets means focusing on the most promising technologies and innovations. And it means linking these innovations with the tools and approaches that can take them to scale.

As RTB commences its second phase, it is opportune to shine a spotlight on our approaches to scaling and how they enhance the innovations developed through the program that have the potential to be adopted by millions.

Towards this, RTB held a World Café style event on 10 March in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to match scalable technologies with approaches and tools for scaling, while increasing participants’ understanding of both the technologies and scaling approaches.

Selected RTB program targets by 2022. All program targets align with the SDGs (Click to enlarge)

The event brought together researchers from across RTB’s five program participant centers – the International Potato Center (CIP), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Bioversity International and Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD) – along with donor representatives, Tanzanian national partners, and other partners including Wageningen University and the Natural Resources Institute.

‘Scalable technologies’ are innovations that have resulted from RTB research and which are either already adopted by farmers or other users, or will be adopted over the next three years. Additionally, the technology must have – or will have – a large number of beneficiaries. An outstanding example of a scalable technology is the orange fleshed sweetpotato for health and nutrition improvement, already adopted by over 2 million households, for which three CIP scientists were awarded the prestigious World Food Prize in 2016.

During the World Café, participants circulated among posters of their choice in small group discussions, rotating every 15 minutes and sharing their thoughts on what might be the ‘roadblocks’ or ‘accelerators’ to scaling for each innovation.

Participants rotated to a new poster every 15 mins. Each poster could have a maximum of 10 visitors at any one time to encourage effective conversations. Photo H.Holmes/RTB

Posters were divided in the three categories throughout the day: 1) scalable technologies for varieties and seed, 2) scalable technologies for resilient cropping, postharvest and nutrition and sustainable intensification, and 3) approaches and tools for scaling, innovation and enhancing gender relevance.

“The ‘speed-dating’ between RTB’s natural and social scientists led to new ideas on how to further improve the scaling of RTB innovations,” reflects Dr. Marc Schut, IITA Social Scientist and leader of RTB’s Flagship Project 5 on Improved Livelihoods at Scale.

During the event, several scientists commented that the exercise had changed their perceptions of the complexity of the science surrounding scaling and what the process entails, along with a greater awareness of the importance of considering scaling from the outset of a project.

Likewise, social scientists working on scaling of innovations also shared that the small-group discussions led to ideas of how the approaches to scaling could be tailored to better suit certain technologies.

Participants shared factors that could act as ‘roadblocks’ and ‘accelerators’ to the scaling of technologies presented in categories 1 and 2. Photo H.Holmes/RTB

For Juma Kayeke, an agronomist from the Tanzanian Agricultural Research Institute (TARI) based in the region of Mbeya, the workshop provided exposure to new technologies and approaches, and the chance to further connect with partners.

“It was so valuable to interact with people from different backgrounds, specializations, research areas and crops… In the tools and approaches for scaling category, I was particularly interested in the decision support tools, because sometimes when we are talking with farmers and extension officers they get very bound to what they should do at specific times in the farming cycle. If they could have a support tool to enable make decisions about what actions to take at what times, that would be a big breakthrough,” he added.

One technology that stood out on the day to Schut was the AdiosMacho pesticide developed by CIP, which attracts and kills male potato tuber moth species, reducing the population of the pest.

“The scaling of RTB innovations requires focused strategies and human and financial resource investments, and this was clearly shown in the AdiosMacho technology. AdiosMacho evolved from a research product towards a commercial product, and together with the public and private sector roadblocks have been systematically addressing. We need to learn from these cases to accelerate the scaling of other RTB innovations,” he explained.

Examples of ‘roadblocks’ and ‘accelerators’ to scaling of the AdiosMacho technology presented in the poster. (Click to enlarge)

RTB’s Flagship Project 5 will build on the World Café with a repository of scalable RTB innovations, and seek to accelerate scaling, by sharing tools and approaches with projects and scientists in the other RTB Flagships, for sustainable development impacts.

Posters of scalable technologies and of tools and approaches for scaling are available for download from the event page.