Innovation Labs Participate in Feed the Future’s Global Learning and Evidence Exchange (GLEE) on Scaling Agricultural Technologies

Posted by | 03.24.2014

IMG_8476In January, Feed the Future held its second Global Learning and Evidence Exchange (GLEE) on Scaling Agricultural Technologies—focused on Asia and held in Bangkok, Thailand. More than 70 participants from USAID missions, implementing partners, and global research centers discussed best strategies for scaling solutions to meet Feed the Future goals. Also participating at the meeting were representatives and partners from the Horticulture Innovation Lab and the Legume Innovation Lab.

Richard Kohl, of the Center for Large Scale Social Change, opened the meeting by laying out a framework and key concepts of scaling, followed by a number of case studies of scaling projects and technologies from Fintrac, Syngenta, iDE, CIMMYT and others.

On the final day of the GLEE event, the Horticulture Innovation Lab joined forces with the World Vegetable Center (AVRDC) and Kasetsart University to host a tour of some agricultural technologies in action.

The tour was held at the Horticulture Innovation Lab Regional Center at Kasetsart University, and participants were free to circulate between technology stations for demonstrations, technical information and research background for each tool. (A local television news team also visited and produced a video about the technologies.) Displays included:

– Dr. Kietsuda Luangwilai of Kasetsart University showed off a solar chimney dryer designed by UC Davis, in comparison to a local dryer also set up on site. The chimney dryer circulates hot air over fruit trays and can dry produce almost twice as fast as cabinet-style dryers.

– Dr. Jingtair Siriphanich, an expert in postharvest handling from Kasetsart University, introduced the group to cool rooms that use the CoolBot with low-cost insulation materials. The CoolBot is a device that turns a standard household air-conditioner into a powerful cooling mechanism. With proper insulation, the CoolBot can bring temperature in a room down to 33-40 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the product.

– Johan Van Asbrouck, of Rhino Research, shared information and demonstrated the use of drying beads, a zeolite-based desiccant that dries seeds. Rhino Research is a key, longtime partner of the Horticulture Innovation Lab and Kasetsart University.

– Irrigation, storing and moving water is a big issue for small-scale farmers in almost all of the regions where the Horticulture Innovation Lab works, and we have been working with a number of partners to put together solar-powered pumping systems connected to drip irrigation kits. Our colleague Dr. Jate Sathornkich at Kasetsart University has put together a locally available solar pumping system with photovoltaic panels, a small pump and a 500-liter storage tank. Participants were really excited about this low-cost, easy-to-assemble option.

– Kasetsart University scientists also showcased a bicycle-powered composter, an essential oil purifier and a soil testing kit that is marketed to farmers.

All of these technologies are objects that someone buys and puts together to help solve a specific agricultural problem, but scaling isn’t just about getting objects into more people’s hands.

Discussion during this event made it clear that scaling is also about expanding services, moving between geographical areas, scaling up into policy and institutional spheres, and expanding the functional areas of a project. Scaling up isn’t just about finding a private sector partner and expecting them to “run with it.” It isn’t just a successful extension program or training activity; it isn’t just pulling a policy lever or hitting monitoring and evaluation targets. True scale is sustainable and goes way beyond an individual project; it requires programs and people to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, to think outside of their box, and most importantly to let go of some control and let others take it on.

This article was authored by Britta Hansen and Brenda Dawson of the Horticulture Innovation Lab.