Inclusive Agriculture

In a recent in-house piece I did on LIRNEasia’s work on inclusive innovation with emphasis on agriculture, I concluded that inclusive development occurs when “the necessary condition of high, sustained growth above 7 percent year-on-year and the sufficient condition of a majority of the country’s work force being engaged in high-growth sectors are satisfied.” Innovations that contribute to inclusive development qualified as inclusive. In most developing countries, a high proportion of the work force is engaged in agriculture. Therefore, one cannot envisage inclusive development occurring without agriculture being transformed from a laggard sector to a leading growth sector. In this context, Bill Gates’s thinking on innovation is highly relevant to any discussion of inclusive innovation: We can help poor farmers sustainably increase their productivity so they can feed themselves and their families.
We’ve been interested in traceability since Harsha attended a conference in Cairo and then we got IDRC to fund our first agriculture research. And from bar codes, we got interested in QR codes too. At 8.01 a.m.
We’ve been seen as an ICT shop, wrongly. To us ICT is a domain. We apply the tools of economics, law and public-policy analysis to various domains. In the past it has been primarily ICTs. But agriculture is a domain we have been active in for some time, with the engagement increasing qualitatively in recent times.
We had the pleasure of participating in the 3rd Joint National Conference on Information Technology in Agriculture at the University of Ruhuna, Mapalana Campus, on the 29th of December 2011. Papers were presented by scholars in ICT (primarily from U of Moratuwa) addressing agriculture problems and by scholars in agriculture (primarily from U of Ruhuna) that had ICT either as the instrument (e.g., sensing technologies) or as object of study (e.g.
Last weekend 2nd – 4th of Friday, Random Hacks of Kindness events were taking place is cities across the world (New York, London, Montreal, …).  Thanks to an invitation from IDRC and Nokia (sponsors of the Montreal RHoK) , I was able to be in Montreal, in the company of 80+ software enthusiasts (geeks, hackers, call them what you will) who had volunteered 30 hours of their week end to develop ICT solutions to development problems. The problem I needed help was related our research agriculture value chains, specifically the pineapple value chain in Sri Lanka A  farmer cannot tell at the point of purchase if a pineapple sapling or sucker is “good” (that it will yield a plant and then fruit that is of adequate quality, free of disease). Only after she has bought it, planted it and many months later the pineapple plant has grown and borne fruit will it be obvious that the sucker was bad.  While there could be many perfect solutions (third party chemical testing, certifications), these are difficult to implement.
Yesterday, I was in an FAO panel at the Global South-South Development Expo 2011, speaking on the role of mobiles in rural development using case studies from Sri Lanka and India. When I mentioned that one should have some concerns about the quality of information and the lack of accountability in the plethora of mobile based agriculture crop advisory services, I was asked a pertinent question by an official from the Ministry of Agriculture in China: Does this mean a greater role for government? What we think is that the basic information collection (for example market prices) should be collected by government or an agent of government and made available as a public good. The private sector can then be free to process it, add value and disseminate, potentially for a few to ensure sustainability. But the heart of the problem that we are concerned with is whether a one way transmission of generic crop “advice” to Farmer X will solve his problems or aggravate them.
India’s opening up of retail services to foreign investors will bring in capital and expertise to make supply chains more efficient. Analysts have estimated that up to 35 percent of Indian fruits and vegetables spoil before they get to market, largely as a result of an antiquated supply system that includes many wholesale markets and middlemen. Partly as a result, Indian food prices often rise quickly when there are minor disruptions in the supply or harvest of staple crops like onions and potatoes. Food inflation in recent months has been hovering near 10 percent. While some companies have begun building supply networks in parts of India, Mr.
The October 13th dissemination event has generated more coverage, this time in the Sunday Times, the leading English weekly. LIRNEasia, a think tank headquartered in Sri Lanka and representing South Asian, has teamed up with the Lanka Fruits, Vegetable Producers and Exporters Association (LFVPEA) and are jointly involved in a project to find out ways and means of obtaining more money from agriculture – and to improve the agriculture value chain to make it a win-win solution. They held an open discussion programme with expert research findings last week at the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Auditorium and the focus at this open forum was on pineapple growing and how to assist the pineapple smallholders to overcome the hassles in producing quality consistent fruit, and to ascertain on adequate supplies to the export market.
The Sunday Observer reported on the dissemination workshop conducted on 13 October 2011: Kapugama said that Sri Lanka should promote high density planting and intensive management to boost pineapple cultivation in the country. Pineapple cultivators in Sri Lanka face many challenges due to the scarcity of land, healthy suckers and the absence of high yielding cultivation methods. The high cost of fertiliser is a major factor that affects the cost of production. Kapugama said that due to the problems faced by pineapple cultivators exporters and pineapple-based product manufacturers are adversely affected. “There should be a proper mechanism to obtain information on pineapple sucker providers based on their reputation”, Kapugama said.
Reducing the quality penalty suffered by smallholder growers of fruits and vegetables was a main theme at the dissemination seminar conducted by LIRNEasia in collaboration with the Sri Lanka Vegetable and Fruit Producers, Processors and Exporters Association. The discussion also addressed the value of smallholders organizing themselves into cooperative associations somewhat like what had been done in Ghana with Farmapine. The importance of knowledge was recognized by all. Sujata Gamage’s presentation on knowledge networks in solid-waste management pointed to the need to shift from outmoded models that placed universities as the sole sources of new knowledge, to new thinking that places suppliers, buyers and even competitors as key sources of knowledge. The presentations by Rohan Samarajiva, Sriganesh Lokanathan, Nilusha Kapugama, Harsha de Silva and Sujata Gamage are given below, along with the policy brief on recommendations to improve the performance of the Sri Lanka pineapple value chain in Sinhala and English.
We immersed ourselves in agriculture for 3-4 hours yesterday in conversation with visiting colleagues from the University of Alberta, working up a proposal on food security. When asked for a definition of food security, they responded in terms of shorter distances food was transported. I was reminded of the archetypal “bad” food value chain that got much play when there was fire in one of the Swiss road tunnels: potatoes grown in Poland, transported by truck (despite Europe’s vaunted and subsidized railways) to Italy for processing, and then hauled back as French Fries across those same tunnels back to Germany and Poland. It seems common sensical that food that puts on less miles would be better. So what are such value chains in Sri Lanka?
I’ve been asked about how we choose our research topics. Intuition, I answer. Lot of discussion among the team and intuition. How did we choose the case studies for the research on agricultural value chains? Here, the team assembled a lot of data too.
Reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was a rite of passage for college students (should still be). The key point I took away from it was the need to focus on quality. My most favorite economics book is Exit, Voice and Loyalty, by Albert Hirschman. Also a discourse on quality. Perhaps because I read Zen at an impressionable age .
The whole point of a public lecture is to catalyze thought and action. It’s been three months and the first evidence I saw of anything being catalyzed was the phone call I got from Bandula Mahanama, the speaker we invited from Polonnaruwa. He had some plans about reducing risks from the Minneriya reservoir and wanted me to come. He and his colleagues from six farmer organizations wanted a Colombo partner. I went with Lakshaman Bandaranayake the CEO of Vanguard Management who has been our steadfast partner on all dam-safety related projects.
Interesting piece in the Guardian on mobile more than voice. What I found most interesting was the emphasis placed by the Community Knowledge Worker on things other than communication, such as the reliable weather information and the cooperatization. To register, a farmer must provide exhaustive details about his farm, household and income, as well as the things he needs most to improve his livelihood. Many in the area still wonder why Grameen isn’t providing them with physical aid, but Simon tells me he is working to change that mindset. “Let someone give you knowledge, then you are rich.
LIRNEasia’s research on agricultural value chains is in the press. Nilusha Kapugama’s response to a feature on one of the most successful rubber smallholder cooperatives has been carried in the Sunday Times. It covers the topics of start-up costs, law and order issues and the high transaction costs that prevent more auctions being conducted (and Padeniya not expanding): Our research included conversations with a key mover in the Padeniya Thurusaviya society, Mr Berty Lionel. We agree that Padeniya is a great success. Where we differ is on the likelihood it can easily be replicated across the rubber-growing areas.