I got 99 problems…


I got to sit in on an interesting discussion last week.  A group of researchers and practitioners are roaming a number of countries in Africa to identify the best “agricultural water management solutions” in each.  Recommendations from the 3 year study will inform investments from a large foundation in irrigation for smallholders on the order of US$50M.

I was impressed with their definition of “solution”: it incorporates all of a technology, an implementation pathway, and policy interventions.  It was nice to see more than just the technology being considered.  But still, the process seemed to be missing a larger point.

The conversation started where most conversations of this type do, with technology.  Donors seem to love this – a sexy technology on an unfeasible scale – even though it’s never really worked in the past.

As my colleague Ken at IDE commented, “This will address just one of the problems we face.  There are 99 other things that need to happen to make it work.”

One of the most obvious things is changing farmer behaviour.  This, after all, is the whole point, so it seems to me to be a much better place to start:

What does it really take to get farmers to change their behaviour?

To get them to make investments – in a water technology, for example – that will improve their productivity?  To get them to adopt habits – like simply planning ahead – that will improve their profitability and allow them to make more investments in the future?

If the technology is not enough, what else does it take?  If pushes, in the form of “sensitization” and “capacity building”, take a long time to take root (if they do at all), what would possible pulls – such as incentives from the private sector – look like?

…after 99 questions, you might get to a real “solution”.

I may have jumped the gun, criticizing an initiative that is just getting off the ground and has a lot of promise.  I only hope that it doesn’t succumb to the same old technology traps, and that, more importantly, it listens to voices like Ken’s, who are tired of seeing interventions like this miss the point time and again.


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Working to include smallholder farmers in agricultural markets, we know there are no easy answers. This blog is a place to ask "What does it take to make it work?" and to share what we're seeing and learning.
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