Jumping into the Future: How Leapfrog Technologies will Change Agriculture,
February 2014

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Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation Webinar

Jumping into the Future: How Leapfrog Technologies will Change Agriculture

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Change is moving faster than ever. Businesses are leaping into big data, the Cloud, sensors, nanotechnology, biotechnology, solar power, aeroponics, and even robotics, rushing to bring these technologies to emerging markets. Mobile technology has allowed developing economies to leapfrog over infrastructure such as landlines. Other technologies are emerging and Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation is launching an exploration of what the game-changing technologies in agriculture and how we can help them stick in developing countries.

Bob Rabatsky,

Tom Campbell,
ICTAS, Virginia Tech

Samir Ibrahim, National

John Magnay,
Opportunity Int.
Key Questions:
  • What are some of the examples of successful leapfrog technologies in any field and how can we transfer the best of these experiences to agriculture?
  • What leapfrog technologies are being prototyped for agriculture and what could change as a result?
  • Where are their older technologies and practices that, if transferred to developing countries, could have leapfrog potential?

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Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation is a USAID and Fintrac program focused on finding and commercializing agricultural technology that can help smallholder farmers. We're working to build public-private partnerships that move agricultural technologies from labs to markets to farms.

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How is mobile technology used as an outreach tool -- to increase awareness, educate and overcome trust issues?

There are excellent mobile phone-based products on the market such as what John presented from Opportunity Bank, to MPesa, to various initiatives by donors and implementing organizations to share production information (i-Cow Kenya) or provide online advisory services (Avaaj Otalo in India). With the introduction of smartphones into this market the sky is the limit as to their application for outreach.

Would you touch upon benchmarks and evidence-based data, to not only include money, but also how quality of life have been impacted?

In my opinion, the adoption rate of a technology says it all. If early adopters pick up on a new technology, and others follow, then you know that something is working. So follow the spread of a technology as an indicator as to whether it works, and is affordable. (Bob Rabatsky)

Are farmers groups and cooperative administratively too cumbersome that the overhead costs exceeds the envisioned benefits?

Farmer groups and cooperatives are very inconsistent in their effectiveness. You really need to evaluate how the group is run (i.e. democratic, business-like) and what the group has as an objective. Each case needs to be assessed before a decision is made to support or work with it.

How does SunCulture secure the PV system from theft? This has been a big problem with remote installations? -Patrick Binns

Because the system involves cutting edge and valuable technology, the AgroSolar Kit includes a pole-mount security kit for the provided solar panels, which raises them four meters above the ground to deter theft. The pole-mount can also be rotated to track the sun, thereby increasing the system’s output. In addition to our custom pole mount, SunCulture secures the water pump with a steel cover, burry all the electrical cables so that potential thieves do not see where the pump is, and SunCulture buries all of the sub-main pipes.

Are you pumping ground or surface water? -Michael Wood; Is the SunCulture system mostly battery free (pumping up and then using purely gravity feed)? Are you also selling / leasing batteries? -Tanja Havemann

The AgroSolar Irrigation Kit is designed to pull water from any water source (lake, river, stream, well, borehole, water harvester, etc.) using solar power. The solar panels provide the pump’s electricity directly without the need for expensive batteries or inverters. Chemical batteries will need to be replaced multiple times over the lifetime of the AgroSolar Irrigation Kit and provide an unnecessary point of failure. Instead, water is pumped into a raised water storage tank during the day which acts as the system's battery. When irrigation takes place during the evening, a valve on the water tank is opened and water flows down through a filtration system and onto crop root zones via drip irrigation tape.

On average, how long does it take a farmer to pay for system? How is SunCulture developing its strategic plan to provide products to "poor" farmers -- and maintained quality standards?-Indra Klein

Right now, farmers pay for the AgroSolar Irrigation Kit upfront. With SunCulture's recent partnership with Equity Bank, farmers will be able to get financing for the AgroSolar Irrigation Kit which will enable many more farmers to afford the system. SunCulture's current strategic plan already includes products that "poor" farmers can afford – a 1/16 acre drip irrigation kit as well as a 1/8 acre drip irrigation kit – that use the same high-quality components as the larger AgroSolar Irrigation Kits.

Would you touch upon cost factors? What are costs now and do you see reduced costs in the next 2-3 years? -Indra Klein

When Opportunity International started in 2009, we though field capture would cost us up to $ 50/client. Very quickly they were able to get cost down to $ 12.50. WE are now looking at the cost as being $ 2-5 per client, with follow-up costing $ 1-2 per client

How do you mobilize capital to invest in leapfrog technologies in sub-Saharan Africa? -Naraine

Opportunity is investing in the new technologies under a strategy to develop a sustainable rural finance model by driving down cost and reducing risk.

With regard to increasing farmers' interest/use, what conversations are taking place to develop a strategy and who are partners? -Indra Klein

pportunity is very focused on Client Financial Literacy Training – most OI clients have never worked with a Bank / MFI; therefore we are their first experience. We also recognize that adopting the mobile money bank account is also a learning / trust curve.

Does Opportunity Intl make larger loans to rural enterprises? Your average loan is $213/loan, so is it mainly a direct consumer loan portfolio? -Patrick Binns

Opportunity International loans vary from $ 40 to $ 5,000 and are targeting production and post-harvest activities. They also have capital loans up to 3 years for processing and cultivations.

Does Opportunity Intl have agreements with local shops and input supply vendors to support e-payments between farmers and the business? -Patrick Binns

We are using the Telco Mobile Money agents, for example in Uganda we have 19 Opportunity branches and additional access to 18,000 MM agents across 3 Telcos.

Is there scope for capturing land ownership / tenure issues in these systems? -Tanja Havemann

Land ownership and tenure is a very large issue in Africa, Opportunity can capture the information with our database.

To what extent are you able provide medium term finance for equipment purchases? -James

Currently Opportunity International have capital loan products up to 3 years

How do you get farmers to pay for your extension services? Do you take those costs out of what they get paid by their buyers? -James

We have been able to change for ESPs in a limited way in Ghana, but in most of our countries we do not believe farmers can pay for ESPs until they are achieving optimal yields and incomes.

Can 3d printing fabricate metal objects? - Naraine

Yes - 3d printing can fabricate metal objects. The trouble presently is the cost of the 3d printing systems. Quality systems can be a minimum of tens to hundreds of thousand USD, but that price point should fall in the future.

What flow speeds are required to drive the VIV? - Naraine

ICTAS is currently running proof-of-concept tests at 0.6-0.7 m/s and targeting flows in the 0.5-1.5 m/s range.

How is the VIV energy distributed? - Naraine

ICTAS envisions having a small VIV harvester network set up in a micro-grid configuration. This part of the project is still in development.

What are the likely power outputs of a VIV system in run of river or canal locations? - Patrick Binns

The power output depends very heavily on the available flow speed, and is also customized by the size of the device and the number of individual VIV components. ICTAS is targeting a 1-kW scale system.

Benefits of VIV vs. alt hydro methods? - Steven Londner

Turbines are the main alternative to VIV. Turbine systems operate well at high flow speeds (typically above 3 m/s), but in order to make them work effectively in most natural water flows (typically less than 1.5 m/s) requires the installation of a dam and other costly infrastructure, and furthermore this approach does not work in tidal flows. ICTAS is developing a system that does not require an extensive support infrastructure and can operate efficiently at these slower flow speeds.

Are these geothermal systems using phase change fluids, or just steam from hot rocks that are close to the surface? - Patrick Binns

Either could be possible, but phase change fluids would add cost in the form of new requirements on the piping.

Is soil thermal storage of solar energy feasible? If yes, how do you recover the energy at a useable rate? - Naraine

ICTAS is not aware of energy storage capabilities with this technology.

A major obstacle to mechanization of agriculture in Uganda and South Sudan where I work is availability of spare parts for agricultural machinery, I wonder if this is an application where 3-D printing might help? - Steve Hodges

Spare parts for agricultural machinery are a potential application for 3d printing. I'd be happy to speak further on this point.