Policymakers focused on fostering pro-poor innovation in agriculture are overlooking hotspots of creativity — pioneers silently building successful, socially relevant and sustainable businesses that service the needs of poor farmers, says Andy Hall.
The challenge now, he argues, is to find ways of supporting these new modes of innovation and their diversity.
The new class of profitable entrepreneurs is becoming more visible in developing countries, tackling social and environmental issues in ways that policymakers have for years struggled to achieve. These groups are developing under the public policy radar, Hall says, challenging long-held beliefs about what drives innovation and bringing real benefits to poor communities.
One example is the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee — a non-governmental organisation heavily involved in input supply and agro-processing. In Kenya, the Real IPM Company produces and sells bio-pesticides to poor farmers in East Africa. It also works with the UK Department for International Development to promote a bio-pesticide for weed control.
These "hybrid modes of innovation" have found ways to access large markets of poor people, and their business models are likely to appeal to companies looking to enter new markets, says Hall. Some experts predict that they will become prominent in China and India, which could have global implications.
Policymakers should not tout these initiatives as a blueprint for success, Hall says, but instead work to support creativity in the early stages of entrepreneurial activity.