Reflections on 30 years of Development
Paul Sommers was at the forefront of smallholder development for food security through increased production and income growth using on farm renewable resources working within the context of the watershed. A pioneer in agro-biodiversity, he has experienced sustainability as a way of life firsthand by observing how households must live within their means.Access to food and availability of food from their own production are key. The challenge for families is balancing the risks of livelihood protection and livelihood growth. They must link the garden structure to vital functions for household survival: nutrition, economics, environment. Beginning in 1980 he authored several how to manuals for U.N. agencies *UNDP,UNICEF/WHO/and FAO, University of the South Pacific, South Pacific Commission, as well as the Peace Corps and his own publication. Here he reflects back on his real world field experience in over 50 countries across a 30 year time span.
Paul is known as a risk taker-consistently thinking outside the box. An avid surfer, he combines the essentials of surfing: risk with grace and perseverance in his approach to his work.
Paul has identified some of the main components required to move food security forward.
1. Natural resource farming systems. Value added using renewable resources
2. Gender mainstreaming
3. Management capacity to promote food security. (International,local(CBO)community-run)NGO Development
Agriculture employs more than one billion people and generates more than one trillion dollars worth of goods annually.
My lifelong goal is to meet the challenge that food will be plentiful, available and affordable.
That means identifying levels of risk and designing a strategy to mitigate those risks.
The key issues are how to cut hunger, grow incomes, while protecting and enhancing the environment.The answer: biodiversity, nutrition, and health supporting each other in a synergistic fashion. Agro-biodiversity used and conserved in a livelihood context can directly contribute to nutrition, health, and income generation. I've studied it and promoted it around the world.
1.Natural resource farming for subsistence and semi commercial growers….
For the past 30 years PS has followed a simple straightforward philosophy on insuring household food and nutrition security: "Grow whatever you can , where ever you can with whatever you have available to you." If the household food system is dependent on outside resources to make it work-forget it. Household use closed systems by default for survival. Planting material, crop management (soil fertility, pest management, trellis material) must come from their home yard or near by environment. Nutrient recycling is pivotal.As agents of change see must start from this fundamental premise and make incremental suggestions that build from there.
Natural/ renewable resource farming for commercial growers.
Our challenge as change agents is to identify useful and effective alternatives to commercial inputs that will retain or add value to their product. If the cost benefit is not there growers will not accept the change.Improving production and productivity while conserving natural resources is our joint task.
Reduce ,reuse, recycle-this time tested method is the key to sustained growth
There is an assumption that basic energy foods (rice, wheat, corn) grown on a large scale farm must use energy intensive means. Let look back at pre WW II for an example. Grains can be grown using natural and on farm resources and natural occurring cycles. Example: legume understory permaculture with grains interplanted in no till system. Bee hives pollinate the legumes adding to yield and honey is high value product.
Key: use what nature provides- design the landscape so that you use it or store it for slow release. nature provides sunshine use it. It provides water-
2. On gender integration/mainstreaming
For the past 30 years Paul Sommers has made gender balance/ integration a focal point for sustainable small holder farm development.
Often project’s use overt methods for promoting gender equality.
• Have more women come to your trainings…
• Provide loans to women instead of..
“You cannot achieve household food and nutrition security without the direct involvement of women. They are the key household decision maker in this matter.”
It is not just about enough food-it is also about the right food.
“The key is to identify options/gaps within the existing household farming system where direct/ increased incremental engagement of women will add value to their smallholder enterprise. “ If it is simply gender promotion for the sake of promotion no one will benefit, especially the intended beneficiary (the entire household unit).
Work is squarely focused on small-scale farm households, which often means it is focused on women. Women do much of the work on small farms around the world, and their well-being and income directly affect nutritional and educational outcomes for children
• MS Thesis- Philippine home gardens in smallholder farming systems
• "how to manuals"- gender integration
• U.N. Region Pacific Islands. Program worked primarily through community based women run organizations. Practiced “affirmative action” in promoting women as the main contact person and leader for the FFPNP.
• OMNI Task Force
• USDA- Armenia. Most rapid and successful assistance activity was with the women tarragon growers of Armavir.
• Cal Poly- Edible landscape. Park William Estate
• DAI. Most experimental/challenging value chain activity with the Marriott Initiative was between a female run smallholder greenhouse. Success with winter vegetables. Export substitution
• DAI/Albania. RASTI. Involving young women from farming families with computer training . Value added through their knowledge of internet for farm operational efficiency, access to new markets, increased sales.
3.Management and implementation capacity. Links between international, local (CBO) and community-based.
On initiating an NGO…..• Sup-Sup Garden Club • VISTAA Armenia
Solutions to acute and chronic food security are known. Technical, management, and policy solutions are well documented for every part of the world. So, after billions of dollars and millions of pages of the what and the how to food security, why is the wheel basically reinvented each time?
Why, when there is a request for new project proposal there is a sort of "deer in the headlights" approach. "We have to come up with something completely different in order to win the contract."
Example: BSG Project.
7 member consortium composed of local branches of international NGO's was asked to put a proposal together showing how they would approach a food security/livelihoods improvement initiative in rain fed Western Ethiopia. The technical approach was very formula based with very little insight into the community's real needs. Why?
Also the capacity of local government was also very weak as were community- run CBO's.
New ways of directly supporting communities need to be explored. Perhaps the internet and youth in these communities may be one solution. Youth are losing interest in farm-based enterprise. They are often encouraged my family to leave the farm and seek higher wages. Youth are fascinated by the internet. Reports are coming in where farming familing are asking their children to use the internet to find technical and business management solutions to their problems. The development community needs to understand this trand and positon itself to expidite it's naturla development.
“The key to successful NGO development is to identify a special need –one that is not currently available or could be more effectively delivered-and design the organization to meet that specific need. Once you are successful with addressing a specific need, expansion to other opportunities is the next step.”
Sup Sup. It started out by addressing urban food and nutrition security issues facing immigrant families. The ended up being a community services agency providing maternal and children services.
VISTAA started out by addressing an unmet need: providing agricultural technical services to Armenia’s newly independent small holder farm families. Today it remains the leading agricultural services provider and it has expanded it’s base to include urban clients.
1) It works in practice, but will it work in theory? German researchers observing Tongan traditional multi-storied mixed planting system.
2) Produce what you can sell- not sell what you produce. Sales driven or market driven?
3)It is not ,"what can I sell you today." "It is how can I sell to you."
4)Organic farming is not the issue/goal-it is "smart farming" How do we guide farmers in the wise use on-farm natural/renewable resources to improve productivity.
5)Small farmers often determine the price based on their need for a certain return not on cost of production or market price. "I want this price because I need it to buy this or that."
6)Patience is often the enemy of good work. Genuine change takes time. Substance is often lost. It is about who gets credit when.
7)Donors demand quick impact/"success stories". That is why spending on inputs and putting on development shows produce quick "results."
8)AID declares every project a "success"
10)Key to marketing: Produce something that will sell. See things as your customer sees them and then do something about it. Growers need to understand their competitive strengths and potential market share.
11) Product development does not start from understanding the typical customer- it starts from understanding the task the customer is trying to do. Marketing is satisfying needs: functional/emotional/social. You don't sell watermelon- you well pleasure, food safety, environment stewardship, fair trade, etc.
12) Marketing:reaching the right audience, in the right way, with the right message.
13) Value added: value to weight ratio.
14) Value creation process: how to occupy the best part of the value chain? For small growers this means optimal production during the periods of minimal supply when demand is high. Early season/late season or specialty product.
15) Value creation-Moving from commodity-based to value-based thinking
16)"You just can't look ahead- you also have to look around"
17)Green agriculture- zero-carbon farming.
18)Vertical agriculture zoning
19)Greening the value chain: customers want to buy what they can trust:safe,clean and green
20) Linking value chain actors: It is not how do I get them to buy what I grow- it is how do I develop a service that the client wants?
21) On starting a specialty shop. Don't start your own shop-sell where your customers already shop.
22)Cooperatives- Don't start with developing a co-op structure with all of the rules. Start with group development working on just one issue of common interest and the co-op will evolve.
23) Agriculture financing is different than micro loans to urban traders-
Climate risk and cycles
Need for working capital
Return in 4-6 months
24)Farmers often do not see themselves in business. They want money or loans when they really need financing.
25) Banks often don't understand the farming business model- what financial products the farm needs and when.
26)Inputs are not too expensive if your business model is working.
27)Problems with farming silver bullet technical packages. If you don't know how all things are connected within the farming system then often technology is the cause of problems . i.e pesticide or commercial seeds.
28)Sustainable farming :Work with nature-not against it.
29)Value added: it is not about apples-it is about high value apples.
30) Workshops: they are not about the donor- they are about meeting the client's needs.
31)Ask the grower: what business are you in? Are you producers of tomatoes? or are you selling high value/high quality/highly profitable tomatoes.
32)Ask the grower, who is in charge of your business? is it the buyer/chemical salesman, loan officer?
33) Talking with growers- if we don't analyze their farm enterprise, how do we know what advice we will provide?
34)What do you need to earn from your farm to remain in farming?
35)Green farming- it depends on natural resources for economic growth.
36) Profitable farming: You have no control over prices. You do have control over costs and improve yields/productivity. Question: are you maximizing value and minimizing costs? Reduce waste: activities that add cost without adding value.
37)"Value" is determined by the buyer/customer.
38)Pathway to profit: actors/supporters/influencer's: What creates value for your customers?
39)Develop productivity improvement plans with clients.
40)Optimizing asset allocation in the value chain
41)On who to target as initial "clients"...They are leaders in their local community who take calculated risks-building new distribution systems, finding new and attractive markets, paying living wages to their employees. And they do this under challenging conditions-- never dependent of donors/development assistance or government, often beginning without specialized infrastructure or sufficient skills and abilities, but always with an eye to the future and their own self-determination.
42)To start you don't need to convince everybody you just need to convince a few leaders- the rest will follow.One smallholder can not form an effective supply chain.
43)Farmers' groups need not be formal or contractual in order to succeed. they just need a reason (common to all) in order to associate. Formal-co-ops are only needed if you plan to to do business together (buy/sell).
44)On development fatigue amongst target clients... farmers will always find time if there is a good reason to meet. If they perceive the meeting is for the donor's benefit and not in their interest they may come once but that's it. You've lost them.
45) Donor's push out development. Development agencies pull their clients to the next stage of their development.
46) AID is a donor. DAI, A/V are not donors-they are full service business advisory companies.
47)The "sweetener" challenge. When and how to use effectively is an on-going case specific issue.
48)In development work the arguments are often so bitter because the stakes are so small.
49)Plant a seed regrow a community.
50. Helping a VC move from "commodity" to "product."
51)Branding: every product tells a story.
Define who you are
Communicate your brand
Become known for one thing initially
52) Always ask: what exactly are you delivering?
53) Value chain financing:
-Which chains have the most potential for growth?
-Which up-grades are needed to increase market share?
-What type of financing is needed to achieve upgrading?
-Which VC up-grades will benefit the most people in the chain?
54)Adapting VC to 21st century technology
55)Marketing questions every small holder farmer needs to ask:
Why should they buy this product?
What is your product?
What makes it different?
Who is your customer?
Who is your competition?
How will it be promoted to customers?
56) On community infrastructure projects for agriculture (irrigation, collection points, public markets/cold storage... you can build a new stadium but if the team is no good what is the point?
"It will belong to the farming community": it belongs to everyone and no one- recipe for failure.
57) A better way to ensure impact and sustainability is to get buy-in from
the VC community- a grower's group linked to a buyer. You orchestrate the deal linking the interested actors. Sweetening the deal should come only as a support incentive not pivotal to making the deal happen. (adding value to the existing value chain).
58) In post conflict zones. The process of reconciliation and growth will require the private sector to take the lead. Government and development agencies can help make the linkages but action must start from the main commercial actors.
59)Drug VC's as model. Growth will occur when their is an identified, working, profitable and sustainable VC. Drug VC's are the best example. Why are they so highly developed? Because each link in the chain is clearly defined and relationships work.
Example Khat- Somalia 1980. I was asked to design an high value horticultural program for poor small holder growers in Hargisa. By observation, I quickly learned that my services were really not needed. A perfectly functioning horticultural VC was working: Khat. It effectively used Solmali land, labor, capital which they controlled as well. Gains were achieved with little support by agricultural extension services in terms of providing fertilizers, pesticides, credit or tax breaks.
60) High Value Horticulture has led major changes.The trade in agricultural luxuries was a driving factor in the emergence of modern capitalism. the trade in luxuries was a driving
factor in the emergence of modern capitalism. Included here are tobacco, spices, coco,hashish, opium.
61)The worlds 450 million small farms and 2 billion people...."Most of the world doesn't have the benefit of picking up food from the corner store — they grow it themselves. A family's plot of land has to provide for their nutritional and economic needs. "
62)We tend to think Earth can provide us with an endless bounty of food. But farming practices in most parts of the world can't work forever. Soil is constantly washing away, and what's left is gradually losing the nutrients it needs to sustain our crops.Agriculture in most places is based on practices that use up limited resources.
63) Small farmers, in order to grow, need to think outside the farm gate.
64)Why can't we solve the 10,000-year-old problem of feeding ourselves.?. The solution is to build an agriculture based on the way nature's ecosystems work.
65) Select a "signature" project and go for it. Identify something that can return immediate results. Quick impact so that the clients see you are on the ball.
66.Farmer productivity: A successful harvest depends upon a complex combination of factors, including quality seeds, fertilizers, irrigation systems, and soil health strategies, as well as locally relevant water and crop management practices. We work to provide poor farmers with access to improved inputs, as well as training and support networks to enable them to make better choices and improve their productivity while protecting natural resources. *Gates
67. On use of natural resources. The sun, wind, water fall on the agricultural landscape. We have a choice of how to use these precious/renewable/free gifts from nature.
We can store them
We can reuse and recycle them on the farm
We can do the opposite- get ride of them- and them buy energy and commercial products to do the same thing that nature has provided. Regenerative design is a process which used design to capture and use natures cycles.
68) Role of certification schemes in promoting market oriented eco-agriculture practices. Case study: ASDA and Albanian Melons.Strengthening market incentives to practice eco-agriculture is a key challenge
69. Prioritizing food security
a) Identify the main aim at household level.
Mix of nutrition and income (semi commercial)
Agriculture employs more than one billion people and generates more than one trillion dollars worth of goods annually.
Appraisal of the farming system (structure and function) and supply chain
Identify low input/regenerative methods for improving productivity of existing landscape and crops.
Identify ways to intensify, diversity crops for nutrition and or income.Agriculture is the largest industry on the planet.
70) Regenerative vs sustainable ag. Land needs to be reactivated/regenerated. Window dressing "green" to declare sustainable will not work because the basic system is broken.
71) Enhancement vs replacement. Replacement of natural processes with commercial "treatment" technology does not build productive capacity.
Is the goal really to sustained a human built simplified ag. landscape?
A preventative instead of curative approach to "problems" such as soil compaction, low fertility,weeds,insects and diseases will address these serious problems.
72) On water management:
After a raindrop hits the ground, one of four things happen. It can:
i) go UP, as evaporation or transpiration
ii) go SIDEWAYS, as surface runoff or sub-surface lateral flow
iii) go DOWN, as deep drainage
iv) be HELD in the soil before moving
Regenerative landscapes are designed to hold/store the water in the soil so that it can be effectively and efficiently used.
Conventional crop system remove water from the site and then spend $$$ to import water to irrigated the crops! When solar energy hits the soil one of 4 things happen:
It is utilized by the plant
73)Paul Sommers has spent his life learning about nature and the environment all over the world. He spends his time teaching about nature to help people design better products and improve existing technology, especially agricultural landscapes.
The approach is simple: learning from and then emulating natural forms, processes, and ecosystems to create more sustainable and healthier human technologies and designs.
"Take a look at any natural ecosystem, such as a tropical forest, and you will see a remarkable system of food production: productive, resilient, self-enriching, and sustainable. The modern agricultural practices of humankind are also enormously productive, but only in the short term: the irrigation, fertilizer, and pesticide inputs upon which modern food crops depend both deplete and pollute increasingly rare water and soil resources. These "inputs" are imported into the system at great expense to the grower and to the environment. Designing food systems based on nature's processes eliminates the need for these imported inputs as they are produced on-site naturally."
As the global food challenge increases, pressure is also mounting to maximize food production in poor areas and rise living standards while using clean green “carbon neutral” technology. This requires a totally new and innovative thinking . This requires smart solutions which are cheap, fast, doable, and sustainable by the farm families themselves.
For the past 30 years in over 50 countries Paul Sommers has been solving these challenges by assisting growers to improve their productivity and crop quality with the aim of finding new and high value markets.
74) The 4 A's Test Solutions to the problems must meet the following test: appropriate, affordable, accessible and acceptable.
75) Fake it until you make it is all too common in our work
On micro-finance May 2010
I am currently working on a new 5 year agricultural development project in southwestern Ethiopia on the Sudanese border. While I completely agree agricultural microfinance is essential for value chain development and expansion, if you use the region I am working with it is understandable why ag. microfinance is not yet operating. While there is potential value in some of the agricultural products it is just that: potential. Small rural banks are very risk averse. The typical microfinance trade loan is straight forward. Buy/sell /return the loan with interest. A very quick turnaround time. Now contrast that process with a typical small holder ag. production loan which is much more complex; takes much longer to repay due to the timeline for producing the crop; plus a little thing called weather and its usual volatile unpredictability. So if you were a loan officer who would you loan too?
Agricultural insurance, is not commonly used by the small farmers. Although available and partially subsidized by the Government, it is expensive for the small farmers and difficult to obtain (much bureaucracy, may take up to 6 months to obtain).
Another problem related to financial services is the cost. Small farmers have problems with collateral since the process for land titles for the small farmers is very slow. Most of the credits available from the banks and microfinance organizations are in the 18 to 30% annual range.
Microfinance or investment?
Investment for increasing agricultural productivity, yields, and job creation in developing countries. What is the effective mix/risk between the public and private sector? What is the private sector level of risk tolerance?
77) Quotable quote
Donor imperatives and need for big returns drive implementation of programs, whether or not they are in the best interest of the people they are purported to help. The "change business" is defined by its ability to sell a product--changing poor people's lives--not to the people it is supposed to help, but to the people buying the product, the donors and contributors from places far away.
The problem is not just donors, however, but the whole development culture. Instead of focusing on projects to make a tangible difference in the life of one person, family, or village, the only sustainable development is to allow people to earn money for themselves, not keeping them donor clients forever. The way to earn money comes with greater investment in infrastructure, such as roads and electricity. But donors and the development community would prefer not to get involved with these projects, because they believe a) they are the prerogative of the state; b) they don't produce tangible statistics that say "we saved X number of lives."
78) On NGO Scaling up
Here is what we do
Here is why we do it
Here is why this stuff is important.
Get several models going. Make sure they are replicable to scaling up.
Doing one little thing in one little village is not replicable development.
To partnerships with prime contractors:
What do we bring technically?
We bring brand names.
79) My approach to value added is straight forward.
1) Walk the farm with HH's
2) Observe what they have
3) Everything has value. Compost more valuable than milk (Armenian lesson)
Sell compost, sell worms, do training course in how to compost.
80)The shorter the supply chain intervention the greater the likelihood for impact and success. (consumption and income)
If the intervention depends on a supply chain outside of their community it probably won't work. Hundreds of miles or imports to make it work won't work.
Inputs- intervention should be designed to ensure an "in the ground" food bank (stability) or income bank
Productivity enhancing interventions production/post production
Marketing- local markets first before distant markets. learn how to crawl before walking
1) Good for your health, food for our earth
2) Produce more while preserving more
3) HG our daily source of supernatural food
1. Participants from all stakeholder groups welcomed the opportunity for broad consultation on the proposed principles
2. Speakers highlighted the importance of both domestic and international agricultural investment for increasing agricultural productivity
3. Government representatives from both developing and developed countries described their own experiences
4. Several private sector representatives discussed their experiences with large-scale international agricultural investments
5. In conclusion, participants agreed on the importance of an open and inclusive dialogue to continue encouraging responsible agricultural investment by various parties
The challenge for development is mitigating/managing risk.
OECD analysis identifies three layers of risk faced by farmers:
* Normal risk is frequent but not too damaging and is typically managed at the farm or household level - for example, small variations in price or yield. General tax, health and social systems help to manage such risks.
* Potentially insurable risks, such as hail damage, have intermediate levels of frequency and magnitude of losses.
* Catastrophic risks are infrequent, but cause great damage for many farmers - flooding, drought or disease outbreaks, for instance. The significant uncertainties associated with these events and the possibility of substantial losses makes it difficult to find market solutions, and there is a good chance of market failure.
Working Life Pathway
The lesson that working taught me above all others, one that's not in the textbooks but should be, is this: There's pure joy when you take a risk to pursue your dream and find work that you deeply connect with.
As a college professor, I saw students struggling with a desire to have more than a career. They want to have a "calling," but many are dissatisfied and frustrated, following a path set by others while afraid to set their own. I have counseled many of my students to follow their passion as I did. But it's not an easy thing to do.
I learned that in the end, for my career to be my calling, it will not be what I designed, but instead the collective of what I experienced. It will not be aimed toward a fixed end of stability and certainty, but a continuous pursuit of growth and awareness. That growth will not be for others to critique and review but for me to judge and deem satisfactory. I now know that my very first decision to become a agriculturalist was only the first step in a journey I didn't know I was taking. And that's what makes it so wonderful. For all its seeming irrationality, it was my announcement to myself and to others that my life was my own.
On motivating people
Project ownership is a lot like food gardening. My boy loved eating raw vegetables he grew in the garden much more than the same ones bought from the market. Why? Because he was involved from the beginning- seed selection, plot preparation, seedling, weeding watering, harvest. Introduce a topic then engage for buy-in and ownership.
Behavioral Change vs Funding cycles
Dilemma of KAP
KAP is a process oriented method which is time consuming (long term)
Project funding cycles are short term (MYAP 3-5 years, SYAP 1 year)
On nutrition improvement
Positive Impacts on Nutrition
• More likely to occur if:
– Vulnerable households regularly consume
the food commodity being produced.
– The intervention includes explicit nutrition
– The intervention includes home gardens.
– The project introduces micronutrient-rich crop
The "what"is known- it is the "how" that is the biggest challenge.
Identifying delivery services that work and that are truly effective, respected by members of the community, is the key to sustainability.
The what is often the easier part. The Development community tends to emphasize the technical what is the technical issue and what is the technical solution to agriculture,food, nutrition health etc. Many of the issues discussed today were identified decades ago and have not changed significantly.
In addition to culturally appropriate technical messages, who delivers when, where and how these are deliver are of equal or greater importance.
Given the very short funding cycle in which to implement message and messenger are critical to success.