Interview Renaud De Plaen
Program Leader for Agriculture and Food Security at the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Renaud De Plaen, describes some of the requisite factors to design scalable development interventions.
What lessons has IDRC learnt about the necessary factors to ensure interventions can be scaled up?
For IDRC, the importance of scaling up came from the desire to address problems associated with food security. Over the years, IDRC – and other research organisations – have developed a number of innovations, but one of the key challenges is helping those innovations make an impact at scale. IDRC looked at scaling up as a way to get successful innovations to a large number of people, replicating them, or even adapting them so that they can work in new contexts. However, there is no blueprint for development and interventions may not always be applicable to different social and environmental contexts.
For successful scaling up, we have identified five necessary factors. The interventions need to be specifically relevant to the local population that you are trying to help. Secondly, you need to identify the right strategy for scaling up your intervention, which may entail working with ICTs. The third factor is identifying the right partners, such as academia, civil society, the private sector, or policymakers to scale up your innovation; being in the right place, at the right time, with the right partners is also an important factor. And, finally, finding and supporting some local leadership for your strategy is necessary to maintain development in the local community.
Where have these factors been particularly effective in IDRC projects?
In India, IDRC has supported the development of double fortified salt production as a way to address anaemia in children and pregnant women. The innovation has been scaled through a partnership with policymakers. They subsidised the cost of double fortified salt for consumers in the states of Jharkhand, Madhya and Uttar Pradesh, which has helped 50 million people access the salt. A scaling up strategy involving ICTs has also been particularly effective in Benin and Nigeria, where IDRC has reached over 18 million people through rural radio programmes. The broadcasts informed farmers about how to grow and consume indigenous vegetables. However, even with the best scaling up strategies, there are no guarantees of success. Social and cultural factors, such as how people perceive your innovations, are hard to control and can become limitations.
Why is involvement of the private sector so critical to help scale interventions and create lasting impact?
Most of the literature on scaling up focuses primarily on market approaches to scaling. It assumes that if an innovation works at a local level and is economically viable, then the private sector will be able to pick it up and run with it. However, this is not always the case. For example, in the case of the double fortified salt, it would have been difficult for the private sector to scale up this intervention on its own and the implementation of policy related to double fortified salt in Jharkhand, Madhya and Uttar Pradesh states was critical to its successful deployment. The private sector is often one of many important actors, but its role varies according to the innovation that is being scaled up.
How can policymakers be encouraged to invest in agricultural development to help replicate and scale successful interventions?
African countries have already made tremendous progress when it comes to investing in agriculture. Although many are not there yet, 44 countries have committed to allocating at least 10% of their national budgets to agriculture and food security in the future. Most investments go towards access to inputs, infrastructure and finance, to support an increase in production. However, investment in education needs to become more of a priority, so that there will be more agricultural experts on the continent who can enhance African agricultural capacity and facilitate scaling up of successful innovations.