Generating impact at scale has become a mantra for agricultural research for development projects in recent years. Donors want projects to reach not just hundreds, but hundreds of thousands of farmers. In a recent review, the International Fund for Agriculture and Development elevated scaling to the level of “mission critical”. But what do we really mean by scaling, and how do we achieve the large reach demanded by donors?
In the case of livestock feed and dairy production, scalable interventions are hard to come by. Why is this? Feed technologies work in particular situations for a range of reasons and tend to be fairly context-specific. For example, results from using the Techfit tool (a way of prioritizing feed interventions developed by the International Livestock Research Institute, ILRI) suggest that factors such as availability of land, labour, cash, inputs and knowledge strongly influence which feed technologies will work in a particular location. This context specificity complicates the scaling issue.
Also, technologies for livestock differ from those for crops in that farmers tend to keep livestock for multiple reasons, but raise crops mainly for income and food. Livestock serve many additional roles including traction, storage of capital, provision of manure, and so on. Milk is perishable, so market access is a key issue in dairying. For farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, livestock are important because they contribute to crop production. Growing feed often competes with cropping, and farmers may be reluctant to invest land and labour in growing feed if they are not sure of growing enough food for themselves. Smallholder livestock production is complex and multi-faceted; that complicates the adoption of feed technologies and affects the prospect of scaling. All this means that technologies that work in one place may not work nearby.
This report reflects on the potential role of innovation platforms as spaces to identify and spread useful
innovations associated with dairy production and feeding. It draws examples from MilkIT, a project to promote
milk production in India and Tanzania.