PROMOTING SOLUTIONS- NOT JUST A PRODUCT

Cassia Mahjabeen

In 2016, AVC conducted a market research on farmer behavior trying to understand purchasing patterns, and the findings revealed some unexpected information about how farmers choose between brands of input products. It was found that when making a purchase decision; farmers usually do not rely on traditional media such as TV, Radio or print. Rather, they go through a verification process through their trusted human network. Such network can be his peers, an advanced farmer whom he follows, a trusted retailer or a government agricultural officer that he finds helpful. From this network he gathers testimonials and feedback on the product. It was also found farmers chose carefully when it came close to making the final purchase decision of agro-inputs; just like any rational investor would think twice before making the final call. When identifying brands or preferred products, farmers tended not to fully read the packages. Sometimes identifying a company’s packaging was also difficult in their eyes as many do not read well. Many growers who were interviewed couldn’t recall specific brands’ and how their logos, colors, or other features looked like, or how the package looked (Mental Models of Farmers, DAI 2016). There was a tendency to preserve the package to find the product again. Locally, few market leaders were ahead on this issue, and these brands addressed this by communicating very simple messages or designs that were more easily recognizable. Farmers could recall those simple signs in the packs. Farmers were concerned about the quality of the input product. Within a geographic community, getting proper solutions for crop care was not always easy and the ‘search cost’ of solution was higher than usual.

NAAFCO, a partner of AVC, has been working to expand their market in the south for agro inputs. AVC extended its support to help them to develop a marketing strategy.  AVC partnered NAAFCO with Red Rockets, a professional marketing agency. Red Rockets conducted field visits to NAAFCO’s selected sales zones to understand target market behavior. This trip again revealed brand recognition was minimal for NAAFCO among tested spots. Red Rockets started working with NAAFCO to consolidate the NAAFCO wings into a single consolidated brand with a clear symbol. Discussions with regional staff revealed local markets posed another threat — they were copying packages of NAAFCO and taking advantage of its package design to sell inferior products.

To develop the overarching marketing strategy for NAAFCO, Red Rocket suggested that they use a style of marketing called Experiential Marketing. Experiential marketing is a form of advertising that focuses primarily on helping consumers experience a brand. While traditional advertising (radio, print, television) verbally and visually communicates the brand and product benefits, experiential marketing tries to immerse the consumers within the product by engaging as many other human senses as possible. This caters to rural customers, as farmers prioritize brand trust and peer testimonial when buying.

The agency prepared the first set of sample branded packaging and pre-tested it in Kochua, Jessore with additional communication and promotional materials. This pre-test expanded on the information gathered during the field visits and found that if a logo is not placed in center or top, buyers tend to pick other objects in the center of the package as the brand identifier. It was found that farmers emphasized the quality of the products and were not pulled in by discounts, as they saw lower prices as a signal of unsold or low-quality products. Better respect from the retailer was also an issue as a general consumer as there remained an invisible status quo if he was just a farmer.

After a month-long discussion of the feedback on the creative materials from the pre-test campaign, Red Rockets and NAAFCO developed the final marketing materials to reach rural farmers. These materials included posters, danglers, banners, shop signs, stickers and referral cards. NAAFCO screened out 5 dealers and 10 retailers who are in their preferred client list in two selected districts each, namely Jessore and Barishal. Red Rockets and NAAFCO then organized a two-week test campaign in selected zones with these 30 key participants and 400 + selected farmers.

One of the core activities to this campaign was to arrange small low cost events in retailers’ shops where influential farmers were asked to join for a session. This capitalized on the information that farmers are more trusting of brands when they are endorsed by their trusted social networks; information that became evident in researches (Mental Models of Farmers, DAI 2016) and field visits. NAAFCO sales staff was advised to start off the session talking about community problems, then discuss solutions and then tag the product as a solution.  The attention span grew within farmers as local problems were being addressed and understood by the sales staff, allowing them to see NAAFCO as a trusted resource. Thus, NAAFCO was advised through these exercises to sell comprehensive solution to the client not just a product. A hotline was promoted to reinforce the problem-solution approach.  The hotline was centrally maintained by NAAFCO and could respond to farmers’ queries on various issues in the field, especially when they need to make a purchase decision. 205 farmers were reached in groups of 8 to 10 in 20 retailer points.

To have a multiplier effect and to increase community messaging referral cards were given to farmers. The hotline number was placed on referral cards that the farmer can take home and share with peers. The referral cards were given as a call to action tool so that farmers are reminded to reach back to the support line. The 205 were given 15 referral cards each to reach 3000 more farmers. Additionally stickers were given to each participant to take home in case they lose the card and can save the number. The tools had a simple NAAFCO logo with high visibility, since semi-literate farmers had expressed difficulty in identifying packs. It was essential to give them an easy symbol that could be identified and they can match the logo from the card to identify NAAFCO products in stores and retail outlets.

NAAFCO was also encouraged to gradually develop brand ambassadors among lead farmers that can engage farmers on a personal level and build trust around the NAAFCO brand. Another two workshops with the aim of ‘Influencing the Influencer’ were organized centrally. The idea was to coach important farmers on selected NAAFCO products. 105 and 70 farmers came in respectively in Jessore and Barishal Central. A coaching session on good marketing techniques on farm produces for farmers also wereincluded, as an advisory service to farmers from the company end. Here referral cards were also given to share among communities.

There were other features to the campaign, to make sure NAAFCO engaged with its consumers giving proof of quality and authenticity. Referral plots were branded for retailers who can show the community a sample plot with NAAFCO product being used.

To improve customer service, retailers were also coached on products, sales and service techniques. This allows the retailer to engage the farmers in a more meaningful dialogue about the benefits of NAAFCO products and answer any questions the farmers have, building trust between the two. They were given a sticker pack of 200 each to continue sharing the hotline number to incoming clients. Finally relationship management training was given to central NAAFCO team.

It is important that any company stays connected with its final consumer through customer outreach, messaging, feedback loops and evolve marketing strategies as their consumers’ progress. End consumers (farmers) of NAAFCO can now call up and ask questions, talk about their requirements and send a robust signal through the feedback loop (hotline) and communicate their demands and solution needs. This allows direct interaction with farmers from NAAFCO central and its crucial for comprehending market signals and vibes.

The call to action tools such as referral cards and stickers made it convenient for farmers to access the call center, and as they got more and more beneficial feedback and information, it became a natural source of assistance and capacity building, building their relationship with NAAFCO as a trusted brand and partner.  A senior farmer also explained that farmers engage the helpline to resolve arguments when contradictory solutions come from peer groups. The Barisal Staff of NAAFCO reveals farmers expressed satisfaction saying, “Now we can sit on an aisle of a farm land and get a solution,” versus previously when farmers had to travel out of their remote communities to local villages or cities to get assistance, which is costly and time consuming for farmers in Barisal and many other parts of Bangladesh.

After these set of exercises, NAAFCO now has a consolidated brand, it is also exposed to a structured strategy and gives focus on consumer driven approaches. The Strategy repeatedly works through with tactics and suggestions that emphasized on building trust and brand loyalty, not just mere short term sales. As a growing company in Bangladesh, NAAFCO has now strengthened its two major sales and operation hubs in the south –Jessore and Barisal through the test marketing phase and is expected to continue sales and business relationship in south with consumer focus that builds loyalty.

Cassia Mahjabeen has been working with AVC as Marketing and Media Specialist.

How systems change

Sadruzzaman Noor
Sadruzzaman Noor

After five years of working with development organizations to bring about systemic change, I have learned one key lesson about designing and selecting interventions– you just need to keep trying new things. The idea is that while some changes may not work, if the overall number of initiatives to create change increases, the system will improve. This concept is central to understanding social systems. Social systems improve not because everything works perfectly, but because enough entities (firms or people) are testing innovations that over time the system evolves its capacity to cycle through tests and adopt what works and discard what does not. All highly innovative market systems have high rates of testing-adopting-adapting cycles and with time the system gets better and better at cycling innovation by learning from failures. Typically, the rates of failure remain high, but generate enormous learning that leads to and informs the next generation of innovation.

The interesting thing about systems is that they self organize. No single external force can bring change overnight, and similarly improving the efficiency and inclusivity of a market system takes significant time and a range of simultaneous disruptions and trends. The system responds to each intervention/disruption in a way that is unique and hard to predict, creating a non-linear path to change as these reactions misalign or even compete with one another.

Donor-funded interventions often fail to generate sustainable change in the agricultural eco system of developing economies by focusing on a set of narrow interventions that generate quick results towards targets rather than supporting market actors to innovate and test new business tools/strategies. In many cases, these interventions backfire because they fail to delegate the ownership of change to the actors and forces within the systems. Additionally, when not used thoughtfully, donor funds can create a negative disruption in the system.  We have seen many agricultural input organizations to open business wings for “project hunting,” where the team develops proposals aimed at winning donor-funded grants and contracts.  It is crucial to discourage this kind of donor dependence because the system will suffer in the long run as the businesses invest more in short term personal gains rather than focusing on their own long-term strategic business goals.  It is not unusual to see interventions to stop once the cash flow stops.

All these happen if donor projects/organizations do not strive to practice critical systems thinking[1] – keeping the mind open and wallets not-so-open. Systems are complex webs of relationships and interactions among numerous components/actors. Intervening in one interaction creates a ripple effect across the web, and the system self organizes to absorb the external force while the impact of that force fades. Hence, it is imperative that interventions are designed in such a way that they affect all the necessary touch points, so that these actors/components work together towards to path to greater value generation. To achieve this, the sense of ownership over the intervention and resulting change must be transferred from the intervening body to the interacting ones. Let us take the example of the agricultural input firms from the last paragraph to elaborate on this. The firms do not feel the need to change the way they operate because of their lack of trust in the system. They have seen donor funds to be disbursed abundantly, regardless of funding recipient’s business strategy or commitment, and sensed the absence of a balancing mechanism that rewards innovation and change, and punishes stagnation. As a result, they fail to see the potential of growth promised by market inclusiveness, indulge in the zero sum game prohibiting growth, and reinforcing their belief that systems do not work.

As I have seen through the projects I have worked for, it is very important to understand the complexities of relationships between market actors present in the system to learn why it malfunctions. A healthy system corrects itself because it supports innovation in processes, changing the way things work. On the other hand, an unhealthy system shows symptoms like unfair bargaining powers, lack of growth and inefficient distribution and usage of resources. No external force can change the way things work in a sustainable fashion because none of the actors own the change. Hence, donor projects can serve as a positive disruption to boost innovation by providing technical support to businesses to improve their long term business strategies and focus on innovation, and then use funds sparingly to buy down risk as the business tests no ideas or strategies for growth. The key to help the system is to encourage influencers to try new things by motivating them through examples and by sharing the risk. Once they own the concept of “trying” they would see that taking such risks pays off in the long term. Once they see the reward of trying things, they would recognize the change.

So, the next time before you think “Huh… I guess this is the way it goes,” would you pause for a moment to think “Wait! Can I try this?”

 

Sadruzzaman Noor has been working as a Specialist with the Research & Technology Commercialization team of USAID’s AVC project. He completed his BBA & MBA from the Institute of Business Administration, University of Dhaka. He is an enthusiast on systemic change theories and their practical usage.

[1] “Critical systems thinking aims to combine systems thinking and participatory methods to address the challenges of problems characterized by large scale, complexity, uncertainty, impermanence, and imperfection. It allows nonlinear relationships, feedback loops, hierarchies, emergent properties and so on to be taken into account and Critical Systems Thinking has particularly problematized the issue of boundaries and their consequences for inclusion, exclusion and marginalization” – Bammer (2003)

Learning Lunch: Strategic Approach Tools for Agro-Input Market

Wasel Syed
Wasel Syed
Asif Ahmed Tonmoy
Asif Ahmed Tonmoy

Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA) is an approach specific to AVC that allows the project the space to improve by continuously evaluating and learning from ongoing activities. One AVC CLA tool is the Learning Lunch, which is a one hour session held on a monthly basis where technical teams present and lead a discussion around a recent innovation or intervention, highlighting the successes and challenges and reporting out on the resulting learning.

A one-hour interactive session, initiated by Knowledge Management Team (KMT), took place on March 29th 2107. It is one out of many initiatives by KMT that facilitates employees of AVC to get more familiar with the CLA approach.   Mohammad Soeb Iftekhar, Deputy Team Leader, Market System and Cassia Mahjabeen, Marketing & Media Specialist, showed two videos during the event which utilized two case studies of current AVC partners as examples to better show the AVC approach to strengthening market systems & strategic approach tools for Agri input market. The session was followed by a lively discussion where opinions were exchanged between different experts from Dhaka and regional offices of the AVC project via video conferencing.

Strengthening agricultural input supply market system

The current market system presents an obvious disconnect between the large agricultural firms and small holders. The large agricultural firms were offering products which did not completely meet the smallholders’ needs. USAID AVC Project in Bangladesh looked to address this issue by working with the large agricultural firm to build their business capacity in market and package a more reputable brand that delivers a more reliable product to smallholders. In one case AVC assists a firm named ISPAHANI to promote and distribute IPM or bio-pest management products which work to control pest while limiting harmful environmental effects and being cost effective. After ISPAHANI’s marketing, distribution and customer service strategy was finalized, positive results seemed to materialize very quickly. Small holders experienced less crop loss, greater income and reduced their spraying needs by over 60 percent. ISPAHANI furthered its reach by training farmers directly on how to properly use their products.  AVC also helped strengthen ISPAHANI’s distribution network extending its services to the far reaches of Bangladesh. However AVC did not work solely with ISPAHANI. It also initiated a positive competition through engaging with several competing firms in the same sector in similar interventions. The goal was to show how marketing tactics and a promotional strategy can be used to produce broad systemic change across a market system.

Strengthening service market systems

To strengthen the service provider system, USAID AVC Project in Bangladesh works through the private agricultural firms to affect the greater market system. In one case, AVC supported NAAFCO to train and brand independent Agro-service providers who help farmers in basic cultivation technology and management practices. In less than a year, a rapid result has been observed as a growing number of Agri-service providers are working in a team and earning much higher income than previous years. Thousands of farmers are accessing specialized services and harvesting better crops. NAAFCO’s sales have increased and they are now investing more to expand the strategy in new regions and crops. International experts were also brought on board to train the local farmers about spraying, fertilizing, and irrigation. The professional spraying services created an opportunity to get better specialized services locally and created new job opportunities for local communities.

 

The takeaways from the strategic approach tools and tactics for agro-input market in Bangladesh:

Strategic Approach includes consumer segmentation and differentiated marketing strategy. In consumer segmentation, geographic location, demographics, purchase behaviour and ease of access play a vital role. On the other hand, a marketing strategy asks for effective campaigns to attract various market segments within the target market. AVC facilitated the NAAFCO brand by injecting the NAAFCO corporate logo on all products, retaining strong identities as sub-brands of the NAAFCO master brand and striving for visual uniformity in packaging and marketing materials. In this case experimental marketing of a distribution chain and a differentiated marketing strategy for consumers were utilized together to reach their targets. Point of Sales (POS) branding for dealer and retailer have also been observed. Tangible engagement between farmer and retailer has been established through different activities as well.

Initiatives like AVC’s Learning Lunch ensures collaborative learning, adaptation and inclusive participation of the entire AVC staff. This will surely facilitate employees of different departments to learn the bigger picture, exchange ideas and interpret future interventions more adequately.

Wasel Syed is Manager, Knowledge Management, Monitoring and Evaluation at USAID’s Agricultural Value Chains project and Asif Ahmed Tonmoy is an Intern working with Knowledge Management team.

Market Systems Approach Through Simulation

Rubyat Tasfia Rahman

For AVC’s 5th Quarterly Portfolio Meeting, all the teams came together for 2 days and had discussions regarding the Project’s performance in the last quarter. The Project operates under the Market Systems Approach and one of the ways in which the Project applies this approach is by finding leverage within the local system that can drive system change from within the system.  One of the more important leverage points within market systems is a lead firm. Finding and developing a relationship with a lead firm make for a tricky process and as a result, an important skill for the team.

The Market Systems Team is comprised of technical leaders who work with select market actors from within the market system that have the interest and ability to catalyze change from within the targeted agricultural market systems.  For AVC, by working through lead firms, it is better able to effect real and durable change that is leading to increased rural incomes, rural employment, and grow the market systems more inclusively. The theory of change behind working with these market actors is that if they improve their strategies and business practices, making them more inclusive, they will create competitive pressure that drives others in the system to follow suit. An example of such a partner would be an input supplier firm who serves the farmers with quality inputs.  Under the Market System Approach, AVC would facilitate the supplier in changing his/her strategies which would lead to the firm adopting a range of new tactics that would eventually drive the firm to be more value-adding and customer-oriented. Ultimately, even when the Project is long gone, the partner continues to serve the market with quality inputs for his/her own revenue-generation incentives, but now more effectively and efficiently with the help of the newly-adopted tactics, and the farmers continue to have better access to quality inputs. Thus, sustainable development is achieved.

The Market Systems Team decided to depict how the technical leaders make use of this the Market System Approach with the help of a simulation game during the Portfolio Meeting, where the audience was split into 5 teams and each team was asked to think from the perspective of a technical leader and make decisions about activities with various partners. The modality applied is explained as follows:

1.  Each team was allocated USD 16000 to award to partners as grants for various activities which they (the teams) were asked to choose later on in the game. The game was divided into two rounds, like two modules of contracts that the Project sets up with partners in the real world.

2.  Each team was given a piece of paper containing profiles of 5 prospective partners. The teams were asked to choose any 2 partners that they would like to work with.

3.  Based on the partners each team chose, they were given choices of activities that they can implement with the partners. The activities were printed on cards which contained information about how much grant money they had to pay to invest in specific activities and how many points they would earn for those chosen activities. Within each set of activity cards for each partner, there was one hidden special activity card which was a System Change activity. This activity, if chosen for implementation during round 1, would give the partners bonus points and reduced costs of investment in round 2.

For e.g., for Partner B, the activity “Establish QMS and acquire certification” is a System Change activity. Implementing this activity would help standardize and elevate the quality of the partner’s supply chain, and would make it easier and more effective for the partner to implement other activities like attracting export clients or branding its produce as of good quality to consumers.

4.  Then there was a draw of lucky cards with each team, which either left them with more points/more money or fewer points/deducted money.

5.  Round 2 started with the teams being given another set of choices of activities for investment under Round 2. If any team chose the special card for any one partner or both of their partners during Round 1, then they could earn more points for lesser amount of money for the new set of activities. If they failed to choose the special card for their specific partners, then they paid the regular amount of money for fewer points. The two scenarios were distinguished with asterisk marks on the money and points for the special cards, and no asterisk marks for missing out choosing the special cards.

6.  Next, there was a round of dart-board game where the purpose was to bring out the ever-present uncertain environment of working in a Project. More often than not, a Project faces a host of external pressures and disruptions. Some are positive and some are negative to the aims of a project. These are beyond the project’s control and can be both local (such as local political unrest, cultural maladjustment, infrastructural barriers) and international (such as shifts in global economy, unpredictable decisions from the donor’s end, disruptions in global/regional political stability). The dart-board game served to represent one such externality related to a donor. One member from each of the teams who had grant money left over at the end of the game was asked to come to the front and throw darts at a dartboard. The dartboard had regions of “WIN” and “LOSE”. If he/she hit “WIN”, then his/her team received a Project extension and so, was awarded extra points. If he/she hit “LOSE”, then his/her team were told that the donor is having a funding challenge, and so they were penalized.

7.  Finally, the scores were tallied up, and the winning team and the runners-up team were given awards.

8.  The session was wrapped up with discussions explaining the logic and the turning points of the game, and about the message and the key learnings that the Market Systems Team intended to convey through this simulation game.

**Acknowledgments: The modality for the simulation game was inspired by Margie Brand’s Agricultural Input Supply Market System Simulation Training, which she offered at Dhaka in March to an audience of supply chain managers from NAAFCO, one of AVC’s partners. Margie supports practitioners and donors in strategic planning and facilitation, intervention design and implementation, and capacity building and training. She has trained over 4,500 trainers and master trainers, and has developed market systems development, value chain, enterprise, microfinance, and entrepreneurship curricula and tools, which have been translated into over 15 languages and used in over 35 countries. 

***Rubyat Tasfia Rahman is an Associate in the Market Systems Team at USAID’s AVC Project. She recently graduated from IBA, University of Dhaka and is passionate about food security. Rubyat’s favorite pastimes are travelling and trying different kinds of food.

Women flower farmers take the center stage at Bangladesh Flower Fest 2017

Lamia Anwar Shama

Flower festivals are celebrated all over the world around the year to promote the national flowers of the countries. Bangladesh jumped on the bandwagon last year with Bangladesh Flower Fest 2016. The fest was organized to acquaint the flower lovers of Bangladesh with the local varieties of flowers, create public awareness around the local flower market and to bring all the flower value chain actors under one platform.

Following the success of last year’s flower fest, this year flower fest was organized at a larger and grander scale and to reach as many flower lovers as possible. Along with promoting the local flowers of Bangladesh, this year the flower fest focused on endorsing and recognizing the efforts of women flower farmers at stimulating growth in flower sector.

One of the barriers to inclusive growth in the sector is the uneven representation of women in the market. Women are involved in almost all levels of flower value chain starting from production to trading to sometimes retailing. But they are not yet exposed to the market as much their male counterparts are. Their only target is to produce/procure the flowers and sell it to the next value chain actor. The men in the house are the ones that actively take part in the flower trading.

However, things have started to change and more women are coming out of their houses to take part in flower business. To use this momentum and make them understand the business context, this year AVC brought flower farmers from Jessore to participate in the fest. The fest gave them the opportunity to directly communicate with the customers which was a first for them. A pavilion featuring stories of these inspiring women was set up at the center that attracted a lot of attention. Being set up at the center, in the three days of the fest the women farmers became the stars of the flower fest. People were even lining up to hear their stories and take photos with them! They also got to understand the customers’ mindset and how innovative and new accessories with flowers can be made to cater to customers’ emerging needs. So, this flower fest sort of acted as a vehicle for the flower farmers to instill in them the idea of how they can expand their business through innovative and value added flower products besides the traditional buying-selling.

***Ms. Lamia Anwar Shama  works with USAID’s Agricultural Value Chains Project  as Marketing and Entrepreneurship Development Associate. She graduated from the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), under the University of Dhaka. She is a Mentor and Global Student Ambassador at Thought for Food (TFF) Challenge Program.

Agricultural Innovation Cycle in Bangladesh: Nonexistent or flawed?

Shafinaz Hossain
Shafinaz Hossain

Innovation or in simple words, continuous improvement has been the biggest hype in the last few decades. It usually happens with the development of a totally novel approach or around the alteration of existing ones and sometimes is enough to disrupt the whole system. However, pursuing innovative ideas is about balancing opportunity with risk. There’s always a chance that the innovation might not work out but there’s also ways to mitigate that.

Taiwan, the tenth most innovative economy in the world is also one of the world’s biggest semiconductor suppliers. In the 1950s and 60s, Taiwan was very similar to Bangladesh in a lot of ways; dependent upon foreign aid for development. But, that changed pretty quickly when Taiwan intentionally pursued the strategy to build wealth through innovation.

The risk of a bump in the economy was alleviated with privatization of government organizations which made the system more efficient and emphasis was put on education that encouraged engineering and innovation. They also realized that being stagnant was never a choice as other countries would soon catch up and rival them with cheaper prices. South Korea and Hong Kong also pursued similar economic shifts, moving away from cheap, labor intensive manufacturing to skilled service industry and luxury shipping respectively. The idea of constantly evolving has never been more important; even the simplest of tweaks can bring a world of change into our system.

But, Bangladesh has not yet pursued a similar shift/economic growth, and remains with a starkly smaller and more sluggish economy from these Asian countries primarily because we don’t have the incentives or strategies that values innovation. We lack understanding in what innovation necessarily means. Most of us assume it to be something in the line of a very modern, sophisticated product that is unattainable. We don’t think along the lines of a new market segment, value added services or find a new way to an old business model. We simply do not want to cross boundaries.

This is partially because it’s easier and cheaper to imitate. People innovate when they see that innovation will give them a competitive edge and they will only put in their resources when they see that they will get a premium price for it. But, unfortunately, the consumers in Bangladesh do not yet have the mindset to pay the extra price for the added value.

Bangladesh, with its 160 million people should have been a lucrative market for any investor. The sheer masses of this population represent a huge market, where people are interested in producing, buying and consuming innovative products. The Bangladeshi market calls for frugal, scale able, trustworthy and user friendly innovation which clearly the manufacturers are unable to tap into.

Our market works best when we come together, when interactions between multiple stakeholders happen. Having a shorter innovation cycle especially in agriculture clearly requires multidimensional involvement from all the patrons in this effort. However, with all the merits of the holistic approach, the firms still continue to shy away from the interaction and we are left with a low level of innovation given Bangladesh’s human capital resources.

Currently, where we are at is not the worst place to be nor do we need any revolution to change things around. What we need is to look at the challenges that stop us from moving forward and work around those specific bumps/ potholes. We only need a few of the firms to move away from the old, traditional practices and think about disruptive ways that will eventually put enough pressure on their competitors and the overall market will evolve to be more innovative.

The inefficient innovation cycle cannot only be explained by the inactive participation of private sector; government research bodies play a role in stifling innovation as well. Despite having a fixed amount of allocated fund, research bodies inadequately address the problem mainly due to the lack of communication with private sector.  The solutions that they come up with don’t do much problem solving for the customers as they do not coordinate with private sector before conducting research on a new product. So, the final product is not appropriate for commercial sale and thus that one prototype never sees the light of the day.

Some of our policies do not even support innovation; the heavy taxation on machinery components and spare parts import is one big barrier for agro machinery manufacturers. On the other hand, the duty on agro technology from India or China is much less; home grown machineries thus cost way more than the imported ones. New companies do not want to enter the scene because of the difficulties of doing business in Bangladesh.

The academia also needs to come into the innovation cycle and work alongside the private sector in order to build the trust that lacks among the target customers when it comes to local agro innovation. Instead of putting funds into their own research, the private sector can perhaps commit a bit of their time and money to the academia and counsel them about the market need. The academia in turn can take in as much market information as possible to come up with relevant technology.

With academia, public and private sector working together, the task of attaining a shorter innovation cycle will be much easier. For this to happen, communication needs to be given the highest emphasis at this point. When it comes to making a technology work, communication is the key for business success.

***Ms. Shafinaz Hossain  works with USAID’s Agricultural Value Chains Project as a Research and Technology Commercialization Associate. She graduated from the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), under the University of Dhaka. She was the Winner of the Thought for Food (TFF) Challenge 2015 organized by Syngenta Corp in Lisbon, Portugal; the 1st Runners Up of Business Today Impact Challenge 2015 (BTIC) organized by Business Today and Princeton University in New York, USA.