Solution Cluster 1.1.1

Democratise access to future technology, inputs, and finance: empowering smallholders as stewards of healthy and productive soils

We aim to decrease hunger and support better diets among smallholder populations by democratising access to agricultural technology, inputs, and finance, so that farmers can benefit from the efficiency gains that the rapidly growing ecosystem of tools can bring, thus providing a cost-effective, scalable path to increasing farm productivity, beyond just subsistence farming.

We will improve soil health and increase soil carbon sequestration by smallholders, enabled and measured by the very same technology used to increase yields. Through this, and using the societal value of soil organic carbon as a key determinant of soil health, we will leverage carbon markets to fund new partnerships that will bring together AgTech companies, governments, donors, investors, and farmer-facing organisations to help men and women smallholders grow more nutritious food sustainably.

About this Solution Cluster

In general, high-income farmers benefit from an increasingly impactful array of technological tools, inputs, and access to finance to improve productivity. This allows them to ‘future-proof’ their farms, adapting them to a changing climate through a wide-range of field-tailored solutions, including access to irrigation systems, integrated soil fertility and pest management systems, more precise planting practices, and key inputs like improved, quality seeds. However, due to a range of constraints, notably a lack of capital, most of these do not reach poor smallholders, especially women farmers. Making these kinds of products accessible to smallholders will provide them with a path to optimise the production efficiency of the few acres of land that they own or rent, helping them grow more food for consumption and sale, to improve their diet quality while also helping restore depleted soils. 

We see six critical gaps where providing access to technology, inputs, and finance could be transformational for both men and women smallholders, each of which can be specially targeted to help improve soil health, and thus increase soil carbon sequestration: soil conservation, water harvesting and irrigation, mechanisation, precision agriculture, organic matter/biomass and chemical fertiliser, and quality seeds promotion. 

Smallholders’ ability to access these products is limited by four key issues: 1) access to markets; 2) cost constraints (both the total cost and the lack of working and equity capital financing); 3) infrastructure constraints, such as the lack of electricity or distribution channels; and 4) information constraints, such as low digital literacy in rural populations. Resolving these constraints is expensive, and local investors and the banking system must be incentivised to serve lower-income populations in the short term; in the long term, as smallholder productivity and incomes increase, investors and lenders should be able to generate revenue from serving farmers. 

In order to catalyse these markets, we need to find new financing mechanisms. To start with, we seek to more holistically engage with the local finance system (e.g., banks, microcredit agencies). However, we also plan to tap into the growing global carbon markets, leveraging the carbon sequestration potential of depleted soils to generate a sustainable flow of financing. The moral case alone for this should compel us: smallholder farmers represent a population that will be decimated by climate change but who bear almost no responsibility for it. Carbon markets should be driving resources to them to help them adapt and increase their farm production. We will coordinate this work through smallholder-focused consortiums led by farmer groups and associations, or organisations working directly with large networks of farmers, especially women farmers. This investment would create a sustainable value loop, feeding back into the very health of the soils needed to improve yields and further increasing soil carbon sequestration.

The evidence for why each of the specific technological and input interventions identified here is an efficient means of increasing yields (and thus reducing hunger) can be found in the relevant ideas in the two earlier ideas papers of Action Track 1. Our overall theory of change assumes that we can also improve soil health and soil carbon sequestration through this same technology and access to finance for smallholders in areas of high rural poverty, with low technology and/or input access.

To create these smallholder-focused tech consortiums, we suggest the following steps be taken through the Summit (that will be outlined in more detail in a full proposal):

  1. Identify and build a database of locally owned or locally based ag tech companies and financial institutions that are well positioned to expand their services into smallholder communities through innovation calls, that can offer products to ‘future-proof’ farms by increasing yields and improving diet quality for better nutrition and health and having a positive impact on soil health (to improve carbon sequestration, as well as long-term yield potential).
  2. Develop a ‘democratising technology’ programme roadmap for business associations, which would include this database as well as clear guidelines for how partnerships could be built to meet the goals of this solution, especially for women farmers.
  3. Pre-negotiate commitments to buy carbon credits: in order to streamline the financing of these partnerships, we will leverage the profile of the Summit to secure commitments from companies and other buyers for carbon sequestered through the programmes and link them to governments interested in implementing the programmes. As a key part of this, we will need to negotiate a price-per-ton or societal value of carbon that is high enough to both finance the investments in technology and ensure smallholders are able to invest enough in their fields to meet the key goal of the programme: reducing hunger.

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