Description/achievement of initiative
VSO, an international development agency, and Syngenta, a global agribusiness company, are working together in a three and a half year partnership to sustainably improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Bangladesh. The resulting project, Growing Together, is currently reaching ten thousand farming households in the north-western districts of Rangpur and Dinajpur and has the ambitious goal to reach over one hundred thousand in the next twelve months. The project harnesses the expertise of both VSO international volunteers and senior-level Syngenta employees who volunteer on short-term assignments to build the assets and capabilities of male, female and young farmers.
This co-created initiative facilitates farming communities to self-select and self-organize the poorest farming households into farmers groups. These groups receive organizational capacity building and elect lead farmers to receive intensive agronomic training in rice intensification and crop diversification (potato, vegetable and fruit). Lead farmers then cascade knowledge within the groups using small demonstration plots and across the community through farmer field days.
Central to the success of the project has been the piloting of six for-profit farmer centers, learning from an approach introduced to Bangladesh by the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture. Centers provide physical spaces where farmers can access quality inputs such as seeds, crop protection products, rent simple farming equipment and aggregate crops. Farmer center facilitated contracts have led to increased market driven technical assistance, pre-financed seeds and a significant increase in income through export and domestic wholesaler contracts in vegetables. In parallel, with the support of Accenture Development Partnerships, the project is advancing its ambition to form a social franchise which not only holds a growing network of farmer centers to account (through a standard catalog of fee and no fee based services) but also further facilitates market systems collaboration. Current and future volunteers will work on assignments that develop the social franchise that can be replicated to support smallholder farmers across the country.
That facilitation draws on a second significant innovation in viewing value chains as nested rather than linear. Traditional linear views of value chains reinforce transactional relationships between one actor and the next. They discourage systems thinking and longer term strategic decisions and interactions between actors at different stages of the chain. For example this could include retailer investments in agribusiness entrepreneurs. A nested view encourages that interaction and inward investments into farming communities for the longer term benefit of the whole market system. It is this that then creates a very different perspective where each actor has a vested interest in the success and viability of farming.
75 Syngenta leaders have participated and have helped to increase the internal awareness about smallholder challenges and by displaying Syngentas contribution to mitigate these they also raised peoples pride in the company. The insights from the field help all colleagues to connect back with customers, putting them at the centre of the Syngenta operation. It also highlights the importance of working in partnerships to achieve the companies sustainability strategy, Good Growth Plan targets.
Arrangements for Capacity-Building and Technology Transfer
Syngentas investment in the Growing Together community is intentionally time-bound and will complete June 2018, driving VSO and the development sector to think differently about sustainability and scale. Opportunities for market systems investment through additional contract farming, or first and last mile distribution and retail, enables the ambition for the project to reach 100,000 farming households, supported by a social franchise of up to 100 farmer centers. This will support the development of thriving communities totaling more than 2 million people and generate opportunities for other initiatives in health, nutrition, education and economic development.
In January 2017 Growing Together opened its first retail finance bank in collaboration with a leading Bangladeshi bank, Bank Asia. This initiative is reducing the cost of borrowing and facilitating more strategic investment finance for farmers and the entrepreneurs in the broader communities.
In 2017 the project will become a pilot partner with Blue Number. This is a UN-led data initiative that will support farmers to self-report and own impact data against the Sustainable Development Goals and project performance measures. Project youth group members will act as data collectors and the aggregation of this information will provide a platform for young people and farmers to engage with local government around the issues identified. This digital platform will also provide farmers a unique identification number, online presence and traceability along the value chain.
Coordination mechanisms/governance structure
Bangladesh faces an increasing challenge to feed a growing population. It is in this context that VSO and Syngenta in 2014 spent time with farmers in town-hall meetings, taking time to understand their frustrations on market prices, debt driven cycles of high interest crop financing and crop protection products and applications that simply did not work. Often they were using counterfeit products or using products incorrectly based on questionable advice from local retailers. The Growing Together project, born out of these discussions, has been co-created over the past two and a half years with a goal to create impact in three core areas by June 2018.
- Work with communities to build their assets and capabilities in order to support sustainable positive change for poor and marginalized smallholder farmers in North West Bangladesh.
- Facilitate an experiential leadership development programme for senior-level Syngenta leaders; addressing current and future business challenges by supporting staff to work in new, challenging and resource-constrained environments.
- Leverage insights from the programme to respond to smallholder challenges and find new ways of doing business that can make a positive contribution.
The volunteering model is central to the programme. Every six months cohorts of 15 senior level employees travel to Bangladesh to work alongside VSO and local delivery partner RDRS to share their business and agricultural expertise to develop specific technical areas of the project. Between cohorts VSO staff, volunteers and partner organization staff deliver the recommendations developed by the cohort. This model facilitates a co-created and adaptive programme development process where cohorts review, learn and develop the model every six months. This model of cross-sector partnership also allows each party to bring their own expertise to the table - with VSO leading on community development and participatory methodologies and Syngenta bringing leading expertise in agriculture and business. We believe this innovative way of working has enabled us to create a programme that is far stronger than anything we could have developed on our own.
The programme is governed by a steering committee from VSO and Syngenta who meet every two weeks to review progress and make decisions together. Biannual workshops also take place after each cohort to learn, adapt and agree on the next phase of the programme.
VSO and Syngenta