Acumen & Bain launch roadmap for smallholder farmers

20 November 2014

Earlier this week Bain & Company and Acumen released the report ‘Growing Prosperity: Developing Repeatable Models to Scale the Adoption of Agricultural Innovations’ that focuses on how smallholder farmers can boost their productivity and contribution to local and regional markets. According to the research, three key steps lie at the heart of a successful strategy. Smallholder farmers should build their approach around the 4 A’s, ensure they obtain the right scale and lastly, collaborate within the agriculture value chain to maximise reach and impact.

Currently, nearly 2.5 billion people – which is 35% of the globe’s population – live off the land. These smallholder farmers survive by farming small plots of land about the size of a football field. Their 500 million farms produce up to 80% of the food supply in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, yet many of the people living on these farms are themselves struggling to survive.

Bain & Company - Primary Livelihood

Against this backdrop, Bain & Company and Acumen, with the support of the Gates Foundation, teamed up to make a difference. In their view, the key to success lies in ensuring that smallholder farmers are provided the infrastructure to grow and develop their business in a sustainable manner. To achieve this, the authors believe two fundamental factors should be in place. Firstly, “pioneer companies” – entrepreneurs who are trying, and succeeding in reaching these farmers – should do  a better job at demonstrating the value of their products, and secondly, governments, NGOs and private sector investors should bolster the role they play in the success of these companies through their investments, policies and the expertise they can offer.

With these two key fundamentals in place, the authors drafted a 140-page long strategy and approach, in essence providing farmers and other players in the agricultural ecosystem the building blocks to success, accompanied by a roadmap. A summary of the three key steps:


The Four A’s of Adoption
First, pioneer firms must systematically ensure that the “Four A’s” (awareness, advantage, affordability and access) are continuously in place for their farmer customers. Adoption starts with an unrelenting focus on the farmer: how to raise his or her awareness of new products and services, how to communicate and reliably deliver on the advantage the farmer will gain by adopting innovations, how to ensure the affordability of these innovations and how to provide easy and timely access to them. While these Four A’s are not revolutionary, we learned from our research that few firms are able to systematically address each of these elements in a sustained way as they grow. This is not surprising, given the structural challenges of serving the base of the economic pyramid and the inherent complexity firms encounter as they try to adapt to rural developing markets with often low levels of infrastructure and value chain development.

The Importance of Repeatable Models
Second, pioneer firms must develop Repeatable Models to achieve adoption at scale across villages, regions and countries. This means having the right strategies, processes, teams and supporting systems to drive adoption of their innovation in an adaptive and increasingly efficient and effective manner, while ensuring their own sustained, profitable growth. In short, Repeatable Models help pioneer firms promote “good scale” that endures while avoiding “bad scale” that is unprofitable and unsustainable. In our research, firms pursuing bad scale had introduced costly complexity by prematurely expanding to adjacencies (new customers, products, geographies or capabilities), while those on the path to good scale were implementing aspects of Repeatable Models.

Growing Prosperity

Building Repeatable Models entails, among other things: defining the company’s core market and distinctive competencies; establishing clear operating processes and market entry routines; appropriately hiring, training and managing the performance of employees; and developing and institutionalizing the customer feedback and learning systems that inform management as to whether and how the Four A’s are in place and that guide ongoing efforts for improvement and innovation.

Collaborating for Success
Third, other actors across the agricultural system should tailor their actions to enhance the Four A’s and help pioneer firms develop and scale their Repeatable Models to bring their products and services to more farmers. Though an understanding of the key factors of adoption and scale are paramount, firms and farmers do not exist in isolation—they operate within a wider market system.

This system can either promote the Four A’s and enable the firm to develop its Repeatable Model or hinder the firm’s success and slow down adoption. There are clearly examples of pioneer firms that, by virtue of their innovation and first-mover nature, disrupt and change part of a failing system; nonetheless, no single firm can rewire an entire system. Further, as the firm begins to reach scale of any significance, its interactions with this system (rules and regulations, infrastructure, access to finance and supporting inputs) and other key players (including competitors) will become more central to its success. Therefore, corporations, foundations and development agencies, impact investors, NGOs, and the government should design investments, interventions and policies that promote the lasting success of pioneer firms and the smallholder farmer customers they serve.

Agriculture Value Chain

“The agriculture sector requires considerable investment by all sector actors to build a robust and supportive ecosystem, and it needs more capital from investors who take the long view and value social returns. We are encouraged by the ingenuity and perseverance of the many pioneer firms we have studied for this paper, but more must be done to support their work. As many management teams at pioneer firms have told us, the work is consistently challenging and takes a very long time to “get right,” and the rewards, in terms of impact and financial returns, are often uncertain at this early juncture,” says Chris Mitchell, a Manager at Bain & Company in London and co-author of the report.

He adds: “We hope that current and aspiring entrepreneurs, as well as other system actors, will find in this study a clear roadmap for motivating those farmers to adopt innovative, value-creating products and services. If successful, this study will help accelerate results for all involved and, in so doing, contribute to our collective efforts to create growing prosperity.”

Graphs and images come from the report by Bain & Company and Acumen.


First Consulting implements data platform in greenhouse horticulture

11 January 2019

First Consulting has worked with Hortilux, a supplier of plant growth light solutions for the greenhouse sector, in the design, development and implementation of a real-time web-based customer portal called HortiSense. The portal presents information collected by sensors in greenhouses to customers for further analysis. To deal with the increasingly large amounts of data being produced, First Consulting created a Big Data solution using the Splunk platform. In just 2 weeks the project team was able to deliver accelerated analysis, leveraging Splunk to greatly improve the performance of the HortiSense portal.

Hortilux is a company that develops innovative and efficient ‘grow light’ solutions for its clients. The company is leader in the use of hybrid growth lighting, which is the combination of LED and HPS lighting. This combination greatly improves the lifecycle of Hortilux’s systems and aids growers in optimising their grow light solution. In search of accelerated innovation, Hortilux engineers are looking into ways to perform historical data analysis to assist them in addressing software and systems engineering challenges. 

First Consulting helped Hortilux with research into which technology would be suitable to process and analyse the data more efficiently. It quickly became apparent that a solution based on Splunk and Mendix had the greatest potential to improve the user experience of the HortiSense portal, as it would leverage existing software, sensors, data and data architecture, whilst delivering scalability at speed. This data is used to calculate plant physiological models in the HortiSense portal, and it is displayed in real-time dashboards that provide insights into solar radiancy, CO2 concentrations, humidity and temperature levels to aid growers in maximising greenhouse production in a more predictable way. 

First Consulting implements Big Data platform Splunk in greenhouse Horticulture

What is Splunk?

After careful consideration, Splunk – a publicly traded company with a net worth of well over $1 billion – was chosen as the platform to be implemented. Elaborating on Splunk’s edge, Jon Nelmes, Managing Partner of First Consulting UK, said: “The platform excels in real-time data analysis and in real-time dashboarding, and these combined properties make it an excellent platform for IoT (Internet of Things) and Industry 4.0 use-cases, where Splunk is now establishing a clear dominance in the market. What makes Splunk different from other platforms is its way of structuring data. Splunk is not a ‘traditional data warehouse’ solution; it is very well adapted to process large amounts of unstructured (big) data from many different sources like sensors, machines, routers and system logs. This is due to the fact that Splunk stores raw data, and integrates well with other applications through the use of APIs – it is a highly scalable platform.” 

Consultancy firm and Splunk partner First Consulting further leveraged the potential of the platform by collaborating closely with Hortilux and using the platform to not only address the immediate need to perform analysis on sensor data, but to also use it in making the Mendix-based HortiSense customer portal scalable to meet future demand. 

Splunk Implementation

The Splunk platform excelled in two areas. The first being that, following only a couple of workshops, the Hortilux engineers, with no prior knowledge of the platform, were able to create their own dashboards for asset monitoring. These dashboards allow the engineers to perform real-time historic trend analysis on large data volumes.

Secondly, some of the demanding plant physiological calculations that were previously performed in the HortiSense portal were moved to the Splunk platform and integrated through a web service integration. This separation of the analytical platform and the HortiSense customer portal led to a four-fold increase in the speed of the required calculations. “This not only greatly improved the current user experience of the portal, but also enhanced the portal’s scalability potential for the future.” 

Next steps

By collaborating closely with Hortilux, and closely examining their business needs, First Consulting have greatly improved the value of the implementation of the Splunk platform. Within two weeks First Consulting validated that the Splunk platform was a good match for the needs of Hortilux by enabling engineers to perform real-time historic trend analysis and improving the performance of their customer portal. The solution is also well placed to scale-up, should this be necessary in the future, which enables Hortilux to continue development of new insights into greenhouse production to aid growers in maximising their greenhouse productivity. 

This project, in which process, technology and business change complement one another, is a typical example of the types of projects delivered by the circa 200 consultants employed by First Consulting. Nelmes: “We help industry leaders to achieve their operational goals. From problem analysis to successful implementation, First Consulting delivers end-to-end solutions which are implemented in close collaboration with the client to realise the best business results. We do so by combining in-depth process and systems expertise with operational know-how.” 

Related: Internet of Things cultivation boosts greenhouse horticulture.