When they think of an innovator, many people imagine an individual, toiling away alone in a laboratory, coming up with ideas the world has never seen. In reality, most innovation arises from people collaborating and combining their insights to solve problems in new ways, where new ideas build on existing ones.
Marie Connett, who directs the Global Development Technologies portfolio at Global Good, an invention investment fund at Intellectual Ventures, firmly believes collaboration can help transform the food system for a sustainable future.
A healthy portion of technologies that Global Good develops pertain to agriculture because, according to Dr. Connett, agriculture has been shown by multiple studies to be one of the most effective sectors for intervention, for both poverty alleviation and the health of the planet.
“Done well, agriculture can feed everyone,” she said. “Done poorly, it can cause long-lasting damage.”
For example, if people aren’t getting enough food, or the right kinds of food, that has an impact on their health and wellness. Further, if food products aren’t reaching the markets intact, or if producers aren’t receiving a fair price for their product, they may be less able to work their way out of poverty.
True innovators, Connett and her team often look for ways to build on some of the really great ideas that are already available to the big agriculture market – then they work to make products that are more affordable and better adapted to the needs of smallholder farmers.
Global Good believes at its core that inventions designed for some of the most challenging situations faced by the poor will eventually prove disruptive to the broader global community, providing many more benefits beyond the initial use case for which they were designed. Global Good calls this phenomenon reverse innovation.
For instance, in many parts of Africa there is plenty of groundwater near the surface of the soil, but it’s often not accessible to smallholder farmers who can’t afford to purchase expensive pumps to reach it. So although the rain falls equally on rich and poor farmers, only the poor farmers are totally dependent on rainfall to water their crops. This puts them in a precarious position if the rains come at the wrong time, or fail to come at all.
Adding to the challenges, smallholder farmers often do not own the land that they farm. This means that even if they were to find the money to install a fixed pumping system to reach the groundwater beneath their feet, the landowner could demand more in rent the next year – because the pump would have increased the land’s value!
To solve this dilemma, Global Good is developing a solar powered portable pump system at a price point that allows farmers to recoup their investment in under 18 months. They are also exploring Irrigation-As-A-Service, using an innovative motorcycle-powered water pump. Operating a mobile water pump service could provide additional income to individuals who own motorcycles, and it would benefit farmers willing to pay for crop irrigation services without having to make their own capital investment in a traditional pump.
Read more about Global Good's innovative solutions at Global WA.