infoDev Climate in...

Family farmers of Santa Catarina, a mountainous and verdant state in southern Brazil, are getting a lift in climate-smart agriculture, thanks to a new center set up with support from a World Bank Group team. The team recently helped the State of Santa Catarina to launch  NITA (Nucleus for Technological Innovation for Family Agriculture) to support small businesses developing and commercializing climate-smart solutions for family farmers in Santa Catarina.

A public-private partnership

Two years in the making, NITA brings together 11 private, public, and academic institutions. The team was incubated by the Green Competitiveness Launchpad, an initiative of the World Bank Group’s infoDev program that trains staff in design thinking methods to engage their stakeholders and co-create more effective projects. The team is now set to start changing the agriculture game in Brazil, starting with Santa Catarina.

Once an importer of food in the 1960s, Brazil has morphed into a top global agricultural powerhouse. The country is now the world’s largest exporter of coffee, soybeans, beef, sugar cane, and ethanol.

But most of that growth has come from large commercial farms, aided by the latest agricultural technologies and government support, explained Diego Arias, a lead agriculture economist who is one of the leaders of the World Bank Group team. Small farms – those with three to five workers – have not had access to the same technologies and support. And 87% of Santa Catarina’s 195,000 farms are family farms. Furthermore, environmental degradation and climate change effects disproportionately threaten these small farms in the state.

“They are the main group that needs tools and technologies to improve their quality of life,” said Igor Luduwichack da Silva, CEO of Bauer Aerosystems, which makes heavy-duty agricultural drones that operate in smallholder and mountainous terrains where tractors cannot reach and is a partner company in NITA. “Drones are an important precision agriculture tool, and we’re putting them within reach of family farmers.”

The drone is one of several technologies that can help small farmers in Brazil.

It takes a village …

“The goal of NITA and the launchpad initiative is to help those family farms increase productivity and resilience to climate change,” said Arias, by linking them to relevant small and medium enterprises developing agricultural technologies. 

It wasn’t a cakewalk bringing NITA’s partners together, though. While several institutions in Santa Catarina had deep expertise and resources in entrepreneurship, agriculture, and innovation, their communication and networking was limited. “They did not have a dialogue” and were wary of joining a big partnership, explained Barbara Farinelli, an agriculture economist who is the team’s other leader.

“We had to spend a lot of time using design thinking for them to convince themselves about the value added of being part of NITA,” said Steve Babitch, the team’s Launchpad design coach. 

Many stakeholder sessions, farmer shadowing exercises, and design workshops later, their work paid off. The team eventually got 11 partners on board, including the government of Santa Catarina, the state’s Agricultural Research and Rural Extension Company (EPAGRI), the Brazilian Small Business Support Service (Sebrae), the state Foundation for Research and Innovation Support (FAPESC), and the state Technology and Innovation Association (Acate), to name a few. It was more than even they expected. “They have all very strong buy-in,” said Farinelli.

The team also extensively interviewed farmers and other beneficiaries while developing NITA. Because of Launchpad’s long exploration and design phase, the team felt that they had much more time to focus on this compared with traditional World Bank projects. This hands-on experience with end users led them to realize the importance of trust between institutions and farmers, which was lacking.

… To help small farmers be more productive

“Innovation will help us produce more, and more easily. But the new entrepreneurs will have to come and meet us, to see our day-to-day lives and what we understand,” said banana farmer Valmor Raul de Farias.

The Bank found a key partner to address this in EPAGRI, which has a long arm into the agriculture sector, having earned the trust of farmers. This balanced out other partners who focused primarily on entrepreneurship and start-ups. “That’s why NITA put them all together,” Farinelli said.

The partners will fund NITA for two years as they test out SME climate-smart technologies and refine their approach. The plan is to prove enough success to create a market from climate-smart agriculture technologies for the family farming community, eventually attracting larger agritech corporations. The Brazil team also hopes to incorporate NITA in a future World Bank lending operation.

NITA (Nucleus for Technological Innovation for Family Agriculture) is supported by infoDev's Climate Technology Program, a World Bank Group initiative sponsored by the government of the United Kingdom, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Australian Aid), Denmark’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DANIDA), Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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