Many Steps Forward, One Look Back: What’s Next for AgResults

May 20, 2024

man walking in field and carrying fodder
Over more than a decade, AgResults prize competitions have motivated local businesses to engage farmers and improve their practices and access to markets.

by Christopher Brett

Christopher Brett is the Lead Agribusiness Specialist at the World Bank and has been on the AgResults Steering Committee since 2017. He currently serves as the Chair.

As project designers and funders, how can we say with some certainty that a development approach is working? And how do we capture and share that knowledge so that others may learn from our experience?

These were the questions we discussed during two workshops with representatives from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) last month in Rome, Italy. During these sessions, we presented the AgResults Pay-for-Results model and how it uses monetary prizes to encourage the private sector to develop, scale, and deliver innovative agricultural technologies to smallholder farmers. The $152 million initiative’s project managers and evaluators presented evidence on this innovative finance approach, and AgResults’ Steering Committee – comprising Global Affairs Canada, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID, FCDO, DFAT, and the World Bank – shared perspectives as donors.

We then heard from experts at FAO and at IFAD on how they have historically engaged the private sector in their agriculture and market systems development programming. We discussed challenges and lessons learned from around the world. For the last part of each day’s workshop, the conversation turned from reflective to collaborative as we discussed concrete steps to provide mentoring to incorporate this ‘pull’ approach into upcoming FAO or IFAD projects.

These two days were an opportunity to demonstrate the impact that AgResults projects have had, from strengthening the dairy sector in Tanzania to improving the quality of maize in Nigeria to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Vietnam. But it was also a time for me, as AgResults’ Steering Committee Chair, to recognize on how far we have come as an initiative. Because behind those two days were more than 12 years of researching, experimenting, failing, reflecting, recalibrating, and finessing.

In AgResults’ early days, we were mainly focused inward: How should we design these prize competitions? How do we define our approach? How can we program funds into activities that are inclusive and meaningful? With a half dozen donors together in the room, the initiative has always needed careful planning and navigation. Yet each competition that AgResults designed, implemented, and closed was another chance to hone the model and build our collection of evidence. With each year, the projects became more nuanced in their structure and their use of incentives to scale and deliver critical technologies to those who need it most.

And now in its 12th year, AgResults is firmly looking ahead. We are seeking opportunities to transfer this body of knowledge to others so that they may also use prizes to drive market growth and transform food systems. It’s about circulating tools and tactics that have worked for AgResults’ ten prize competitions, but it is also about conveying a shared vision of innovation and partnership.

When we met with FAO and IFAD last month, these thoughts were at the forefront of my mind, and as AgResults continues, I am excited to embark on this next chapter of prize design mentoring and knowledge transfer. We’ve come a long way, and we have a lot to show for it.

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