New study by Bain & Company and Acumen unveils how to scale adoption of agricultural innovations




Insights from new report to help catalyze progress in improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers

New York – Nov. 18, 2014 – Bain & Company and Acumen released Growing Prosperity: Developing Repeatable Models® to Scale the Adoption of Agricultural Innovations—a new report to help entrepreneurial companies, and others,unlock the potential of smallholder farmers through large-scale adoption of agricultural innovations and inputs.  The report’s insights and findings—which are the result of interviews with more than 300 smallholder farmers, sector experts and pioneer firm  management—demonstrate the transformative power of providing smallholder farmers with the right access to the right innovations at the right time. In parallel, the report addresses why very few pioneer firms have been able to achieve the scale needed to provide smallholder farmers with access to agricultural products and services that have the potential to increase their yields and pull them out of poverty. 

“These entrepreneurial companies we call pioneer firms are too important to remain subscale, or worse, to fail,” said Vikki Tam, co-author of the report and head of Bain’s Global Development practice. “Yet, to date, very little has been done to understand the specific challenges these firms face in serving farmers at the base of the pyramid, how they can overcome these challenges and what they can do to scale and achieve sustainable, profitable growth. Growing Prosperity identifies what’s working, and what must change to shift the odds more in favor of these firms and the smallholder farmers they serve.”

Smallholder farmers, most of whom live on less than $4 a day, produce the majority of the food supply in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.  Yet, these farmers often lack the access or means to invest in agricultural innovations —such as micro-drip irrigation systems, drought-resistant hybrid seeds and asset-backed micro-loans— which limits their productivity and income, as well as threatens the stability of the agriculture value chain and consumers’ food security. 

Growing Prosperity, which was produced with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and includes a foreword co-authored by Unilever CEO, Paul Polman, and Acumen Founder and CEO, Jacqueline Novogratz, aims to fill a research gap in the agriculture sector where relatively few studies have focused on the interaction between smallholder farmers and pioneer firms—interactions that Bain and Acumen view as critical to accelerating adoption.

Despite the critical role pioneer firms play in the agriculture value chain, they are often constrained in their ability to scale their business and serve more customers, due to the obstacles inherent in developing-market agriculture : farmers with low purchasing power; products, such as seeds, that do not perform consistently across different environments; geographic dispersion of farmers and varying levels of infrastructure; and the lack of a road map for their work or proven models to emulate. 

Drawing upon multiple examples from northern Uganda to rural Kenya to southwest India, the report provides practitioners with key insights on how to spur greater adoption of agriculture innovations by smallholder farmers, including:

  • An actionable framework called the “Four A’s” (awareness, advantage, affordability and access) with specific best practices related to each, to be used by the entrepreneurs leading their businesses as they develop from growth to scale.
  • A four-step process for building Repeatable Models® necessary for achieving widespread adoption across villages, regions and countries, while ensuring pioneer firms’ sustained, profitable growth.

The report also identifies actions various market players from corporations to governments to foundations can take to support pioneer firms and their farmer customers with the goal of accelerating results up and down the value chain. 

“Never before in history have we had the resources, skills, technologies and imagination needed to create a more prosperous and sustainable future for all,” said Ms. Novogratz.  “The solutions are out there, but they are not being used widely enough to make a meaningful, lasting difference. The time to accelerate progress is now—not by one sector, but by all sectors.”

To receive a copy of Growing Prosperity or to arrange an interview with its authors:

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About Bain & Company, Inc.

Bain & Company is the management consulting firm that the world's business leaders come to when they want results. Bain advises clients on strategy, operations, technology, organization, private equity and mergers and acquisition, developing practical insights that clients act on and transferring skills that make change stick. The firm aligns its incentives with clients by linking its fees to their results. Bain clients have outperformed the stock market 4 to 1. Founded in 1973, Bain has 53 offices in 34 countries, and its deep expertise and client roster cross every industry and economic sector. For more information visit: Follow us on Twitter @BainAlerts.

About Acumen

Acumen is changing the way the world tackles poverty by investing in companies, leaders and ideas. We invest patient capital in business models that deliver critical goods and services to the world’s poor, improving the lives of millions. Since 2001, Acumen has invested more than $88 million in 82 companies across South Asia and Africa. We are also working to build a global community of emerging leaders that believe in creating a more inclusive world through the tools of both business and philanthropy. Please visit for more information and follow us on Twitter @Acumen.