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Innovation as a response to scarcity

Kirsten Spainhower's picture

I am an aggie who is passionate about land use. When I started working at the Development Marketplace in 2008, I had the great good fortune to be starting a job that focused on my two favorite things as an international development specialist; grassroots responses to development challenges and agriculture. Because my first DM competition was on Sustainable Agriculture, I was in seventh heaven.

Today I was reading the Food First blog put out by the Institute for Food and Development Policy that featured a story on an innovative model for organic agriculture production referred asthe Sack Garden Model for Urban Agriculture. The project is being implemented in Kenya’s Nairobi slums: Kibera, Mathare, and Huruma. IFDP highlights the project as “one successful example of urban agriculture [which is] taking place in the face of pressures endemic to many urban spaces.” Lack of land-use rights in these slums makes it difficult for inhabitants to cultivate scarce land for food. But the Institute asserts that by “employing this model these slums are undergoing a transformation towards food sovereignty. The symbol of this movement is becoming well-known: a small recycled sack filled with seeds and soil.” Under this program an Italian NGO is providing top soil, manure, and seedlings across slums in Nairobi.


Another example of innovation arising from scarcity is a DM funded project:  Riverbed Farming for Landless Households in Nepal where landless farmers are planting annual crops on river deltas.  In this project, 2000 landless households use river deltas for seasonal cultivation of horticultural produce. The sale of the produce will generate income and contribute to developing secure livelihoods for participating households. Through this project the implementing NGO Helvetas Nepal is providing technical assistance and working with local government to develop a leasehold system to be replicated by development organizations and the government in other lowland districts of Nepal. Using this experience as foundation, Helvetas Nepal along with the Nepalese Ministry of Agriculture is developing a National Riverbed Farming Strategy to replicate the experience at a national level and to mobilize resources for assisting landless to establish riverbed farming. The risk of flood damage to producers will be managed by developing and operationalizing flood damage insurance.

At the Development Marketplace we have been having a lot of discussions around what really motivates innovation. In the tech world innovation is typically recognized as the ability to churn out new electronic devices or new applications. But in development, it seems to me that innovation is more often a response to scarcity of resources. I look forward to hearing more from my favorite Development Marketplace cohort, the 2008 finalists and winners about creative ways they are responding to resource scarcity issues while tackling poverty at grassroots and national levels

Photograph courtesy of Martin Dietz with Helvetas Nepal, used with permission.

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