Lessons from Katalyst's Work in the Vegetable Sector

There are a number of interesting lessons to emerge from the vegetable cases. Many of these lessons are common across vegetables, fish and maize and so are captured in the final chapter. However, there are two lessons drawn specifically from the case and two mini-cases in vegetables, that emerge particularly strongly and so merit dedicated focus here.

1. Partnership principles are vital to intervention success

Katalyst adopted a range of different tactics in deciding on their partners in order to change different supporting functions at different times, and this proved vital to success. The structure of the market in terms of number and size of firms, the micro political economy of different government and private sector actors, and the risk profile involved in facilitating the desired change were all vital parts of Katalyst’s analyse which allowed for a bespoke negotiation of deals. Analysis revealed incentives and capacities, and experimentation was employed where these were not clear.

Market leaders were useful where there was a high technical requirement and higher level of risk in engaging in a pilot, and a portfolio approach was used where there were no clear capacities within the sector, so that these capacities would be revealed through the short pilot period. In partnering with market leaders, Katalyst had a clear view of how this model could be drawn upon by other firms and emulated, usually through an information or technology transfer function.

Part of deciding on appropriate partnership models is knowing which type of actor is best placed to perform a function, which can vary over time. In many cases, it was necessary to engage government to play a role in the early stages of the process, to perform a function which they may not eventually be best placed to perform. This helped secure the buy-in and generate the learning necessary to give the interventions a chance of future success. It is necessary in doing so to look beyond commercial incentives to incentives around power and social incentives in order to make strong propositions to partners.

2. Importance of the nature of the market – reducing transactions in the core market

An interesting and unusual feature of both the crop nutrition and crop protection cases, is that one of the primary objectives was to reduce the transaction in the core of the market system; to persuade people to use less of a product, service, or behaviour rather than more. This has more in common with health and security related sectors rather than agriculture, and is something that is conceptually underexplored. In IPM for example, it is possible to view the system as an input supply system where there are underperforming market information, marketing, distribution and regulatory components. It is also possible to view the system as an IPM system in which, in essence, none of the supporting functions or rules existed, which was the strategy opted for by Katalyst.

The fundamental difference in such markets is the nature of incentives. Where firms stand to increase sales from changing practice, there is a clear incentive for them to do so. Even where the desired changes will result in neutral economic returns, there can be strong incentives around social returns or reputational benefits. However, when the objective is specifically to reduce use of a product, identifying actors with an incentive to do so is more difficult.

In crop protection and crop nutrition, the situation was slightly different. In crop protection, firms wanted to sell their product and that was harming the crops long-term. Developing and promoting an alternative product in IPM gave companies – either those that sold the chemical pesticides or others – an incentive to market that product instead, which could be complementary to their existing business. In crop nutrition, the problem was different as, by and large, products which are actually complementary are seen as competitive, as they are sold by different companies. There is a typical market failure as it should be in everyone’s interest for companies to promote balanced fertiliser usage as, in the medium term, it will be detrimental to all firms if soil fertility is damaged. Katalyst’s strategy here was to introduce a new product which would improve the quality of one of the three components of crop nutrition so as to make it more competitive and more likely to lead to balanced usage.

3. Interventions to increase resilience

In crop protection and crop nutrition, there was a challenge in attempting to change behaviours which would not realise a gain but minimise a potential loss in the medium or long-term. Considering not only interventions which are seen to increase productivity but also decrease losses requires different tactics as the potential advantages to a target group are less obvious. People do not, by and large, have an accurate perception of risk nor the information to improve decision making around risk taking behaviours. How can a farmer justify an expenditure on a pesticide without knowing how likely it is that they will be affected by the pest, and the impact on productivity if they are.

In addressing these challenges, Katalyst were able to leverage local trust networks and demonstrations in order to change these longer run behaviours.

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