Posted November 14, 2015

By Emily Webster

By Elyssa Lewis

Coping Strategies Index focus group, KwaZulu Natal

I was recently asked what made me want to work in international agricultural development, and pondering this question brought back memories of visiting my family in South Africa, which I have done every other summer since I can remember. South Africa is a beautiful country that exists in stark extremes, where makeshift shanty towns abut gleaming, wealthy neighborhoods. Considered an upper middle-income country, this distinction hides the fact that between 40 and 50 percent of the population is defined as poor and there still exists unacceptable levels of food insecurity and hunger. Much of this is experienced by black households in remote rural areas, often traditional homelands, where infrastructure is poor, due to historical marginalization under Apartheid. Rising food prices, coupled with increased reliance on cash food purchases is expected to only exacerbate these conditions, and a lack of access to secure, reliable and reasonable formal credit makes it even more difficult for households to deal with shocks and stressors.

It is in this context that SaveAct, a South African NGO, has been working with rural communities since 2007 to promote saving groups as a means of providing more reasonable and reliable access to credit. Working primarily in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape provinces, both traditional homeland areas, SaveAct has seen tremendous growth and success in its savings group efforts, now reaching over 46,000 savings and credit group members.

As a brief aside, for those that are not familiar with savings groups, here is a brief description. While microfinance institutions (MFIs) and banks, over the last 30 odd years, have given millions of poor people access to much needed credit and financial services, financial exclusion remains disproportionally high among the rural poor. This is due in part to the prohibitive costs involved in reaching remote areas and the high-risk profile often attributed to these customers. Thus, savings groups, have been advocated as a way of providing these much needed financial tools to those living in remote rural areas. Rather than having an outside entity provide credit, self-selected groups of 10-30 people come together on a regular basis to pool their savings, and then give out loans to members, creating their own sort of credit union. These loans are then repaid with interest, providing a sizeable return on investment, while still providing credit at an affordable rate. Savings plus interest are then distributed at the end of the year, and can become quite sizable given the context. Since groups are using their own capital, the revenue also remains within the community.

SaveAct, however, wanted to know more about the impacts that it was having on the households and communities that it works with, which is where I came in. Last summer was actually the second time that I had worked with SaveAct on a monitoring, evaluation and learning (ME&L) initiative. The first time was the summer/winter before I started my master’s degree, where I worked with a team to design, implement and analyze a household survey of their agricultural extension beneficiaries in the Eastern Cape, using electronic data collection tools. I was inspired and challenged by this first experience and jumped at the opportunity to return, when I heard about the Research Innovation Fellowship in Agriculture (RIFA). Given my previous engagement with SaveAct’s programs and staff, it was exciting to pick up where I had left off and address needs we had identified before. Through several conversations over Skype and through email, it was determined that SaveAct needed a more rigorous and systematic way to monitor the impacts that it was having, but in a way that would be relatively simple to implement. Looking at their theory of change, it was clear that improving food security was one of the first effects expected to take place as a result of being able to access credit during times of need. And furthermore, food security is seen as an important proxy indicator for poverty, which is why my project was to develop a ME&L tool that could measure food security.

The most commonly accepted definition of food security comes from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, which states that food security exists “when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” Food insecurity, therefore, is the lack of any or all of these components. In conducting background research for this project I found that due to the complex nature of food security, there is no single measure that exists, which can capture its many dimensions. However, there are three mains ways that food (in)security has been measured in various countries around the world. The first is experiential, and seeks to assess how food insecurity is experienced along a scale from worried about having enough food to actual experiences of hunger. The second is a measure of dietary diversity, looking at the number of different foods or food groups consumed over a given period, which addresses food utilization and access. And the third known as the Coping Strategies Index (CSI), which analyses the various coping strategies that households utilize when they don’t have enough food or money to buy food.

Given the context specific nature of the CSI, which is not a standard set of questions but rather a methodology used to create a unique survey tool, I thought this would be the one that would be the most useful in helping SaveAct learn about the impacts it was having. Thus, over the approximately 3 months I was there, we conducted 12 focus groups (6 in Eastern Cape and 6 in KwaZulu Natal) of 5-14 savings group members, where we brainstormed common coping strategies. In addition, focus group participants created a seasonality map of what times of year each coping strategy would have been used, with stickers going from one to five under each month (see picture), with the aim of better understanding what times of

SaveAct Annual Partners Meeting, Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu

the year were particularly strenuous and why so that SaveAct could attempt to tailor their efforts to these times of increased need. And lastly, each of the coping strategies brainstormed was rated on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 being the least severe and 4 being the most severe. These severity ranking can then be used to weight each coping strategy.

These result was the creation of the SaveAct CSI, which is a simple set of questions (easily added to a baseline survey) that ask about the frequency a household has had to use any of the most common coping strategies, weighted by the average severity score of each strategy. The frequency and severity scores are then multiplied together and summed, with higher scores indicating higher levels of food insecurity. A score of zero would indicate that a household is food secure.

It was fascinating and humbling to listen to people’s stories and hear time and again about the positive changes people attributed to being a part of a saving group. One group, in particular, thanked us for coming and conducting the focus group with them because it made them realize how much better off they were now.

Hopefully, now that SaveAct has their own CSI, they can continue to learn about the changes they are having on people’s lives and incorporate these lessons into developing even better projects and services.

For me, this experience has taught me more than I can even express, inspiring my current thesis research, and helping to shape me into a more effective development practitioner.


Elyssa Lewis is a second-year M.Sc. student in the International Agricultural Development Program at the University of California, Davis.


By Leah Renwick


Local Expert: 20+ years of international agricultural experience across multiple cropping systems; bilingual. Photo: L. Renwick

Give an IAD student a summer without classes, and most likely he or she will have a story to tell about working internationally when they get back in the fall.   But not every IAD student goes overseas to gain experience in agriculture and research, and the lessons learned while working domestically can often be just as educational.

So where did I not go this summer?  Before moving to Davis to start working on my degree in IAD, I worked for a farm in California's San Joaquin Valley, where I did a lot of thinking about nuts: hazelnuts, organic almonds, and the ways that climate change will impact their production.  I joined IAD for many reasons, one of which was the opportunity to learn from and engage with the plethora of amazing agricultural and natural resource experts at UC Davis.  Although there is undoubtedly a wealth of scientific expertise here, returning to the classroom and the laboratory has reminded me that that scientists are only one group of experts.  Until now, most of my teachers recently have been farmers, nurserymen, and farmworkers. 

As students studying international agricultural development , we frequently encounter assumptions about the supposed expertise of not only scientists versus farmers but also farmers versus farmworkers, the global north versus south, developed versus developing countries, men versus women, and so on.  Luckily, there are experts around that world that remind us to question such assumptions—and some of them are right here in our backyard.


Local Expert: 65+ years specializing in hazelnut propagation and farming (that is longer than most working science and engineering PhDs have been alive). Photo: L. Renwick

Learning from the wealth of experience, wisdom, and opportunity here at Davis and the surrounding agricultural community can help us to become thoughtful and open-minded practitioners of development and research, whether we work in our hometown in the U.S. or across the globe.


Leah Renwick is a first-year M.Sc. student in International Agricultural Development and Horticulture and Agronomy at the University of California, Davis.  Her thesis research will investigate the mechanisms of potential drought resilience in diversified crop rotations.  She has worked in California and Chile.

Hatian cacao and coffee: A photostory.

Posted by on January 28, 2016

By Kate Polakiewicz

IAD student Kate Polakiewicz spent the summer in Haiti working on a project funded by the Blum Center for Developing Economies through the UC Davis School of Education. She helped lead training exercises in experiential learning methodology for local agriculture teachers on topics ranging from applied principles of agroforestry, to degraded soil amendment, to integrating forest trees into Haitian perennial coffee systems. 

Below is a photo journal documenting some of Kate’s favorite moments from her Haitian experience.


Haitian cacao. Despite being Hatiti’s second most important primary product export, cacao bean production is difficult due to the age and small size of most farmers’ plots. Photo: K. Polakiewicz



Green coffee beans stored in Cooperative Agricole Cafeiere Gabart Levaillant's warehouse. Photo: K. Polakiewicz



A member of the coffee cooperative hand sorts sun dried beans for quality.  She is looking for damage caused by the eskolit (Creole for coffee berry borer). Photo: K. Polakiewicz



Kate at the coffee cooperative, her happy place. Photo: K. Polakiewicz



A Haitian agroforestry system featuring intercropped coffea arabica and banana. Photo: K. Polakiewicz



The coffee cooperative's nursery, featuring the Arabica Blue Mountain variety. Photo: K. Polakiewicz.

Kate Polakiewicz is a master’s student in International Agricultural Development at UC Davis.  Her research interests are in the production and sourcing of select tropical crops - primarily coffee and cacao.

By Emily Gousen


Emily (center) spending time with the women of Old-**** in South Africa to learn about their experiences
harvesting fruit from the Baobab trees in their community. Photo: E. Gousen

For many rural villages across southern Africa, development organizations take a number of approaches for tackling persistent issues like poverty and food insecurity.  Some groups come with a specialization, like HIV/AIDS prevention for example, and they seek out communities where their skills and resources will be most valuable. Others conduct research studies in order to contribute to the broader scientific understanding of the complex challenges faced by these communities.

More traditionally, however, organizations receive funding for a very specific, targeted project that is subsequently implemented in a community for as long as there is funding. When the funding runs out, the project is over.

Every approach has its benefits and its limitations, and what works best in one area might not be the best fit someplace else.

The approach taken by the Southern Africa Resilience Innovation Lab, part of the Resilient Africa Network, is a very unique combination of these three approaches. Based at the University of Pretoria, its mandate is to build African communities that are resilient to the shocks and 


stresses affecting their livelihoods, making use of innovative solutions to their context-specific resilience challenges. As a very large network, it enables its members to tap into a vast depth of resources and expertise.  By encouraging cross-pollination of ideas and interdisciplinary collaboration, each Lab has at its hands an entire global network of institutional knowledge and technical support. What makes the work so special is that the projects are community-based and community-driven, and this is the core of their approach.

This summer, I was very fortunate to work alongside this amazingly talented and dedicated team of researchers, development workers and agriculturalists to implement innovative, Human Centered Design approaches towards building resilience in communities that face high prevalence of HIV/AIDS.

Following a comprehensive qualitative survey in three communities across South Africa, Zimbabwe and Malawi, food security and income generation were identified as the top “resilience interventions” to best address the community’s highest-reported needs.

A call for proposals was sent out to ask local innovators to come up with project ideas that

IAD student Emily Gousen and her colleague presenting a Student Innovation
Contest at the School of Public Health’s Faculty Day, Pretoria, South Africa.

address these community’s needs. After a thorough evaluation of all 120 submissions, the top 7 were selected to receive funding.

The first stage of funding supports the prototyping of each project idea, a slightly nontraditional approach towards project development. In the prototyping phase, each Innovator conducts a “Needs Finding” mission within the community to identify the assets, resources, key stakeholders and common challenges within the community. As part of my fellowship, I participated in the Needs Finding process in two of our target communities in South Africa. I met with district officials, local village chiefs, leaders of current agricultural projects, women’s savings groups and University professors as part of the process.

The information gathered was priceless, and the experience of spending time learning the specifics about the two communities was one I will never forget. The Innovators are now preparing to begin their projects in each of the communities, and will continuously refer back to the community groups and key stakeholders as their projects roll out. Flexibility and adaptability are built into the project life cycle, since the idea behind these projects is that they grow out of issues identified by the community and will ultimately be owned by the community.

I am sad that I won’t be able to participate in this process, but am grateful for the opportunity I had this summer to play a role in this wonderful organization’s mission.

Emily Gousen is a second-year M.Sc. student in the International Agricultural Development Program at the University of California, Davis.



By Hanyuan Jiang


A typical Satoyama landscape in Noto Peninsula, Japan. Photo: H.Y. Jiang.

In my sophomore year of college I watched a documentary about Japanese agriculture. The documentary was filmed in a place called Satoyama and featured the coexistence of humans and biodiversity. I was curious about the place and the practices that went on there, so I tried to find out more about it. But as much as I looked I could not find anyplace named Satoyama, and eventually the matter faded from mind as I became busy with school chores.

After studying in America for one year and seeing large scale monocultures first hand, Satoyama came back into my mind. This time I decided to find it.

The breakthrough came when I realized that Satoyama is not the name of a place, but an idea. Sato means inside and yama means mountains. Satoyama refers to a kind of agriculture in which small, patchy fields are scattered around or inside hills and mountains, taking advantage of the biodiversity from the natural areas to satisfy daily needs such as food and fuel.

One of the most famous sites for Satoyama is on Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan. It is certified as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS). On a whim, I e-mailed Mr. Murakado, an official at the local agricultural department, inquiring about opportunities to visit Noto. I quickly received his reply and his suggestion to look into the Satoyama and Satoumi Meister Program at the local Kanazawa University.

I was delighted to find that the Meister Program was designed for people interested in engaging in a lifestyle of Satoyama or Satoumi (the fishery version of Satoyama). I contacted Professor Nakamura, the coordinator of the program at Kanazawa University, and he generously agreed to accept me as a short time intern. Before I knew it I was taking Japanese language courses and applying for a visa. In six months later, I was on a plane to Japan.

I stayed in Noto for about one and a half months. During that time I attended the Second Conference of the East Asia Research Association for Agricultural Heritage Systems (ERAHS) and stayed with two farmers’ families and one fisherman’s family for one week each.

The ERAHS meeting was held on Sado Island, a relic of the gold mining rush in the 16th century. Although the gold mine went bust, the miners stayed on the island and turned to agriculture. Now the island is promoting eco-tourism, and the Toki, or Japanese crested ibis, has become its symbol. The ibis, though abundant in the past, had at one point virtually disappeared. The government is working with local farmers on encouraging eco-friendly rice farming methods that conserves habitat for the wild Toki and many other rice paddy insects and animals – and it’s working. The ERAHS meeting lasted three days as representatives from Japan, Korea and China exchanged their progress on traditional agricultural studies and preservation, sharing this and other stories of success. 

My stay with the families from Noto was the part I enjoyed the most about the experience. My first host, Mr. Sesumi, works for a farm organization that manages 70 hectares of land, mostly in rice and the rest in vegetables. I became aware of Mr. Sesumi’s diligence on the very first day of my visit, when I got up at 7 o’clock and learned that he had already gone to the fields.

The first day’s work was to apply urea fertilizers to his rice fields. We drove in a small pickup truck to various small fields scattered throughout the region and every time we stopped he carried about 25 kg of urea in a spray machine, walked through the field and sprayed. There was no rest unless somebody called him and his only drink was black coffee, no sugar no milk. I tried to find out what it was that motivated him to work so hard. His only reply was, “That’s just my style. I enjoy watching the rice grow.” He simply enjoyed his work, no matter how hard it was.

Mr. Goto’s family was my next host; he is a fisherman. He lived his youth in Tokyo but became tired of city life. Unlike regular fisherman, he does not have boats,. He free dives to catch abalones and conch 15-20 meters under the sea. A typhoon was going to hit Japan that week and we decided to go fishing the day before it. The afternoon was hot, and the breeze did nothing to lighten the sticky air. Mr. Goto put on his diving suit and his 8 kg weight-belt and headed to the sea. We drove to the shore and there he put the mask on. I was able to see the sweat on his face by then. We swam a few hundred meters away from the shore and he started diving, swimming just above the rocks to search for his catch while I held his net and waited at the surface.

Coming back up for air, he blew the water out of his breathing tube and I could hear him panting. It was not an easy job. One of his catches that day was an abalone about 12 centimeters wide, well above the minimum size requirement. The price for abalone is high and that big one was worth about 20 US dollars. He looked at it and told me he wanted to throw it back. I said it is above the minimum, but he said he wanted to make sure he had plenty of abalone to catch in the future and lightly threw it back into the sea. I wondered how difficult that must have been for him.

My last host, Mr.Yamagishi, is a young farmer in his twenties. He studied economics and his wife studied English, but after getting their degrees they decided to return to their hometown and became farmers. They own 6 greenhouses where they grow vegetables, selling them in cities like Nagoya and even Tokyo. Every day they start working at 5:30 in the morning and finish after sunset, with only a small break in the early afternoon. Apart from selling to cities, they also sell at local markets, at a low price with almost no profit. I asked Ms. Yamagishi why they bother with the local market if they could make more money selling in the city. She told me that the purpose of their farm is not to make money but simply to enjoy life; she likes talking to the local people and sharing their produce.

Before I left Japan I gave a presentation at the Meister Program School. I had thought that I would learn some traditional agricultural techniques, but I realized that these people had given me a more valuable lesson: the appreciation of nature’s giving and the philosophy of a simple life.

Jiang_2015 Host Family

Han (left) stands with his hosts, the Yamagishi family of Noto Peninsula, Japan

Hanyuan Jiang is a second-year International Agricultural Development student at the University of California, Davis, interested in sustainable agriculture. He is from China. He is planning to study how farmers’ values influence their farming.


By Owen Cortner


IAD student Owen Cortner stands with Edemar Moro in front of an experimental plot of Brachiaria forage grass. Collaboration between UC Davis and MKTPlace will create unique outlets for the deployment of agricultural technology in the global tropics.

Representatives from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank, the UK Department for International Development, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development gathered at a meeting in Brasília this past September (2015). Despite their role as powerhouses on the international development scene, they did not lead this meeting. That role was taken on by Embrapa, the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture. This was the 2015 Forum of the Agricultural Innovation MKTPlace, an initiative linking Brazilian, African and Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) experts and institutions to create and apply tropical agricultural technology.

Dr. Francisco José Becker Reifschneider, coordinator of the initiative, visited UC Davis in May of this year to talk about the MKTPlace. After the Forum, he commented:

South-South (S-S) cooperation has been on the radar screen for several years now. Finding mechanisms to make it work is a challenge for all practitioners who believe S-S cooperation can significantly support development. The similarity of challenges faced by countries in the South is perhaps the most important factor that amalgamates the cooperation effort; but those in the South cannot be blind to advances made daily by top institutions in the North and should also mobilize their science, technology and support for the benefit of development. This is the reason the MKTPlace and UC Davis, as a premier agriculture university in the USA, should join forces.

Over 70 participants from 19 countries attended this year’s MKTPlace Forum, the fourth of its kind. “Attended” understates the contributions of those involved – the meeting was not just a series of talks and slideshows. Co-leaders of projects competed in elevator pitches to gain more presentation time. Moderators provoked debate. Experienced project leaders coached first-timers on planning and pitfalls. Not content with merely presenting research, the recurring question of the Forum was “What next? How do we scale this and deliver it to farmers?”

Why is MKTPlace so important? International demand for activities and policies promoting S-S cooperation has grown steadily in recent years. The critical role of agriculture in African, Latin American and the Caribbean (LAC), and Brazilian economies, along with similarities in agroecological conditions and the role of research in agricultural development in these countries, make this a critical initiative for international cooperation.

At its core, the MKTPlace functions through policy dialogue, knowledge mapping and sharing, and collaborative projects between researchers from Embrapa and researchers from African or LAC institutions. Haven’t heard of Embrapa? The name stands for Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária – Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation. Founded in 1973 by the Brazilian government, today it has 46 centers scattered throughout Brazil, some focused on specific products such as Beef Cattle or Maize and Sorghum, others with a regional focus, and others with a technological focus such as Satellite Monitoring or Agroenergy. Of its 9,790 employees, 2,444 are researchers. Technologies and knowledge developed by Embrapa are credited as one of the main drivers of Brazil’s shift from a net food importer to the global agricultural giant it is today.

Since 2010, the MKTPlace has funded:

  • 63 projects in 13 African countries
  • 14 projects in 8 LAC countries

 Examples of MKTPlace projects include:

  • Bee diversity and honey production for food security
  • Enhancing smallholder cowpea legume production using Rhizobium inoculants
  • Improving poultry production in Ethiopia through production system studies, breed characterization and implementation of improved practices
  • Validation of molecular-assisted selection for cassava mosaic disease and screening of cassava wild relatives as resistance sources for cassava brown streak virus

Embrapa’s scientists recognize that it is a package of technologies delivered in the right conditions that result in success. No magic bullets. It took 30 years for agriculture to change in Brazil, after a lot of investment, hard work, and the correct economic conditions including rural credit schemes and control of inflation. Yet there is great potential. Various species used in today’s productive Brazilian agriculture, including the tropical forage genus Brachiaria and many small livestock and poultry, originated on the African continent. Brazilian biomes share many similarities and challenges to those of Africa. Dr. Yemi Akinbamijo, Executive Director of FARA, delivered some “Life Lessons from Africa” on the last day of the meeting that best expressed the hopes of S-S cooperation. “There are two types of handholding – one basically shows you the way and you are left to figure out the rest of the journey, and the other says, ‘Yes I have been there before – I will accompany you all the way.’”

Owen Cortner is a 3rd year IAD student focusing on tropical ruminant production. He was awarded a USAID Research and Innovation Fellowship for Agriculture to study the impacts of scale and cattle traits on the economic performance of integrated crop-livestock-forestry systems on Brazilian farms. While in Brazil, he participated in the 2015 Forum of the Agricultural Innovation MKTPLace, an experience which he describes in this post. 

A Bittersweet Taste of Africa

Posted by on September 15, 2015

By Paula Balbontín

Balbontin_Senegal2015 Goat.jpg

Last summer I went to Senegal, Africa, as a volunteer of the Farmer to Farmer Program, supported by the USAID. This trip was one of the most amazing and rewarding experiences that I’ve ever had. Beautiful people with shiny smiles, willing to learn how to improve their sales techniques at the local market and invest in new machinery. However, after my return, I could not help but feeling a bittersweet taste in my mouth. I will tell you why.

As a Graduate student at the International Agricultural Development Program in UC Davis, working in developing countries is a “must” if you want to gain hands-on experience in your field of interest and see with your own eyes what is needed to end poverty and inequality. Despite my eagerness to start my career in the “development world”, it took me a while to find an opportunity where I could match my skills with an Extension Program. Finally, the opportunity arrived. One day, an email arrived: “Position openins in Senegal to teach Marketing to groups of women farmers.” Finallyyyyy!! I applied right away, they called me, and in a couple of weeks I was travelling to Africa!

With my arm sore after a round of vaccinations, and toting a huge package of snacks and trail mix just in case (to appease my Mom, more than anything), I started on my adventure to this new world. The Marketing Training went even better than I expected. These highly motivated women touched my heart. They came up with so many creative ideas and projects to increase their production and reach new markets; these women knew exactly what they needed for their businesses to be sustainable.

But there was a downside to all this: I was not going to be there to watch them achieve their goals. I had to go back to California, finish my studies, return to “my reality” and face a pile of pending issues waiting for me at the door. I felt that my experience was bittersweet, because I knew that my work with that community was over. How could I stay in touch with this community of farmers and help them to achieve their goals? I wanted to stay connected with these new friends, but more than that, I wanted to share their ideas and projects so that people and institutions from all over the world could learn about them. I also wanted to be able to show that these women were ready to work and collaborate.

With this problem in my head I thought, “what if people working in development could have access to a collaborative platform where they could share their work in development? What if they could tell other development workers about the countries and communities where they have worked and projects that they have done so we can use this information and learn from other’s mistakes?”  If we could do this, it would also help to connect resources with projects and communities around the world!

Now that I have had some time to reflect on my bittersweet experiences, I’ve seen that this lack of continuity is a problem that many development workers face.  I plan to keep working on this idea for a development worker knowledge and experience sharing platform, and will be submitting my proposal to the Rudd Family Foundation “Big Ideas” competition at the University of California, Berkeley, this November (2015).  I hope that this experience will turn into something positive that will benefit other people working in my field – and especially my new friends and colleagues in Senegal.



IAD student Paula Balbontín poses with Abdoulaye SY, the group leader
for the women’s marketing training that she led in Senegal this
summer, 2015. 

Paula Balbontín is a second year IAD student at the University of California, Davis. This summer she was selected by the USAID Farmer-to-Farmer program to volunteer as a marketing specialist. At UC Davis she specializes in small-scale business and entrepreneurship in agriculture.


Design for Development

Posted by on October 12, 2014

Written jointly by Carl Jensen (MS IAD ‘14) and Daniel Mokrauer-Madden (MS IAD ‘15)

Carl (right) and Daniel (to Carl's left) heading out to communities in northern Tanzania with some of the IDDS organizing team.

Carl (right) and Daniel (to Carl's left) heading out to communities in northern Tanzania with some of the IDDS organizing team.

We have just wrapped up the 8th International Development Design Summit (IDDS), and what a month it has been! 46 participants from 21 different countries arrived in Arusha, Tanzania this July to put the design process into practice and collaboratively create technologies with rural communities around Arusha. The participants used their diverse backgrounds as teachers, farmers, healthcare workers, chemists, engineers, and many other professions to lend new perspective into long-standing challenges brought to light by farmers, entrepreneurs, professionals, fathers and mothers in the four communities where we worked. 

The teams and communities produced eight prototypes based on eight ‘problem-framings’. The challenges were diverse – each community identified two important local issues. Access to water, health diagnostics for expectant and nursing mothers, increasing soil fertility, processing various crops, and the introduction of practical skills into education were identified and taken on. The resulting technological solutions were no less diverse:

  • The team focused on water devised a low-cost harvesting system and water-tank
  • A bicycle-powered coffee pulper was created for coffee farmers to process their fruits
  • Two different bean threshers were produced to help local farmers to process their crops quickly and with less effort
  • A baling machine built to compress a ‘serving size’ of hay for a cow added flexibility to a Masai tribe’s increasingly agrarian lifestyle
  • The soil fertility team developed an attachment to the ox-carts ubiquitous in their community to aid in spreading manure efficiently
  • A supply chain was developed to dry and press previously-wasted avocados for avocado oil
  • The education team developed curriculum for secondary students around two processes – the creation of charcoal from crop residues and shelling/winnowing sunflowers


  • An app, useful on any smartphone, was developed to assist doctors in rapid diagnosis of anemia (low-iron in the blood), which is a common issue in expectant and recent mothers.

The two of us were organizers and facilitators at this event – guiding teams through the design process while making sure the day-to-day operations ran smoothly. In our (completely unbiased) opinion, the innovations created were stunning…but don’t just take our word for it. The summit’s culminating event was a showcase at Tanzania’s annual “Nane Nane” agricultural fair in Arusha on August 8. Teams and community members interacted with hundreds of Tanzanians who tried out the designs and offered feedback. In the words of a visiting engineer, the IDDS stand “stole the show – as much for the enthusiasm of those looking at the products as for the products themselves”.

The work of IDDS doesn’t stop with creation of a product. Each community and team outlined a plan for carrying their work forward – some through the opening of small enterprises, others through continued research, still more through existing community groups and individual champions. Perhaps more important is the spirit of creation the participants and community members carry away. Carl was especially struck by the words of a participant from Zambia that his company, Zasaka, already works with, “Chitambala (his community in Zambia) can work while you are not there, we don’t always have to wait to make a change”.

Though IDDS is based out of Boston, the international team co-hosting this summit was led by the D-Lab at UC Davis – allowing the organizers to tap into the wealth of agricultural experience at the university. We worked closely with the local team in Tanzania from organizations including the AISE-Twende Workshop, CAMARTEC, and Global Cycle Solutions to plan the summit. We also received invaluable support from the International Development Innovation Network (IDIN) at MIT as well as the other IDIN partner organizations (Olin CollegeColorado State UniversityNational Technology Business Centre in Zambia and others) and a dedicated team of international organizers who had participated in past summits and put in months of work leading up to the summit to make it happen.

We began working on the summit following the conclusion of IDDS 2013 in Lusaka, Zambia, where Daniel was again an organizer and Carl a participant. The Tanzania team had been meeting since June 2012 to create the vision for the summit and to lay the foundation, such as selecting a venue. When we began, Carl took leadership of the curriculum to tailor it to the vision of the Tanzania team, while Daniel was responsible for the overall summit planning, from running meetings with a team in six to eight time zones to managing the selection of participants from the nearly 300 who applied.

Each summit is part of a drive to create a new generation of instructors for future summits. Instead of having professors and instructors in design and entrepreneurship deliver the curriculum, we worked with a younger generation of designers and entrepreneurs actively creating projects, products, and companies of their own. These young professionals delivered most of the curriculum and redesigned the design notebook (in collaboration with Karina Lundahl—MS IAD 2014) that serves as a reference for projects at the summit and in the future. 

Events after the summit are already demonstrating how the next class of facilitators is ready to take on leadership. Participants – now alumni – are already working to develop trainings in design and entrepreneurship for the communities where they work, the first of which happened on August 22 at the KINU Innovation Space in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (led by Max Krüger of Germany), and we are excited for more to follow. We are especially excited about the continued work on the projects that will happen in the AISE-Twende workshop in Arusha, and our partners, at the ECHO East African Impact Center in Arusha who will be working to continue engaging the communities and local participants and carry forward the work that began at IDDS.

Daniel, Carl, and UC Davis – led by Prof. Kurt Kornbluth – will remain active with our partners in Arusha, and are very excited about our colleague Katie Maher who joined the team at the summit and will be vital in our continuing work.

Q&A with an IAD Alumna

Posted by on April 21, 2014

By Kaitlyn Smoot


Kaity with her two main co-workers, Emmanuel Habineza (head of the agriculture research field team) and Elyse Tuyushime (head of data analysis) on a field visit in Nymasheke district. They are helping to plant maize in one of the farmer field trials.

Our latest blog entry is a Q&A with alumna Kaity Smoot, who graduated from IAD and ARE (Agricultural and Resource Economics) in 2012. We asked her to share a bit about her work, and her advice for career preparation.

What are you doing now?

Currently I am working in Western Rwanda on the border of Lake Kivu with an NGO called One Acre Fund. Actually, our local name is "Tubura," which is the Kinyarwanda word for "exponential growth." Tubura works with about 70,000 small farmfamilies in 12 districts in Rwanda, supplying fertilizer and other agricultural supplies on credit as well as bi-monthly trainings on good agricultural practices. 

My job specifically, as part of our Innovation Department, is to investigate ways that we can improve our program, by offering new trainings and more impactful products. I work closely with a team of about 30 Rwandan staff to implement field trials with hundereds of farmers, testing new seed varieties, improved banana plantlets, different plant spacing, rhizobium, intercropping, various fertilizers, and more. I then work with my team to analyze the data, determine which products could have the biggest impact on farmer livelihoods, and discuss with the rest of the Tubura team whether these new products or methods can be integrated into our lending program.  Just recently we made the decision to sell a new product that I had a hand in researching into the program in Fall of 2014: tissue culture banana plantlets of the improved FHIA 17 variety. This is a disease-resistant, high-yielding plant which is also beneficial because it can be used in three different ways: as a cooking banana (good for food security), as a sweet banana, or as raw materials to make banana beer (which has high demand and can thus earn farmers higher incomes). 

How are you using what you learned in IAD and ARE?

I find myself using what I learned in both IAD and ARE constantly. Setting up agricultural trials, analyzing results and making potential impact calculations uses the statistics and econometrics which I learned in ARE. My IAD background has helped me to think more about the "big picture" of the agricultural systems in the region and the role that our project can play in helping to address challenges, and the pitfalls which we should try to avoid. Up until now Tubura has mostly been a fertilizer supplier, but I am working on projects to look more holistically at soil fertility and find alternative ways which we can utilize to help farmers increase production with less reliance on outside inputs. I also have had the chance to help with revision of disease guides and a design of a program to use our network of local "Field Officers" to help farmers diagnose agronomic problems in their fields. Currently I am working on a program to team up our Field Officers and local government agents in one district which is being ravaged by the banana disease BXW, to mobilize more farmers to eradicate diseased plants and slow the progress of the disease. I am not an expert in any of these areas, and I am constantly learning on the job, but my IAD and ARE studies and experiences definitely helped to give me the right framework from which to begin this work.
What advice would you give to IAD students for career prep and landing a job?

My main advice to IAD students is to take courses in a broad range of topics within agriculture, but to cultivate a speciality in one area and use it as the launching pad for your career. And of course, take any opportunity that you can to travel and work in a developing country. For me that specialty was agricultural economics, and specfically I did a number of projects related to cash crop markets in Sub-Saharan Africa, using econometrics to analyze the determinants of crop yields and prices. I wrote a thesis on cocoa markets in Ghana, for which I received a Blum and a Jastro grant to do field research. After graduating I actually did not have success finding a job initially (I even applied to One Acre Fund and was not given an interview), but I managed to get a Borlaug fellowship to do similar research on cocoa markets in Cote d'Ivoire. I worked there, with the World Agroforestry Center, for 8 months, and at the end of that period I had much greater success with further job applications and ended up accepting my current job with One Acre Fund. 

My other piece of advice is that if you are someone who already has solid experience working in the developing world, if you are interested in East Africa specifically, and if the work which I described sounds compelling to you, then you should consider applying to a job with One Acre Fund as well! You can contact me if you have any questions (