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Innovating for prosperity Bolivia’s Innova Project

Farmers in the Bolivian Andes were sceptical about agricultural research. Most said it had brought them nothing, despite researchers’ many visits to their communities. The researchers t hemselves sha red t hat scepticism, often voicing dissatisfaction at their lack of impact. As for the country’s policy makers, their actions spoke louder than their words: they intervened with a radical shake-up of the national R&D system that involved closing the country’s public-sector research institute on the grounds that it wasn’t producing useful results.

Breaking the cycle In 2001, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the International Potato Center (CIP) launched a project that set out to change these negative perceptions. Innova, as its name suggests, aims to strengthen what Bolivia’s policy makers now call the national innovation system. The project, which focuses on potato (Solanum tuberosum) as an important crop for smallholders, was designed to enable researchers to break with past failures and establish a culture of success in their place. It seeks to: Pool the knowledge of different institutions to achieve a more holistic approach Emphasize the validation and dissemination of existing technologies Create a better match between farmers’ needs and the supply of technologies Build new markets and empower farmers to supply them.

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The project operates in three major potato-growing regions of Andean Bolivia: La Paz, on the high plateau or altiplano; Cochabamba, in the mid-altitude valleys; and Santa Cruz, in the lower valleys. In all three regions, technologies that appeared relevant to farmers’ needs had already been developed through previous DFID-funded projects.

Working together for impact Three principal national partners formed a consortium to implement the Innova project: Fundación para la Promoción e Investigación de Productos Andinos (PROINPA). This foundation conducts research on potato and other Andean crops, with an emphasis on the conservation and use of genetic resources Centro de Investigación Agricola Tropical (CIAT). This is a provincial research institute with a mandate for commodity and natural resources research Universidad Major de San Simon (UMSS). The university’s department of agriculture conducts research on farming and commodity systems, in addition to training the next generation of national researchers.


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These institutions, which had previously worked in isolation, are now able to draw on each other’s strengths. They are also able to tap into the knowledge and resources available from CIP, a Lima-based international agricultural research center with a mandate for research on potato and related farming systems, and Papa Andina, a regional program of CIP that supports innovations with national partners in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, including the use of native Andean potato biodiversity. DFID’s Crop Protection and Crop Post-Harvest Programmes also provide technical support.

In large measure the failure of past research in the Bolivian Andes can be explained by difficult geography – the region’s tough yet highly varied terrain. Farmers on the altiplano must contend with shallow, stony soils in addition to frost and drought – constraints that limit their technological options. Things aren’t much better in the steeply sloping upper valleys, where erosion has taken hold and the climate can still be harsh. Lower down, soil and climate conditions improve, but farming systems become more diverse – so much so that matching technologies to individual farmers’ circumstances is a bewildering task. A further factor thwarting technology delivery is that the more marginal farming communities are often physically unreachable, cut off by bad weather or landslides and served only by rough tracks. Lastly, many farmers’ technological choices are limited by poor access to markets. Why produce a surplus when there’s no one to buy it? But a difficult policy and institutional environment is also to blame. The Innova project was born at a time of upheaval in Bolivia’s national agricultural research system. During the late 1990s, the country switched its emphasis from the generation of new technologies to the application of existing ones. The switch starved the country’s premier public-sector institute of core funds, forcing its closure. In its place, a new national innovation system, the Sistema Boliviano de Tecnología Agropecuaria (SIBTA), was taking shape. This had foundations with a mandate for regional development, not research. Indeed, the system’s new managers had even suggested ditching all further research on the technologies developed in the past by formal-sector researchers. In future, if research was to be conducted at all, it must be in response to a petition by farmers. The few remaining institutions that were capable of conducting research worked largely in isolation. All these problems were particularly acute in the case of potato, which no longer figured among the country’s priority commodities because of its low export potential.


The most urgent priority at the start of the Innova project was therefore to achieve an impact from research – not only for the sake of a marginalized and disaffected farming community but also to safeguard the very future of research by demonstrating that it had a value. The tasks involved were to check out the technology already developed, match this supply against demand, sort out what was applicable where – and set about the challenge of scaling up.

What do farmers want? By conducting on-farm trials in different communities, the project has made progress in finding out what technology farmers find useful under what conditions. This work soon prompted a broadening of the project’s scope – to cover technologies whatever their source, not just those tested in past DFIDfunded research.


More importantly, however, this work has thrown new light on what is meant by the demand for technology. Demand can be explicit – something farmers specifically ask for – or implicit, when farmers either do not fully understand a problem or else cannot imagine a solution that is new to them. For example, farmers may complain of low yields but be unaware of the underlying cause, which may be a specific insect pest that is difficult to observe. Even if they know of a pest problem, farmers may demand to solve it by applying pesticides, without being aware that there are alternatives, such as the release of a parasitic wasp. Similarly, the cause of low yields may be frost, but farmers may be unaware of the existence of frost-tolerant varieties. Implicit demand is particularly relevant when dealing with farmers who have poor access to markets and market information. Such farmers need to be exposed to new crops and processing techniques and to be linked to potential buyers before they can envisage starting what may, in effect, be a completely new business. The only trouble with the concept of implicit demand is that a researcher with a ‘pet’ technology will tend to see implicit demand for it behind every chance remark made

“Researchers tend to love their inventions the way other people love their children.” – an Innova scientist

by farmers. This is one reason why a multidisciplinary approach to diagnosing farmers’ needs is essential – it is likely to lead to a more balanced assessment. Project scientists are testing various diagnostic methods for their effectiveness in assessing these two different kinds of demand. These methods include: Informal surveys, known in Bolivia as sondeos Group evaluation through on-farm trials Technology fairs, known as encuentros tecnologicos Community feedback sessions, generally held at the end of the cropping season Participatory market chain analysis.

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The traditional model of the informal survey has been adapted to make it more efficient and effective. Instead of taking the standard 6 days to walk round a community and interview its inhabitants, Innova researchers do it in just 3 days; and to make the survey more informative, they include members of the community in the walking group. These adaptations seem to work – and can probably be transferred to other contexts, offering savings in the resources devoted to diagnostic research in many developing countries.


The three surveys conducted in each participating community yielded useful information on farmers’ explicit demands and some indications as to their implicit needs. The problems most often articulated were crop pests, animal diseases and parasites, shortages of land and forages, soil erosion, lack of irrigation, and low commodity prices. Implicit needs were: information on insect ecology to enable farmers to avoid the overuse of pesticides, soil and water conservation measures, forage crops and grasses to provide supplementary feed, and the seed of lost potato varieties. To find out even more about farmers’ implicit demands, the scientists developed the concept of the technology fair. This resembles a field day in displaying a range of trials of new crop varieties, but allows exposure to additional technologies through the use of booths or stands dotted around the trials area.

Appearances matter One of the pitfalls of the technology fair is that farmers, like other technology consumers, are easily swayed by good presentation. This can bias their choices, making a technology seem more popular than it will subsequently turn out to be.


The presentational factors that had the most effect on farmers’ opinions included: displaying a thriving crop; having an enthusiastic farmer alongside the scientists presenting the technology; showing new crop varieties in larger strips rather than smaller squares; giving a lively talk; offering a snack made from the crop; and providing small amounts of seed for farmers to take away. For example, at one fair the traditional grain crop quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) attracted more votes than improved pasture grasses, even though forage shortages had emerged from the surveys as an explicit need. The reasons were simple: the quinoa trial looked superb, largely because the scientists had applied chemical fertilizers to it; and, as an added attraction, visitors to the trial were offered delicious quinoa cakes to eat. In contrast, the forage trial looked much less impressive. An enthusiastic product champion out to impress potential punters can all too easily emphasize the advantages of a technology while downplaying its drawbacks. A local compost known as bokashi, for example, found favor at the fairs but will probably not be widely adopted once farmers realize that making it needs a lot of labor and requires cash outlays to buy certain key ingredients.

Technology fairs were held in all the areas where informal surveys had been conducted. As in the surveys, farmers’ reactions at the fairs generally confirmed that Innova’s technologies met their needs, thereby justifying past research investments. However, the fairs also threw up several implicit demands that the surveys had not revealed. Among these were the practice of hilling up, which would enable farmers to protect their young potato crops against frost, and new animal traction implements, which would enable them to cultivate their land more efficiently.

Delivering the goods The on-farm trials program made good progress in introducing technologies to participating communities, although the challenge of scaling up remains. Scientists and farmers tested over 30 options, demand for which varied greatly not just across agro-ecological regions but also within them, at community level. This reflected such factors as market access and labor availability, in addition to farm size and land type. Three broad sets of technology proved particularly appealing to farmers: Animal-drawn tillage implements New forage crops and intercrops Integrated pest and disease management.

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In all three regions, farmers use traditional but relatively inefficient wooden plows to complement hand tillage of their fields. Flexibility proved the watchword in the design of improvements. The scientists tested new steel plows and, after listening to farmers, made them lighter, so that they could be drawn by the smaller animals found on the altiplano, and stronger, so that they could cope with hard, stony soils. One innovation was to add wings to the plow, making it possible to move the right amount of earth to the crest of the ridge when hilling up. This attracted considerable interest among farmers, confirming the enthusiasm expressed at the technology fairs. And it even worked


under the tough soil conditions of the altiplano, where protection against frost is most important. Farmers beyond the trial areas started demanding the technology spontaneously and dissemination efforts are now being stepped up, especially in the valleys. The scientists tested several other animal-drawn implements – including a potato digger, a disc harrow and various reversible plows – and organized a course to present the full range of options available to farmers. The potato digger proved especially popular in the large fields of the lower valleys, where it led to sizeable labor savings.


Either in grass/legume mixes for pasture or as ingredients in cereal-based cropping systems, several forage legume species were known from previous research to boost animal productivity, improve soil fertility, reduce weed prevalence and control pests and diseases into the bargain. Livestock, and the marketability of livestock products, are, as always, the key to adoption, but growing conditions also matter. Trials during the Innova project showed that, as expected, options on the altiplano are relatively few, but even here species such as Lolium perenne and Dactylis glomerata did reasonably well, attracting farmer interest. The choice is greater in the lusher valleys areas, where a clover species, Trifolium pratense, was enthusiastically received. Farmers suggested additional technologies to make adoption more likely, including the use of irrigation and manure. Intercropped oats (Avena sativa) and vetch (Vicia dasycarpa) also proved highly popular, but seed scarcity remains a problem.

“Even the doubters were swayed” – a project scientist

Pests and pest-borne diseases can wreak havoc with crops throughout the Andes, especially when the overuse of pesticides leads to resistance on the part of the pest. Making more efficient use of smaller amounts of these products can raise farmers’ incomes while reducing human health problems and the pollution of soil and water resources. One highly effective innovation to this end is to alternate the use of contact and systemic fungicides so as to prevent the development of resistance. Trials by Innova showed that this technique could be used to control leaf spots on potato and chocolate spot on broad bean (Vicia faba). In one spectacular case, potato yields rose to 30 t/ha, not far short of the yield potential of 40 t/ha. The technology is now spreading well beyond the trial zone, thanks to technology fairs and other extension mechanisms. Its introduction is accompanied by training in the safe use of pesticides.

Enterprise Andes On many an Andean kitchen table, global food staples such as rice and pasta have usurped the place of traditional local potato varieties. As diets have eroded, so too has biodiversity: many communities have lost landraces that were once widely grown. Research by Innova is helping these ancient plants make a come-back. In a method known as the participatory market chain approach, researchers form working groups consisting of representatives from farming communities, processing companies and other stakeholders, who work together to identify and implement new business ventures. First developed by CIP in Peru, the method has three distinct phases (see figure). A major challenge is to overcome the mistrust that typically thwarts the development of a strong market chain. 99

The participatory market chain approach

Objectives Phase 1 To know market chain participants, together with their problems and proposed solutions Phase 2 To analyse joint market opportunities Phase 3 To implement joint market opportunities


Facilitating institution



Mutual trust




Innova researchers have applied this method to two processed potato products – tunta and colored chips. Both should appeal strongly to consumers in the rapidly growing global market for gourmet, fair-trade and organically produced foods. The method has been implemented in all three of the regions covered by the project. Work is furthest advanced in Cochabamba, where two groups are working on colored chips in addition to fresh native potatoes, while a third covers seed production and marketing. A processing company, Lucana, has already started marketing colored chips. In La Paz, another group is studying the quality requirements and regulations for exporting tunta to cities in the USA, Brazil, and Argentina. Similar work is in progress in Santa Cruz. This work shows every sign of igniting the implicit demand for these technologies in farming communities. In so doing it will not only provide a much needed source

The spud goes up-market Tunta is the outcome of a unique traditional process that originated in Bolivia over 2000 years ago. Grown high on the altiplano, the potatoes used to make this unique dish are frost-tolerant but taste bitter and can be poisonous when eaten fresh. To rid them of these characteristics, Andean women follow an elaborate process of freezing, drying, soaking, and re-freezing, before treading the potatoes to peel them and squeeze out the water, then rubbing to remove the last few bits of skin. The result is a small, dense white ball of a potato whose distinctive flavors make it a sought-after ingredient in soups and stews. Tunta is much in demand in the expatriate Andean communities of Buenos Aires and other large Latin American cities. 10

In contrast, the process used to make colored potato chips is thoroughly modern, though these too are derived from traditional potato varieties grown at high altitudes. In their unprocessed form, these varieties earn farmers little cash, since they reach only a local market. But processing could turn them into a fashionable luxury snack item worldwide. Besides having attractive colors and shapes, the chips have excellent nutritional and cooking characteristics.

of income for some of the world’s poorest rural people but will also stimulate the conservation of a genetic heritage that is on the brink of extinction. Moreover, higher incomes from these new ventures could stimulate the uptake of other technologies tested by Innova, such as legume cultivation and the use of traction implements.

The promotional effort The Innova project was unusual in supporting technology dissemination with a strong effort to develop and use information products. The effort began with the development of a dissemination strategy – identifying the kinds of product suitable for different user groups. Both electronic and printed products were envisaged, together with presentations for meetings. The main electronic product was the project’s website (, which carries basic information about Innova, including its donors, project areas and interventions, together with a comprehensive project database. The rationale for the database was that Innova’s three national partners – PROINPA, CIAT and UMSS – had each accumulated large amounts of information, but this was scattered and often inaccessible. To create the database, project staff conducted a retrospective search over the past 10 years to select relevant technical reports, scientific articles, flyers, pamplets, posters, radio shows, and videos. These products were converted into digital format, then loaded to the website and made available on CD. The database is still growing, as project partners continue to add updates and new materials. Video projects and radio shows covered such subjects as forage production and the identification and control of key pests and diseases. Accompanied in some cases by posters, these materials directed towards the needs of small-scale farming communities were exceptionally well received. In early 2005, a team from the BBC’s Earth Reports program visited the project to film its work and


Knowledge versus nematodes Naccobus aberrans sounds like a villain – and it is one.This microscopic worm or nematode can reduce farmers’ potato yields by over 60%, causing annual losses valued at US$53 million in the Central Andes. Infestations in potato seed crops automatically disqualify the crop for dissemination through official channels. Previous DFID-funded research had revealed the pest’s biology and distribution, together with some possible control options. However, knowledge on these topics was widely scattered, making it difficult to access. The Innova project brought it all together in a technical report, now also available on the project’s website and on CD.

conduct interviews. The resulting documentary was shown on BBC World, with a potential audience of 275 million viewers. The project also formed part of a special display on Positive Developments at the UK’s Eden Project. This exhibition went on to DFID’s headquarters in London, where it was seen by the UK’s Secretary of State for International Development, Hilary Benn.


Printed products over and above those developed in the past include an introductory leaflet on the project, flyers and other materials describing Andean potato varieties and the processed products derived from them, posters on the biology and control of Andean potato weevil and other pests, and a folder containing flyers on the methodologies developed by the project for linking technology supply and demand. This last also forms the basis of a Powerpoint presentation.

Achievements and lessons Innova has made six key contributions to development. It has: Improved the livelihoods of poor farmers in three agro-ecological regions of Bolivia Developed a comprehensive approach for matching technology supply and demand

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Adapted and applied the participatory market chain approach in Bolivia Begun effecting a change in national policy towards agricultural R&D in Bolivia Developed an alliance among the country’s strategic research providers Provided a model for dynamic information management to support technology adoption.

Despite these achievements, it is still too early to assess the impact of Innova on farmers’ livelihoods. Indeed, an external review of the project, conducted in 2004, has recommended a second phase to allow for scaling up of the dissemination work and a more concerted effort to build the capacity for innovation in national partner institutions. Nevertheless, the project has already yielded several valuable lessons that should prove more widely applicable: Many technologies developed through supply-driven research do actually meet farmers’ needs. When reforming agricultural research systems, do not throw the baby out with the bathwater by automatically discarding such technologies Be sure to cast the net widely when testing technologies. Restricting farmers’ choices only to technologies developed through past research by a single institution can lead to missed opportunities and a waste of public money A consortium approach at national or provincial level can increase the chances of impact by broadening researchers’ perspectives, integrating different disciplines and pooling resources

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Understanding the demand for technology is a complex process. Demand should be studied repeatedly using different methods, not assessed through a one-off event such as a group meeting or a petition. A multidisplinary approach is necessary to avoid researchers’ tendency to push a 'pet' technology The technology fair is a good way of exposing farmers to new technologies and assessing their implicit demands for them. However, technologies identified by this means should be tested with farmers at an early stage, to confirm whether or not the demand is real The presentation of a technology can be a significant determinant of farmers’ interest. Be sure to create a level playing field by presenting all technologies equally well. And avoid tipping the scales by applying amounts of fertilizer that lie beyond farmers’ pockets In highly diverse environments where many technologies are potentially applicable, it is useful to focus on broad sets or ‘families’ of technologies with a potential for synergy and to link their dissemination firmly to market opportunities.This will avoid the fragmentation of project efforts. The participatory market chain approach to innovation is an effective way of exploring the potential of new markets. It is particularly useful at overcoming the mistrust that typically thwarts the development of new enterprises in depressed rural areas. Unlike some community-based participatory exercises, it has an implementation phase that makes it more likely to lead to practical outcomes Opening up new markets can, by raising farmers’ incomes, have a knock-on effect on technology adoption, stimulating the uptake of other yield-increasing technologies besides the new crop or processing enterprise.


Flexible approaches to funding by donor agencies can enable projects to achieve an impact. In the case of Innova, an open-ended approach to activities in both the on-farm and the market-oriented research has made it possible to achieve progress by tackling new difficulties or pursuing new opportunities as soon as they became apparent.

Conclusion The Innova project model has much to commend it to similar rural environments elsewhere in the developing world. Its combination of a strong market orientation with a focus on targeting and promoting new technology makes it particularly suited to the highly diverse farming systems of mountainous regions.

Further Reading Bentley, J., G. Thiele, R. Oros and C. Velasco (2004). Cinderella’s slipper: sondeo surveys and technology fairs for gauging demand. London, UK: Overseas Development Institute (ODI). Bernet, T., A. Devaux, O. Ortiz and G. Thiele (2005). Participatory Market Chain Approach. Participatory Research and Development for Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Management: A Sourcebook. J. Gonsalves, T. Becker, A. Braun, E. Campilan, H. de Chavez, E. Fajber, M. Kapiriri, J. Rivaca-Caminade and R. Vernooy (eds). Laguna, the Philippines: CIP-UPWARD.


For further information, please contact: Claudio Velasco Casilla: 4285 Project Coordinator Tels: +591-4-4262111 Av. Blanco Galindo km 12.5 Fax: +591-4-4360802 Calle C. Prado s/n Cochabamba e-mail: Bolivia Funding


Concept and realization: Green Ink Publishing Services Ltd, UK (

INNOVA’s partners

This publication is an output from research projects funded by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) for the benefit of developing contries. The views expressed are not necessarily those of DFID (R8485, R8182 Crop Protection Programme).

Copyright © Innova 2005


Bolivia’s Innova Project • Fundación para la Promoción e Investigación de Productos Andinos (PROINPA). • Centro de Investigación Agricola Tr...

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