The SAK Approach

By Prof. Manish N Raizada, University of Guelph, Canada

There already exists excellent, peer-reviewed scientific knowledge, good seeds, inexpensive tools from the private sector, and indigenous practices to help poor farmers with their needs — but these are not being taken advantage of fully or shared across continents. What is lacking is a means to package, deliver and share these technologies to farmers who earn $1-$2 per day.

Like a restaurant menu, Sustainable Agriculture Kits (SAKs) are intended to be regional menus of private sector technologies and ecological practices – from which an individual farmer can purchase one or more items at a cost of $1 (ideally) to assemble a kit that is appropriate for his/her own needs. The items are intended for sale at stalls in villages. Each SAK consists of 3 components:

(i) SAK Seeds — non-GMO locally approved seeds for food and micronutrient fortification, companion crops that reduce the need for expensive chemical inputs while raising yields and improving the soil (e.g. legumes and cover crops), and seeds for cash income generation.

(ii) SAK Tools – low cost tools that reduce female drudgery (e.g. weeding) or improve profits (e.g. grain storage bags), along with more expensive Community SAK machinery (e.g. grain thresher).

(iii) SAK Picture Book — Knowledge extension books to explain use of the above technologies, and to communicate the world’s most effective practices (indigenous and scientific) to illiterate farmers to empower and encourage them to experiment (e.g. to breed their own hybrid seeds).

The SAK Picture Book will be available for free online in late 2015. In addition, we are assembling the SAK Written Manual which will consist of ~120 chapters that explain and scientifically evaluate ~120 low cost technologies and practices – the book will be available for free online in late 2016.

Distribution is considered to be a major problem in rural areas – however we have observed that it is possible to buy snackfoods, cigarettes and alcohol in the most remote communities of the world. Therefore, the SAK approach involves using these pre-existing distribution networks on a consignment model.

The SAK philosophy is to build kits from the bottom-up using grassroots, participatory approaches, starting with months of intensive surveying (the ~30 page SAK Survey), employing local agronomists and local marketing and distribution experts. Each step of the SAK chain is intended to be profit- and job-oriented in order to be economically sustainable. Women, in particular, must be involved in each step of the design and implementation process.

The world has ~500 million subsistence farms, involving ~2 billion adults and children. Rather than helping a few households intensively, which requires considerable resources, the goal of SAKs is more modest — to allow scaling up to help large numbers of farmers with minimal external personnel. The goal of a SAK is to generate profit for future farm investments, to allow a family to send its girls to school (one of the best drivers of sustained social progress), and ultimately to raise the tax revenues of local communities so that they can build their own schools, hospitals and infrastructure (e.g. irrigation) rather than relying on unreliable foreign aid.

There is no universal SAK, as there is no universal type of agricultural system, cultural preference, soil type or climate. There is no magic bullet in agriculture.

The SAK concept is based on examining history: in the United States, for example, agriculture became successful in the early-mid 1900s because of publicly-funded, agricultural extension officers who communicated good agronomic practices to farmers, combined with the private sector, who made improved seeds and technologies available. The SAK Picture Books for illiterate peoples are an attempt to mimic the function of extension officers, and SAK Seeds/SAK Tools are an attempt to make technologies available to poor people at the correct economy of scale, with private-sector know-how and innovation.

SAKs cannot take the place, of course, of a good public extension system, expert breeders and access to synthetic fertilizers. However, the SAK approach is appropriate for the bottom 30-40 nations in the UNDP Human Development Index — nations that do not have an effective extension system, sufficient breeders, access to fertilizers and suffer from an under-developed private sector, due to a history of colonialism, war, corruption, disaster, and/or geographic remoteness.
For more information, please go to the lead SAK project at SAKNepal.org. Please contact Prof. Manish Raizada directly to learn more (raizada@uoguelph.ca).

We encourage local entrepreneurs to start their own SAK projects around the world, making use of the above concepts and free resources that will be available online shortly (SAK Survey, SAK Picture Book, SAK Manual).

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