1 Tomato boxes case study
This case study explains how an NGO International Development Enterprises (IDE) goes about the task of technology development and promotion, and how it has built up and improved on this in two technological sectors. The focus of the case is IDE’s efforts to
introduce a new type of packaging material fro tomatoes in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. IDE describes its core strengths and philosophy as “to improve the social, economic and environmental conditions of India’s small and marginal farm families by
identifying, and developing and marketing affordable, appropriate and environmentally sustainable technologies that can be sold at a fair market price.” IDE fulfils its mandate by carrying out three broad functions. These are:
1. Identifying and adapting an appropriate technology
2. Establishing a supply chain in which all phases from manufacture to final production and
sale are present within the economic system involved
3. Promoting the resultant technological system more widely, again within the project area
but also more widely.
In 1999 having successfully introduced water technologies into areas of Bangladesh and India (the treadle pump and also micro-irrigation in Gujarat), IDE was beginning to think in terms of exploring a new technology marketing opportunity. It was at this point that it came into contact with the DFID Crop Post-Harvest Programme’s (CPHP’s) South Asia programme
based in ICRISAT, Hyderabad. The regional programme had recognized the way projects were currently organised was part of the reasons why they weren’t having much development impact, particularly in terms of poverty reduction. It was there interested in commissioning projects that were using an alternative approach and it seem that IDE’s way of approaching
things was both different and apparently quite successful. IDE was encouraged to submit a proposal via a competitive bidding process for a three-year project. After some discussion it was decided to focus on post-harvest handling, packaging and storage as the main area of investigation with a secondary emphasis on understanding ways of establishing sustainable retail networks for technology.
II Project Process.
Needs assessment. During the first year of the project IDE conducted a "needs assessment" study in order to help give greater focus to the handling packing and storage themes outlined in the project proposal. To do so IDE conducted interviews with the following stakeholder groupings:
(i) Marginal and small-scale farmers. These were from 8 villages in 2 districts (4 in each).
Use was made of intermediaries to facilitate research. The intermediary used in one
district was RUCHI, an NGO that subsequently become a key actor in technology
testing with farmers. In the other district IDE used a local agricultural input dealer,
who again emerged to play a similar role as RUCHI.
(ii) Wholesale vegetable markets. Tthose interviewed included farmers, traders and
auction agents (adtis).
(iii) Box traders. Visits were made to saw mills, plank sellers and warehouses. (iv) Transporters.
(v) State Departments of Agriculture.
(vi) The local state University of Horticulture.
(vii) Local NGOs (RUCHI, Society for Technology Development and Serve India)
1 This case study is drawn from Clark N G, A Hall, R Sulaiman and G Naik 2003 “Research as Capacity Building: The Case of an NGO Facilitated Post-Harvest Innovation System for the Himalayan Hills” World Development Vol. 31, No. 11, November
(viii) Agricultural Input Dealers
This research enabled IDE to obtain a detailed understanding of the total supply chain for high value horticultural produce. It concluded that the most suitable crop to focus its attention on would be tomato. Reasons included:
; It is a high value crop widely grown in Himachal Pradesh
; It is an important crop commonly grown by small and marginal farmers giving greater
profitability than any other off-season horticultural crop; and
; There was a clear need for post-harvest intervention.
Farmers were vulnerable to changes in environmental policy that were starting to restrict the use of wooden boxes and therefore jeopardizing access to distant high value markets. For some time farmers and others had recognized that the current technology (use of wooden 23boxes) may soon have to be superseded for economic and environmental reasons.
Excessive tree felling in that state of India had led to a ban and as result traditional wooden boxes had to be imported from other regions. IDE estimated that to provide packing boxes for the transport of tomatoes approximately 100,000 trees are destroyed every year. Indeed it is, in IDE's view, only a matter of time before similar restrictions appear in other states and so an alternative technology is needed. It was during this needs-assessment phase that IDE took the decision that improved tomato packaging would be the technical focus for its work. With this in mind, and in conjunction with the needs-assessment studies, the IDE team also investigated candidate supply chains for packaging box supply and appropriate information sources that could be used to expose farmers to the new technology. Here the auction agents (or adtis) seemed able to play a key role.
Technology search. Having identified packaging as the focus of project intervention, IDE then went about a technology search. This proceeded on a number of levels that included literature searches as well as visits to research organizations. These visits were used to explore the physical technology that was available; to talk to experts about technological options; to access information sources in these organizations (libraries etc) and later on to search for partners that not only had technology and expertise, but also had sufficient empathy to partner effectively with IDE. During this process of technology search, in August 2000, two key members of the IDE team visited the UK for discussions with ITDG. While in the UK they also had a chance to study the past history of packaging technology with a view to finding out what had been the UK experience with wooden boxes and alternatives. Through visiting supermarkets they learned that the U.K. had shifted from the use of wooden crates to cardboard boxes (as opposed to plastic or other alternatives) for packing and shipping of fruits. This information confirmed IDE’s conclusion that cardboard technology was the
approach needed for India. On return to India the team continued their search for suitable cardboard technology and associated expertise. One of the organizations visited was the Indian Institute of Packaging Technology. While this organization clearly had relevant experience it showed little interest, however, in working with IDE.
Through a publications search the IDE team then discovered a paper written by an agricultural engineer from the Indian Institute of Management at Ahmedabad (subsequently referred to as IIM). He had been working independently on cardboard packaging technology for tomatoes. The underlying rational for this work was that wooden box use was preventing small-scale farmers in Gujarat from accessing long distance markets. In turn this was because wooden boxes gave rise to unacceptable damage to fruits during long distance transportation. The problem became particularly acute during those times of the year when supply was abundant and local prices dropped often by so much that a surplus that could not be sold and farmers were thus dependent on other distant markets. His work assumed that the use of cardboard boxes could widen market access by reducing levels of fruit damage, and he was currently investigating the most appropriate technology for this purpose. To do
3 For local market access plastic and bamboo crates are also used but these are unsuitable for distant markets.
this, IIM had made an alliance with a nearby large commercial cardboard box manufacturer who had design, R&D and testing facilities.
The reason for IDE’s interest in promoting a change to cardboard boxes was different from the rationale for the IIM work in Gujarat. IDE was tackling technological redundancy brought about by changes in environmental policy in Himachal Pradesh, whereas IIM had been addressing an issue of technical performance in the context of market access. However, based on IIM’s practical, client-focused approach, its strong linkages with private box
manufactures and its ability and willingness to relate to the problem IDE was trying to address, IDE concluded that this group should play the major role in technology development and assist it to organize and conduct a first set of trials with cardboard boxes in Himachal Pradesh. It is notable that this was not a contractual arrangement. Instead the scientist undertook development and field-testing of his packaging design with IDE as way of further exploring the technology and promoting its use, an agenda that clearly overlapped with that of IDE. The scientist felt that success in this way would reflect well on both himself and IIM.
In fact part of the costs of the trial boxes was met out of IIM budgets. And this set a pattern for subsequent relations. A similar story can be told about the local box manufacturer, which appeared to take a long-term view. It agreed to develop and provide samples of the trial boxes free of charge and was willing to assist in any way it could. While the incentives may have been the possibility of future orders, also important seems to have been the need to maintain goodwill with IIM, which has a powerful presence in local commercial activities.
Technology testing. During the course of previous work in Himachal Pradesh IDE had
already developed a relationship with a local NGO – RUCHI. The needs assessment work
had also used the RUCHI contact as a way of gaining access to rural communities in the study area. RUCHI and its rural network therefore became the obvious choice when looking for a partner to assist in packaging and road transport trials. Similarly the needs-assessment work had required contact with traders, auction agents and transporters, and so in another study area an auction agent and his network of farmers was chosen as the partner for the trial. This first trial took place in May-June 2001. This was a major trial in which IDE paid for the cost of the new packaging, but farmers contributed their tomatoes.
The trial involved road transport to the Delhi market, physical analysis of the packaging and its contents and discussion with all participants in the marketing chain. The conclusion was that although the Gujarat technology was suitable in principle, there were a few adjustments needed, due to differing needs of Himachal Pradesh farmers and traders. These related firstly to transportation practices whereby in Himachal Pradesh, boxes were shifted and carried using ropes in a way that put undue stress on the box (and on those shifting the box). The second factor related to greater exposure to rainfall in Himachal Pradesh, which risked damage to the box and its contents.
The IIM scientists assisted in the first two-generation box trials. At the same time IDE started to develop a relationship first with a box manufacture in Delhi and subsequently one in Himachal Pradesh, although the scientists from IIM still provide technical backstopping. In all, five generations of box were tested with farmers and marketing systems, with a series of modifications taking place in terms of dimension, stacking height, moisture resistance, road roughness index, and of course cost. The process of producing the boxes and distributing them to farmers had also helped build a relationship with the manufacturers and box traders that would form the production and supply chain that would take over after the withdrawal of IDE.
Pilot commercialization The final trial of the project took place in June 2002. By this point the packaging was sufficiently successful to be accepted by both farmers and agents in the market chain and IDE wished to test commercial production and use. The number of boxes to be supplied was negotiated between the local manufacturer and the farmers, assisted by IDE and the local NGO RUCHI. The manufacturer insisted on advance payment of half the cost of the boxes. This was a problem as farmers usually operated by receiving wooden packaging on credit. RUCHI resolved this by facilitating financing of the boxes through a loan from a local bank to the self-help groups in its network. These groups then on-lent to
households who in turn pre-financed the manufacturers. In this way 30,000 boxes were manufactured and supplied. This was rather less than the target of a 100,000 that had been initially hoped for due to an unfavourable tomato production season, but was nevertheless a 4significant number. More important is that an operational system had been established. It is worth pointing out here that the introduction of the new packing was resisted initially by traders in the Delhi market. However efforts by local agents in Himachal Pradesh, IDE, and RUCHI have been able to bring about changes in market behaviour to the extent that 5cardboard packaging is now acceptable.
III Project outcomes
This intervention, which at the time of writing had been running for less than three years, has had a number of outcomes associated with the development and implementation of post-harvest innovation. These include:
1. Poverty relevance outcomes. A donor sponsored poverty relevance review
(Underwood 2002) of this intervention concluded that (i) its impact would be inclusive
of the poor, i.e. both the poor and the non-poor would benefit from this intervention; (ii)
it addressed gender concerns in the sense that it recognized that women rather than
men suffered the drudgery of existing package technology (making wooden boxes);
and (iii) that it addressed the enabling environment of the poor by reducing their
vulnerability to policy changes – in this case environmental policy related to raw
materials for packaging. The review also concluded that IDE’s approach to targeting
the poor while successful in this case could be considerably strengthened by a range
of existing and well-developed livelihood and stakeholder analysis approaches (Ibid.).
It is also worth pointing out here that the systematic monitoring of these issues was
not a requirement for CPHP projects other than the stipulation that adequate baseline 6data be collected in order that ex-post assessment could be made. This ex-post
assessment has yet to be made, although we would argue that an understanding of
the nature of the intervention as an evolutionary process is a more useful way of
evaluating its performance.
2. Technological innovation outcomes. A cardboard carton has been developed that
can transport tomatoes from Himachal Pradesh to the Delhi market with acceptable
levels of tomato quality deterioration.
3. Institutional innovations outcomes among partners. All the partners involved in this
project have been affected in various ways. In Himachal Pradesh new relationships
have been formed between organizations and individuals in the post-harvest system.
This represents a considerable investment in social capital that did not exist before
the project. The scientists from IIM have indicated that the project’s impact on them
is that it has opened their eyes both to the need to work with partners from the rural
development sector, and to the enormous success that can be achieved by
embedding their research in the work of others.
4 Although many of IDE’s staff had formal training in marketing, they indicate they do not use formal analytical tools for market forecasting of economic conditions and estimating effective market demand. They indicate that they do not find such methods useful or more accurate than intuitive estimates derived from discussion with market traders and their own observations of local conditions and trends. Staff with private sector marketing backgrounds indicate that this intuitive approach is quite common in many organisations in India. 5 At the time of the original study the authors postulated that a subsidised public sector company manufacturing cardboard boxes for apples in Himachal Pradesh may have crowded out the development of a production and supply chain for the new tomato box. This issue in fact does not seemed have emerged as important, mainly because of the commodity focus, but also because it was set up in such a way as to supply large scale horticultural producers and to do so in a rather inefficient way. 6 An interesting consequence of this arrangement was that when revising this paper we sought empirical evidence of its poverty impact. We were referred to the needs assessment work that had identified small-scale farmers as the focus of the intervention. The assumptions in this needs assessment study that a packaging intervention would predominantly benefit the poor had not been revisited during the course of the project.
4. Institutional innovation outcomes in IDE. This was the first time IDE had worked in
the post-harvest sector and it has learnt many lessons from this experience. It has also built new relationships as a result of its work, including a relationship with the donor involved. The use of a self-evaluation exercise for all of the organization’s
activities that coincided with the intervention has helped it learn more effectively, thus further evolving the IDE approach. An outcome of this learning is that IDE recognizes that formal social science skills should complement the commercial marketing principles that are at the core of its approach.
5. Total Systems Approach. IDE realized that it had put in place a total system of commercial production and sale. To ensure success, all parts (or nodes) of that system had to function well, and equally solid links had to be established between the nodes. Any weakness at any point would mean that the operation as a whole will run the risk of failure. Such interactions are both commercial and informational. And they involved the establishment of trust and rapport as well as purely commercial relationships.
6. Team Building. Finally the case reinforced the importance of operating through local people and groups to build up rapport and trust with farmers. Since IDE initially had few links before a new technology innovation programme is started, especially at the farmer level of the system, this has to be done through organizations that have already established trust and rapport [and networks]. The case of RUCHI is a classic example of this. Since this NGO had been operating in two relevant areas of Himachal Pradesh for 20 or more years it provided an ideal vehicle for IDE to penetrate farmer groups. It also acted as an entrée to other relevant bodies, particularly the Himachal Pradesh University of Horticulture and Forestry in Solan, which provided valuable information and advice to the project. Such groupings, however, need not necessarily be of the NGO variety. For example, an influential farmer and trader in Kullu (visited by the authors) clearly played a major role in facilitating the tomato-packaging project.
Figure 1 PARTNERSHIPS ASSOCIATED WITH THE DEVELOPMENT AND SUPPLY OF PACKAGING TECHNOLOGY
Network of Networks rural of farmers communities
HP based HP Transporters Delhi commodity NGO Indian commodity traders Institute of traders Management
dealers and with design