Knowledge as catalyst: using knowledge exchange and learning to commercialize a public agricultural research idea for Kenyan and Rwandan smallholder farmers


  • Laura Harwig Fintrac Inc.
  • Laura Ostenso


knowledge management, Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, USAID, Fintrac Inc., PICS bags, Purdue University, US Agency for International Development, Kenya, Rwanda


Actors involved in developing and scaling agricultural technologies in developing countries – specifically publicly funded research institutions and private sector businesses – operate according to different sets of motivations and perspectives. Their objectives, however, can be complementary and, with the right incentives, align to create synergies leading to innovative products and services for smallholder farmers. The exchange of knowledge among these actors plays a catalytic role in aligning motivations, perspectives, and objectives to advance innovations. Its role can aid in the initial stages of shaping public agricultural research priorities to the later stage of scaling-up a resulting product, service, or technology through commercialization. This case study illustrates this dynamic in a multi-year agricultural technology partnership between Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, a United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded program implemented by Fintrac Inc., and Purdue University. The partnership aimed to scale use of an improved grain storage bag, known as PICS (Purdue Improved Crop Storage), to reduce postharvest loss among smallholder farmers in Kenya and Rwanda. The case study draws on lessons learned from this partnership, as well as from analysis conducted by Partnering for Innovation, notably Success Factors for Commercializing Agricultural Research: Lessons from Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation. The case presents a set of knowledge exchange touchpoints to facilitate collaboration between publicly funded research institutions and private sector businesses in successfully and sustainably scaling innovative agricultural technologies.

Author Biographies

Laura Harwig, Fintrac Inc.

Laura Harwig is the Program Director of Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation where she catalyzes the expansion of private sector companies and entrepreneurs into rural, agricultural markets. Working with input providers, off takers, financial institutions, and technology firms, she co-designs solutions to commercialize their agriculture technologies that have so far transformed the lives of more than 1 million smallholder farmers worldwide. Laura is an expert in using pay-for-results approaches and market-based interventions to achieve food security goals. Prior to joining Partnering for Innovation, she served as Fintrac’s Vice President of Field Activities and oversaw implementation of market systems and value chain development programs in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Laura Ostenso

Laura Ostenso is a knowledge management (KM) and learning professional. She has worked with a variety of government, industry, and non-profits to develop, implement, and institutionalize initiatives that support organizational learning, and ultimately, the outcomes they seek to reach. Laura served as the Knowledge Exchange lead for the Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation program and as Fintrac’s Director of Corporate Learning across a $100 million portfolio of agriculture development projects.


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