Grow Further will support innovations that are relevant to small-scale farmers in developing countries in Asia, Africa, or Latin America. The majority of projects are expected to be in Asian countries such as China and India. These countries tend to have smaller farms than in Latin America; more well-trained researchers and farmers with better access to finance than in Africa; and more diaspora members in the Seattle area to engage as volunteers.
As soon as a sufficient number of founding members are recruited, probably in late 2017, Grow Further will register as a charitable organization and begin operations.
Why agricultural research
Agricultural research is essential to long-term food security and benefits consumers, especially low-income consumers, through lower prices as well as farmers. Grow Further is specifically focused on innovations that promote productivity, added value, resiliency, and sustainability. See our “What success looks like” page for examples of projects in each of these categories.
We’re not interested in developing big fancy tractors or building Potemkin villages. We are interested in helping small-scale farmers and low-income consumers through productivity, added value, resiliency, and sustainability (see What success looks like for examples). Major foundations have made agricultural research their second largest international priority after public health for decades, but individuals have never before had organizations through which they could engage.
From a technical standpoint, it would be possible to eliminate malnutrition today just by reducing food waste. However, this is impractical from a socioeconomic standpoint, and is not a long-term solution by itself in light of population growth, evolving pest and disease threats, climate change, depletion of water resources, and other factors. If a policy of just reducing food waste and not investing in research had been adopted 50 years ago, we would be in big trouble today, with riots over food prices and other social problems if not outright famine. Research supported by Grow Further aims not just to increase production, but also to increase the incomes of small-scale farmers, reduce food costs for low-income consumers, improve nutrition, and keep agricultural sustainable and resilient in a changing environment, all goals that are difficult or impossible to achieve just by reducing food waste.
These countries are large enough to undertake big projects but remain poor on a per-capita basis, particularly in rural areas. A rural family of four in these countries might have one acre of land and, if they can find work, face wages roughly comparable to those in the US in the early 20th Century. A larger population in a country can mean more researchers with whom to collaborate and facilitate the scaling up of a successful innovation.
Teaching and agricultural extension are important, and many of our projects will indirectly support them, but we believe that we can add most value through innovation rather than through funding routine public services. We choose to work in countries that have relatively strong systems to train researchers and deliver research results to farmers. As the Chinese say, 拔苗助长 (you can’t make rice shoots grow by pulling on them), an idiom that warns against tiger parenting as well as illustrating how enthusiasm without better technology won’t be effective in farming.
No. Just as most medical research has nothing to do with controversial stem cell experiments, most agricultural research today is not related to GMOs, also known as genetically modified organisms or transgenics. Most scientists believe GMOs are a low-risk technology but that they are not essential, or in many cases even relevant, to food security. Grow Further will not support the development of GMOs. This policy is in place both to avoid controversy and because GMO development is not a good fit for Grow Further’s business model. Grow Further does not take positions on the regulation of GMOs or on other public policy issues, and its members have a variety of opinions about GMOs. There are many other organizations that lobby governments for or against GMOs, but essentially no platform for individuals to support and engage with non-controversial agricultural innovations.
Yes, all innovations that Grow Further supports will be consistent with organic practices. We will not be supporting the development of GMOs, pesticides, or chemical fertilizers, both because some members oppose them and because these technologies are easily patented and thus receive significant private investment. That said, we expect that most of our innovations will be useful to both conventional and organic farmers and that most farmers adopting them will be conventional.
In principle, no, though determining whether a technology benefits small or large scale farmers the most may be difficult or subjective in some cases. The mission is to benefit small-scale farmers, and Grow Further will work toward that mission by supporting technologies that are made available to all, as opposed to exclusively licensed to a private company.
We will not actively solicit corporate contributions or offer corporations any role in our governance or operations. We will accept donations or employer matches from corporations outside of the agricultural sector that do not pose a conflict of interest. Donations from companies that could create an actual or perceived conflict of interest (e.g., Monsanto or John Deere) will be returned.
Differences from other organizations
Essentially no comparable organization exists anywhere in the world. International agricultural research centers have close to zero engagement with the American public. State universities have high overhead costs for international programs and allow donors little say in how funds are used. Agricultural development-related nonprofits like Heifer International and One Acre Fund are in almost all cases doing agricultural extension rather than research.
Developing agricultural technologies for small-scale farmers in developing countries is generally not associated with a profitable business model because of the difficulty protecting intellectual property. There are very few companies whose work is consistent with Grow Further’s mission and that are in a position to raise capital from American investors and use it in a transparent manner. In most cases, investing in such companies requires being an accredited investor under American regulations (generally a net worth of $1 million or more) and may be restricted under foreign regulations as well. Other organizations, such as Element 8 Angels and relevant private equity funds, may be suitable for accredited investors interested in agriculture in developing countries.
We are happy to share our experiences with interested government officials who may be in a position to scale up our successes, but believe that it is best to lead by example and to make any lobbying activities incidental to our regular work. While lobbyists can be highly effective when like-minded politicians are in power, they may accomplish little to nothing in a less favorable political environment or when attempting to convince governments to support high-risk innovations.
No, though crowd-funding options may eventually be added. Grow Further is an organization for those who wish to learn and engage, not merely a passive fund-raising vehicle.
Yes, a giving circle that’s more professionalized than most in having an international expert committee and more diverse membership. Grow Further also plans to expand into additional business models.
This has not yet been decided. There will most likely be multiple membership levels.
By using volunteers and diaspora members to help with due diligence, Grow Further will be able to undertake smaller projects than foundations would be able to without incurring excessive administrative costs.
Grow Further will have financial controls equal to or better than other organizations of a similar size and complexity. Grow Further is all about offering members opportunities to engage, and that includes reviewing financial records as well as participating in decisions for those who are interested.