Lessons from the Lesotho Accelerator Lab’s societal interactions: “Can elegant grasshoppers be used as a pesticide in crop farming?”

April 29, 2020

The Accelerator Labs concept has attracted a lot of attention within and outside UNDP, and some are waiting to see results, hoping to get clarity on what it entails. The thought process that gave birth to the concept and the personnel within UNDP cannot say precisely what the outcome will be when the concept reaches its maturity stage. In her blog  “What does success look like for UNDP Accelerator Labs? [Part1 of probably many]”, the Team Leader of UNDP Accelerator Labs, Gina Lucarelli, affirms that success of the Accelerator Labs may not be defined in traditional log-frames or results metrices, rather a change in ‘processes and culture necessary for innovation and renewal’.  This means normal attributes which people are accustomed to in measuring the development work may not be perceived throughout the new course of exploration by UNDP.

From experimentation perspective, the Accelerator Lab concept which has currently unfolded for over a year, is anticipated to be validated through reflections on experiments which avail quick evidence-oriented insights. Some of such experiments will be visible as they graduate to scale-up in the form of development projects, business startups, behavioural change within our societies or experiments which unearth evidence influencing policy establishment or change. Within the UNDP and its development partners, additional reflections will be observed from lessons learned out of experiments’ failures which save on possible loss of investments. From this, compiled failure reports and experiments’ artefacts can be referenced as intelligence knowledgebase which directs the approach and execution of the future work within UNDP and externally.

Our approach

The approach and execution of activities within the Accelerator Lab brings a lot of misperception so much that some people believe the Accelerator Lab team is a combination of geniuses with broad cognitive content or better yet – ‘people who know everything’, and supposedly, in fields of mathematics, science and technology. The temporal characteristic required for experimentation also brings more misinterpretation during engagements where colleagues in development work are accustomed to big projects springing across long schedules of implementation before being evaluated for failure or success.

In my early days in Accelerator Lab, I had discussions with a friend who is in a research institution and I was telling him that I must write a blog on my encounters on solutions mapping field trips. His response was “is it a requirement or you are just playing around?” I said, it is a requirement, and it is an integral part of my work where we try to influence engagements for collective intelligence. And he said, “I think UNDP is loosening up”. This was based on how UNDP is perceived by outsiders on its ways of conducting business. People know UNDP as the research hub where academics are hired, and consultants are contracted to execute UNDP’s mandate by producing technical reports and research documents as information resources. No one has ever thought there can be a unit within UNDP which concentrate on the technical aspects of development that is based on local solutions. To add to the mystery, the lab reports and intelligence build-up which relies on social media interactions, blogs, community and individual’s social interactions are queried for validity to make development investment decisions.

Some of the early interactions from social media feed demonstrated skepticism on the approach; questions such as ‘What is this about? Is it really innovative or it is more of the same?’ were asked. The virtue of the Accelerator Lab is in using tested solutions from communities and the global Accelerator Lab counterparts, and interrogating their resilience and scalability through experimentation processes. The observance here excludes normal ways of solutions’ deployment which have been formulated as a result of research, design thinking, or projects designs and implementations.

To experiment or not: the tale of elegant grasshoppers as pesticide

One typical engagement which stood out on social media occurred after a successful solutions-mapping exercise at Kolo region, in the Mafeteng district. This occurred on Facebook where the Lesotho Accelerator Lab posted a pesticide discovery by a maize farmer. On his innovation, the farmer uses a powdered pesticide made from crushed herd of elegant grasshoppers which fed and destroyed crops on his fields. The post stirred mixed feelings and diverse inputs from the Lesotho society.

Some reactions from this post admired this ‘innovation’ as an indigenous knowledge that must be preserved, while others found the idea absurd and detrimental to Lesotho’s ecosystem. Deciding on the next step has been difficult but the team is continuing to explore and collect stakeholder intelligence to inform the next steps for this novel idea that may help many farmers in Lesotho.

Some key lessons from this exchange relate to the evidence basis for the Lab experiments. Social content (blogs, social media, etc.) by the general public is not regarded as a legitimate form of validation of evidence. Formal methods and designs are still seen as trusted ways of coming up with concrete solutions. For the Accelerator Lab, society inputs and intelligence are necessary to validate potential experimentation and facilitate further exploration. Perceptions and interrogations by the society may elevate the challenge of balancing advantages and disadvantages of any identified innovation.

While still exploring options and partners, the following projected hypotheses for possible experimentation have been formulated:

1. If the powdered elegant grasshopper is a pesticide;

- Is it a natural pesticide or the elegant grasshopper has some chemical which can be harmful to crops, ecosystems and soil texture?

- For which crops is the pesticide most applicable?

- Which categories of pests is it mostly appropriate for?

- Is it feasible when scaling up?

2. If it has no elements to categorize it as a pesticide;

- What made pests disappear from the field when it was applied?

- Is there an environmental influence on the disappearance of pests?

- Or was it just a coincidence?

Value add from the Accelerator Lab

Thus far, engagements on the solution were positive, however, more insights are required to shape the experiment design. There is also a believe that this solution may form part of organic pesticides. Some notable issues still requiring further intelligence include sustainability of the solution, social ethics and acceptance in Lesotho. If the Lesotho Accelerator Lab can obtain a commercial solution based on this innovation, there will be more value addition to the Lesotho agricultural sector outcomes on possible organic production practices.

In the meantime, the Lesotho Accelerator Lab will continue to unearth more innovative solutions which can improve livelihoods of people in Lesotho, and more should be expected on the “Elegant Grasshopper Pesticide by a Kolo Farmer”.