Announcing the winners of a first round of funding to take agricultural innovations to scale in Africa

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A ‘Scaling Fund’ was launched late last year by the CGIAR Regional Research Initiative on Diversification in East and Southern Africa, an initiative known also by its Shona-Swahili name, ‘Ukama Ustawi’ (denoting ‘partnership’ and ‘well-being’). This initiative supports climate-resilient agriculture and livelihoods in a dozen countries in East and Southern Africa. It helps millions of smallholders to intensify and diversify their maize-based farming while reducing their risks. It does this by improving extension services and governance frameworks, supporting small and medium enterprises, and adopting a gender and social inclusion lens. This initiative’s Scaling Fund was established specifically to help the region’s farmers to mitigate, and adapt to, climate change.   

Following a rigorous evaluation process by a committee composed of Ukama Ustawi staff and external scaling experts, 3 applications out of total of 28 submissions from within CGIAR were selected for taking agricultural innovations in this region to scale. 

The Scaling Fund enables high-impact CGIAR innovations to reach broader markets, serve more customers, and drive impactful change. The concepts underlying the Scaling Fund were developed and tested under previous CGIAR programs, including the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Banana (2017–2020). The Fund helps early-stage innovators to think through and effectively plan their ‘last-mile’ efforts to reach as many people as possible, removing discernible bottlenecks to adoption of innovations and exploring new opportunities.   

Funding the future—today 

On 25 October 2023, the CGIAR Initiative on Diversification in East and Southern Africa and the International Livestock Research Initiative (ILRI), with the support of New Zealand, launched the ‘Ukama Ustawi Scaling Fund’ at ILRI’s campus in Nairobi, Kenya, to help transform agrifood systems in this region, which is a hotspot for innovation development. Around 40% of the nearly 200 innovations developed by CGIAR in 2022 were developed in the dozen countries of this region. By enabling CGIAR and its partners to co-create, negotiate, and fund productive scaling strategies and action plans, this Fund aims to catalyze high-impact innovations. 

For this inaugural round, three awards of $125,000 have been granted to support the development of scaling strategies for innovations with significant impact potential in East and Southern Africa, along with in-kind contributions from Ukama Ustawi’s scaling experts. The in-kind support includes support in using of an Innovation Package and Scaling Readiness (IPSR) approach that has been developed by CGIAR’s Performance Portfolio Unit and spearheaded by Ukama Ustawi, in collaboration with Wageningen University. This approach includes four sequential steps: first, profiling an innovation; second, developing an ‘innovation package’, which usefully engages the most relevant stakeholders, including other CGIAR initiatives and public- and private-sector organizations, that are essential for scaling the innovation; third, formulating a cost-effective site-specific strategy for scaling the innovation, and, fourth, effectively managing an innovation portfolio. 

The following are the winning applications. 

ShambaShield for Climate-Proof Farming uses digital channels to deliver key climate information and financial services bundled with agriculture extension and climate-smart agricultural solutions to 500,000 smallholder maize farmers in Kenya. The ShambaShield package integrates the popular Shamba Shape Up television program, iShamba, a Climate-smart Credit Rating Tool, risk contingent credit, women- and youth-centered tool design practices for climate finance, and inclusive financial instruments. The aim is to protect smallholders—35% of them women and 15% of them youth—from the extreme effects of climate change. This Scaling Fund project should simultaneously improve financial literacy, inclusivity, and efficiency for Kenyan women, youth and marginalized communities.

Deployment-Ready Minimum Viable Products delivers tailored fertilizer recommendations for six high-priority crops—cassava, maize, wheat, potato, rice and bean—to extension agents and smallholder farmers in Rwanda through an existing digital supply chain management platform called Smart Nkunganire System, launched by the government in 2020, which allocates agricultural subsidies to farmers for purchasing seeds and fertilizers. By expanding this system to include extension services providing site-specific fertilizer recommendations and other agricultural advice, this project will create a one-stop shop for an existing user base of more than 1.5 million Rwandan farmers. Assuming an initial adoption rate of minimally 20%, at least 300,000 farmers will change their practices, resulting in higher profits, reduced environmental footprints, and improved soil fertility management.

VarScout—A Digital Ecosystem for collecting, storing, monitoring and visualizing crop varietal data by farmers, extension agents, government officials, private companies and researchers in Kenya. This system enables data to be visualized in real-time for effective decision-making on investments in breeding and seed systems. Developed in Switzerland, VarScout was refined and tested in 2023 in Kenya and Peru for potatoes. It will be used by at least 150 extension officers in Kenya to collect crop varietal data from at least 2,500 bean, maize, and potato farmers, 50% of them women, for better agricultural decision-making and delivery of climate-smart varietal technologies.

Featured image (L-R): A Kenyan farmer using a mobile phone in the field; varietal identification in Ethiopia; and a community leader in Debre Berhan, in central Ethiopia helping protect and rebuild the area’s soil. Photo credits: Neil Palmer/CIAT, Apollo Habtamu/ILRI, and Georgina Smith/CIAT.

Author: Susan MacMillan, Emeritus Fellow and Communications Consultant, ILRI

Ukama Ustawi is led by CGIAR’s International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in partnership with seven other CGIAR centers (in addition to ILRI, these include the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, the Maize and Wheat Improvement Center [CIMMYT], the International Potato Center [CIP], the International Food Policy Research Institute [IFPRI], the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture [IITA], and WorldFish) as well as government and donor agencies and private-sector actors all along the region’s food system value chain, including farmers, small and medium-sized businesspeople, traders, and financiers.  

We thank all funders who supported this work through their contributions to the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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