Meet this year's winners of CGIAR’s Scaling Fund

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A look at three promising innovations for Africa’s agrifood system

Three CGIAR and partner innovation teams—the winners of a Scaling Fund competition held at the end of 2023—are this year receiving US$125,000 along with in-kind contributions from CGIAR scaling experts (see the announcement of the winners here).

This month, each of these three innovation teams completed a workshop to develop strategies and action plans for getting their innovation into wide use. The structured steps and discussions in these workshops are expertly facilitated by individuals trained in CGIAR’s groundbreaking “Innovation Packaging and Scaling Readiness” (IPSR) process. Use of this approach helps innovation groups to design “packages” of innovations that—together and with the right partners and in specific contexts—help to ensure that their innovations not only are scaled broadly but also are done in inclusive and gender-sensitive ways.

Fertilizer guidance

Tailored advice is brought to farmers’ doorsteps in Rwanda

One of the recent workshops held was with the innovators of a fertilizer recommendation tool for Rwandan farmers. This tool 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 the country’s existing Smart Nkunganire System (SNS) digital supply chain, which allocates agricultural subsidies to farmers for purchasing seeds and fertilizers.

A Rwandese farmer checks his phone for agricultural information (photo credit: IITA).

The new tool provides Rwanda’s farmers not with blanket fertilizer recommendations as in the past, but rather with recommendations specific to their circumstances and contexts. Being suited to local conditions, such site-specific fertilizers not only enhance soil health and increase crop yield and quality but also are resource-efficient and environmentally sustainable.

Together with CGIAR’s International Potato Center (CIP) and other key partnerships operating under CGIAR’s Excellence in Agronomy Initiative and the Rwanda Soil Information Service (RwaSIS), the Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB) worked with CGIAR’s Ukama Ustawi Diversification in East and Southern Africa regional Initiative and the CGIAR’s Portfolio Performance Unit to organize the May 2024 IPSR workshop. This workshop’s diverse experts in information systems, software development, agricultural innovation scaling, and youth and gender opportunities put their heads together to identify the challenges that are likely to arise and hinder farmers and extensionists from adopting the Rwanda SNS fertilizer recommendation tool.

One outcome of the workshop was understanding that many Rwandese farmers still have too little access to the SNS for ordering their inputs and fertilizer, so this innovation will require multiple farmer trainings to succeed. It was also clear to the workshop participants that more than government involvement is needed. There is need, they said, to continuously improve the system to make it more user-friendly, to reduce the steps required to use the SNS system, to improve registration and networking processes.

By 2024, the workshop participants promised, CGIAR and partners will work together with RAB, BK TecHouse, One Acre Fund, and farmer cooperatives such as the Imbaraga to widen support for use of the fertilizer recommendation tool in Rwanda via at least 10 sector agronomists, 200 farmer facilitators, and 10,000 farmers. A piloting phase will roll out the tool to more than 1.5 million SNS-registered farmers in the country. Assuming a 20 percent adoption rate, at least 300,000 of Rwanda’s farmers should benefit from the fertilizer recommendation tool by 2025.


Digital bundles give Kenyan farmers access to agricultural credit and agro-advisory services

In another recent workshop, participants engaged in a series of interactive sessions analyzing and improving the scaling potential of the ShambaShield innovation bundle, which integrates a microfinance load product with the popular Shamba Shape Up TV series, and digital agro-advisory services in a cohesive package giving smallholder farmers greater access to credit.

Shamba Shape Up presenter and Kenya farmer check phone for agricultural information (iShamba Blog and News).

ShambaShield provides (1) climate and financial information through Shamba Shape Up; (2) the financing needed to enhance maize-mixed farming system resilience through a financial institution and enabled by climate-smart credit rating; and (3) a safety net through the insurance product (risk-contingent credit).

In 2024, the CGIAR Initiatives on Climate Resilience and Livestock and Climate are working together with media for education and development (Mediae), the Kenya Meteorological Department, ECLOF International (Ecumenical Church Loan Fund), Financial Access, and Safaricom-DigiFarm service to deliver ShambaShield. This comprehensive package, offering financial, credit, insurance, and literacy support aims to improve climate risk management among 500,000 smallholder Kenyan farmers, with at least 35 percent women and 15 percent youth among them. ShambaShield adopts a comprehensive social inclusion strategy to ensure that youth, women, and men have equal opportunities to access and benefit from these innovative bundles.

By the end of the workshop, participants in the workshop had refined their innovation package and identified high-priority next steps for scaling the innovation effectively and responsibly. This included defining the terms of an expert design consultant to integrate risk contingent credit, risk scoring, and digital agro-advisories in a unified platform that is intuitive, accessible, and impactful and addresses the challenges faced by smallholder farmers in accessing credit.


An AI-powered app identifies food crop varieties from photo snaps

The third winning Scaling Fund grantee is a VarScout Digital App tool that enables farmers, agronomists, extension workers or anyone to record the location of where a particular crop variety is growing. These variety observations create a publicly available, searchable database that shows where certain crop varieties are being grown. The two main goals of VarScout are to improve understanding of farmer’s needs and to protect agrobiodiversity.

Kenyan farmer in crop field (photo credit: USAID).

In a third IPSR workshop held in April, the CGIAR Seed Equal Initiative worked with the Kenya Ministry of Agriculture and agricultural extension officers of Kenya’s Nakuru County trained on using the VarScout (initially on potato and soon including maize and beans) to integrate VarScout into the country’s existing suite of digital tools to obtain real-time, disaggregated, and trusted data on crop varietal adoption and performance.

The front end of the VarScout ecosystem is an app used on phones and tablets. Extensive training is provided to extensionists, particularly to women, to guide them through the different functionalities of the app. Extension officers use the VarScout app to collect, store, and visualize crop varietal and land area data in a digital notebook, which allows them to determine the abundance, turnover, and performance of different crop varieties.

The information gives insights into how well specific areas are doing and how well farmers are equipped with the right technologies to mitigate the impacts of climate change and variability. VarScout data also discloses areas of low and high varietal biodiversity and is being refined to monitor adoption (and rates) of “orphan or neglected” crops.

In 2024, Seed Equal scientists and VarScout partners are working together with the Ministry of Agriculture in Kenya to deliver the VarScout ecosystem to at least 150 extension officers and to collect crop varietal data from at least 2,500 bean, maize, and potato farmers (half of them women). Some 7,500–15,000 farmers will be provided with agronomic advice on the best varietal performance for their farms and circumstances.

Note: For more information about the Ukama Ustawi Scaling Fund and these 2024 Scaling Fund winning projects, please contact Esther Kihoro: e.kihoro [at]

See also this news clipping:
The Rwanda-SNS Innovation Expansion: Tailored Fertilizer Recommendations for Smart and Sustainable Farming, Top Africa News, Mutangana Emmanuel, 4 May 2024

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