Transforming Africa’s food systems is a global issue
Nyando’s climate-smart village incorporates a range of technologies tailored to help farmers adapt, manage risk and strengthen their resilience to climate change, leading to improved livelihoods and incomes. Photo by S. Kirungu (CCAFS)
  • opinion Inga Jacobs Mata – Maya Rajasekaran – Namukoro Kovic – Moses (Pretoria, South Africa)
  • Inter Press Service

Innovations for agricultural development may or may not be first adopted and adapted to meet the needs of people in specific regions, cultures and places in the Global South. Only by understanding that all innovations are local can innovators meet the diverse needs of diverse people.

From libraries and labs to farms and kitchens

Recognizing that it’s easy to come up with innovative solutions but difficult to get innovations to real people facing real problems, CGIAR, the world’s largest publicly funded agri-food research network, has put “Scaling Innovation” at the heart of its Regional Integration Initiative (RII).

CGIAR’s six RIIs are working in six regions: Latin America, West and Central Africa, East and Southern Africa, Central, West and North Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Asian Megadeltas. Starting in 2022 and operating through 2024, these RIIs are working with more than 750 local public and private partners and research centers to help transform agri-food systems in these regions. Serving as CGIAR’s “living labs,” the RIIs help more local organizations adapt, apply, validate and scale solutions from different sectors and integrate them into local programs and platforms. By building local capacity, the RIIs are empowering “last-mile stakeholders” to apply, adapt, use innovations, own them, and lead the innovation process as it evolves over time.

Context is crucial

Building on a strong foundation during their first two years of operation, these RIIs offer significant opportunities to expand engagement in more local food systems, focus investments, and consolidate efforts in specific regions. With a wealth of local partners providing local experience, these initiatives provide in-depth insights that can help transform traditional “hit-and-run” agri-food system projects into lasting solutions to specific, higher-order problems. For example: CGIAR Food Systems AcceleratorZambian fruit processing company Forest Africa has developed a non-dairy milk from the fruit of the baobab tree, helping to prevent deforestation while providing economic benefits to local communities.

In particular, the six RIIs and their partners are maximizing impact by focusing on mature and readiness-level innovations, adopting digital agro-climate advisory tools and services, strengthening local capacity in agri-food systems development, and providing relevant policies and regulations with evidence-based recommendations. For example, by partnering with the popular Kenyan farm makeover reality TV show “Shamba Shape Up,” CGIAR has helped deliver proven innovations to an audience of more than 8 million people every week.

In 2023 alone, these RIIs strengthened regional and local agri-food systems with 577 reports and papers, 341 products and events that strengthen the capacity of local agri-food systems, 198 new innovations, and 31 policy changes.

of Ukama Ustawi Initiative

With the new CGIAR portfolio (2025-2030) currently under development, CGIAR’s RII Diversification in East and Southern AfricaLead International Water Management Institute (IWMI) Implemented in collaboration with 154 other partners, the project has become a model that enables CGIAR and its many partners to play a larger role in scaling up and developing agri-food innovation on the African continent.

Known by another name Ukama Ustawi (a combination of the South African Shona word for “partnership” and the East African Swahili word for “happiness”), the initiative works in 12 African countries with local food producers, agribusiness dealers, innovators and influencers. Our partners provide invaluable help in overcoming obstacles to scaling research-based innovations and avoiding unintended consequences of their implementation.

Innovating the “method”

One of the things that makes Ukama Ustawi unique is that it is constantly evolving and functions in a participatory way.

A regular series on vibrant countryside Share Fair and Virtual Field Trip An exchange of knowledge, ideas, experiences and expertise is enabled, flowing not only from farmer to farmer, but from farmers to village elders, scientists, government officials and aid agencies. These deliberately “immersive” physical fairs and virtual site visits not only accelerate and extend farmer-to-farmer learning, but also convey the world of small-scale agriculture to decision-makers, enabling them to meet farmers face-to-face, hear their stories and experience their challenges first-hand, in real time.

Innovation is also being accelerated through prize competitions that promote “scalable” agricultural innovation in the region. CGIAR Food Systems AcceleratorUkamah Ustawi is helping to scale innovation through agribusinesses that receive significant support to diversify maize cultivation into more nutritious crops and systems. Each local agribusiness is matched with CGIAR and other suitable mentors to provide customized technical and financial assistance. In 2023, this matching resulted in the injection of more than US$11 million in seed funding to 10 selected agribusinesses. Ukamah Ustawi also launched an annual competition for research groups to apply for Scaling Fund grants. The three winning research initiatives were awarded US$125,000 each in 2024.

CGIAR’s RIIs are indeed a place of practice, and the new CGIAR restructuring now underway presents a great opportunity to take this work of scaling up more local innovation to a new level of productive partnerships for billions of productive people.

Inga Jacobs MataCGIAR “Ukama Ustawi” Initiative on Diversification in Eastern and Southern Africa

Maya RajasekaranManaging Director of the CGIAR Africa Region

Namkoro KovicRegional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, CGIAR

Moses OdekeAssociation for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA)

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© Inter Press Services (2024) — All rights reservedSource: Inter Press Service

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