AgResults Reflects on How Prizes Can Scale Agricultural Innovations at IITA/Gates Foundation Webinar

March 5, 2021

head shots of key speakers

“If Africa wants to be ready to address the challenges it is facing in its food and agriculture systems to become more resilient and inclusive, it’s urgent that African agriculture satisfies the food and nutrition needs of its growing populations.”

Dr. Jonas Chianu, Chief Agricultural Economist from the African Development Bank, offered this call to action as part of his keynote address on Day 2 of the “Scaling Agricultural Innovations through Commercialization for Sustainable Food System Transformation.” Co-hosted by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, this webinar series explored how research institutions and private companies should collaborate to scale agricultural technologies and strengthen food systems over three days (March 2-4). AgResults joined a panel on Day 2 to demonstrate how Pay-for-Results prizes can create a supportive enabling environment.

Using presentations and breakout rooms, Day 1 of the series looked at how partnerships between research institutions and private companies can foster sustainable market models. The conversations illuminated that although scaling up any agricultural innovation is challenging, the arena becomes much more complex when those technologies are focused on social impact, not just productivity.

Day 2 focused on how public and private actors can create an enabling environment that facilitates scale-up of agricultural technologies. Marcella McClatchy from the Gates Foundation set the stage, explaining that government regulations, standards, and access to finance all contribute to shaping an enabling environment that encourages scale.

After Dr. Chianu’s keynote address urging collaboration across public and private sectors, Moderator Garron Hansen of Chemonics International engaged the different panelists to share their experiences shaping enabling environments.

Ndidi Nwuneli from Sahel Consulting Agriculture & Nutrition Ltd started off the discussion, emphasizing how supportive political and financial frameworks encourage sustainable scale-up of technologies.

“If you don’t address finance and policy issues, then you are setting yourself up for failure,” said Ms. Nwuneli. “Policy must be ecosystem-focused and must be done at the national and local levels.”

During his remarks, Rodrigo Ortiz illustrated how AgResults’ prize competitions actively anticipate and address enabling environment influences through strategic design. By structuring the competition to account for factors like access to finance, government policies, and time to build trust, AgResults embeds sustainability into its design to drive scaling of agricultural technologies.

“The reason we use prizes is because they offer a unique value-add over traditional funding. Prizes heighten awareness and create an opportunity to inform and mobilize,” Mr. Ortiz explained. “That market awareness is necessary for uptake and growth of future demand.”

Several panelists from the public sector highlighted the government’s role in setting standards to drive commercialization.

“We need farmer education to help them adopt the right practices and use the right technologies,” said Peter Kaigwara, Director of Market Surveillance for the Kenya Bureau of Standards. “We need to increase the testing capacity along the entire value chain.”

Alex Dodoo of the Ghana Standards Authority agreed, saying that the government needs to create a framework for measuring progress.

“The government needs to develop metrics to measure specific outcomes that align with our goals of commercialization,” Mr. Dodoo said.

Day 2 was an opportunity to reaffirm that collective action among public and private stakeholders is needed to ensure that technologies are accessible for smallholder farmers across the continent and the world.

“The already well-known barriers to scaling agricultural innovations must be systematically removed to create impact and adoption,” Dr. Chianu said. “Sharing of responsibilities must concretely begin now.”

Drawing from the discussions over the first two days, Day 3 looked to the future of food systems to understand which types of interventions will work best to commercialize agricultural technologies. The panelists shared a range of perspectives on how best to incorporate these goals into real policies and investment decisions.

In this way, the webinar series effectively engaged research institutions and the private sector to answer the question of how best to accelerate the scaleup of key innovations to improve food safety and nutrition in 21st century food systems.

For more information about the Scaling Agricultural Innovations through Commercialization for Sustainable Food System Transformation, including supplementary materials, visit the event page.

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