Africa, Combating Desertification and Drought, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Food and Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Headlines, TerraViva United Nations


Transforming African Food Systems from the Ground Up

Nyando climate-smart villages are home to a mix of technologies tailored to boost farmers’ ability to adapt to climate change, manage risks and build resilience. These technologies will in turn improve livelihoods & incomes. Credit: S.Kilungu (CCAFS)

PRETORIA, South Africa, Jun 18 2024 (IPS) - All news is local, they say. The same is true of innovations—those many new technologies, policies, and practices that steadily stream from research to enhance our lives.

It is in specific regions, cultures, and locales across the Global South that innovations for agricultural development first get taken up and adapted to meet people’s needs. Or not. Only by understanding that all innovations are local can innovators meet the diverse needs of diverse peoples.

From the library and laboratory to the farm and kitchen

Acknowledging that dreaming up innovative solutions is the easy part, and that delivering innovations to real people facing real problems is the hard part, CGIAR – the world’s largest publicly funded agrifood research network – put “innovation scaling” at the heart of its Regional Integrated Initiatives (RIIs).

CGIAR’s six RIIs are operating in six regions: Latin America, West and Central Africa, East and Southern Africa, Central and West Asia and North Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Asian Mega Deltas. Commencing in 2022 and operating through 2024, these RIIs are working with over 750 local public and private partners and research centres to help transform these regions’ agrifood systems. Serving as CGIAR’s “living labs”, the RIIs support more local organizations to adapt, apply, validate, and scale solutions from many disciplines and to integrate these into local programs and platforms. By building local capacities, the RIIs are empowering “last-mile stakeholders” to apply, adapt, and use the innovations, to take ownership of them, and to lead the innovation process as it evolves over time.

The context is decisive

With a strong foundation laid in their first two years of operation, these RIIs offer big opportunities for upscaling engagement in more local food systems, crowding in investments, and uniting efforts in specific locales. With a wealth of local partners offering local experience, these initiatives provide granular insights that can help to transform conventional “hit-and-run” agrifood systems projects into enduring solutions to specific high-order problems. For example, through technical and business support from CGIAR’s Food Systems Accelerator, Zambian fruit processing company Forest Africa has developed a non-dairy milk from the fruit of the baobab tree that provides economic benefits to local communities while helping to avoid deforestation.

In particular, the six RIIs and their partners are maximizing impact by focusing on innovations at mature levels of readiness, employing digital agroclimatic advisory tools and services, strengthening local capacity in agrifood system development, and providing relevant policies and regulations with evidenced-based recommendations. For example, by partnering with the popular “Shamba Shape Up” farm makeover reality TV show in Kenya, CGIAR has helped bring proven innovations to more than eight million viewers every week.

In 2023 alone, these RIIs enhanced regional and local agrifood systems with 577 reports and papers, 341 products and events strengthening local agrifood system capacities, 198 new innovations, and 31 policy changes.

The Ukama Ustawi Initiative

With a new CGIAR portfolio (2025–2030) now under development, CGIAR’s RII on Diversification in East and Southern Africa, led by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and co-implemented with 154 other partners, is a model for how CGIAR and its many partners can play a larger role in scaling as well as developing agrifood innovations for the continent.

Given the byname Ukama Ustawi (a blending respectively of Southern Africa’s Shona word for “partnership” with East Africa’s Swahili word for “well-being”), this Initiative works in a dozen African countries with local food producers and agribusiness dealers, innovators, and influencers. Our partners are invaluable in helping us both to overcome obstacles to scaling research-based innovations and to avoid any unintended consequences of their adoption.

Innovating the “how”

Part of what makes Ukama Ustawi unique are the ever evolving and participatory ways in which it works.

A regular series of vibrant rural share fairs and virtual field trips allows for the exchange of knowledge, ideas, experiences and expertise—flowing not only from farmer to farmer but also, importantly, from farmer to village elders, to scientists, to government officials, and to donor agents. These deliberately “immersive” physical fairs and virtual field trips not only accelerate and widen farmer-farmer learning, but also bring the world of smallholder farming to decision-makers, who meet the farmers, hear their stories, and experience their challenges—directly and in real time.

Innovations are also being accelerated through award competitions promoting “scaling-ready” agricultural innovations in the region. Through the CGIAR Food System Accelerator, Ukama Ustawi supports innovation scaling through agribusinesses that receive substantial support to help them diversify their maize cropping into more nutritious agricultural products and systems. Each local agribusiness is matched with suitable mentors from CGIAR and elsewhere and provided with tailored technical as well as financial assistance. In 2023, this matchmaking resulted in initial financial commitments exceeding US$11 million for the 10 selected agribusinesses. Ukama Ustawi also initiated an annual competition for research groups to apply for Scaling Fund grants. Three winning research Initiatives were each awarded US$125,000 in 2024.

CGIAR’s RIIs are certainly where the rubber hits the road, and with the new CGIAR reorganization now under way, it is an opportune time to take this more local innovation scaling work to new levels of productive partnerships for billions of productive people.

Inga Jacobs-Mata, CGIAR “Ukama Ustawi” Initiative on Diversification in East and Southern Africa
Maya Rajasekharan, Alliance Bioversity-CIAT Africa Regional Managing Director
Namukolo Covic, CGIAR regional director for East and Southern Africa
Moses Odeke, Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA)

IPS UN Bureau


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