New innovations are needed more than ever for nature positive agriculture in the face of unprecedented exposure and vulnerabilities in terms of climate change and food insecurities especially in the Global South. Novel and early-stage startups with improved technologies, products and services are emerging in low and middle-income countries aiming to build resilient communities. However, these innovations are facing challenges to scale up, typically lacking adequate access to finance and the skills required to bring their products to markets.
An interactive session “Seed to Scale: Accelerating Innovation Enterprises” was organized at the COP27 Resilience Hub in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt on 12th November 2022. The Global Resilience Partnership (GRP), UNDP (ISGAP), Shockwave Foundation, and Global Innovation Fund (GIF) – pioneer organisations working together on accelerating innovation enterprises – discussed and unraveled challenges and opportunities to make it more equitable, nature positive and sustainable.
Some novel innovations and startups are being initiated for the benefit of grassroot farmers who are increasingly suffering from the climate change impacts.
The GRP Innovation Challenge (2019) award winning farmer digital advisory tool, farmbetter, has been developed to provide tailored and actionable advice directly to the farmers. It is a mobile application compatible to Google play and app store in which farmers can get required information and advice to improve their farm after providing their location, goals, and some matrices about their farm. This initiative is currently focusing on six countries in Africa and Asia but is hoping to scale up anywhere in the world.
Babban Gona, meaning the Great Farm, has initiated an innovative technology platform in rural Nigeria to make farming more profitable for smallholder farmers by growth on yield and to create employment opportunities converting at-risk youth into successful entrepreneurs. Through this initiative, the farmers get economic cushion and solutions in four folds: training and guidance such as on optimal use of fertilizers and crop rotation; access to affordable credit, quality inputs such as drought resistant seeds, and support on harvest and marketing services. This initiative is limited to certain part of rural area. However, it can change a number of lives if expanded in Nigeria considering a remarkable repayment record.
CleantechHUB , one of the ISGAP grantees, is the regional center driving climate entrepreneurship and clean technology innovation ecosystem working in Columbia, Mexico and Latin America. It has been inspiring, mobilising, connecting, and catalysing the green entrepreneurship through turnkey programs in cleantech ideation, incubation, acceleration, and innovation. It has supported the ClimateLaunchpad entrepreneurs from startup to scale up through training, bootcamps, masterclasses, coaching and introducing into the business ecosystem.
Despite being novel and impactful, it is highly challenging to upscale seed innovations.
“It is really hard market to engage with as we are working remotely. Farming is the risky business. Farmers need to trust information they are getting. So, it is quite a hard market to crack.” – John Choptiany, farmbetter
The project proponents working on the ground have underscored key challenges to implement and upscale seed innovations. Building trust in local communities and to ensure bringing more members onboard is a key issue at the beginning of the process. It takes time and patience to really penetrate the market and ensure that the initiative is delivering as promised with a high standard.
Insufficient infrastructure is equally challenging while these innovations need to operate remotely or in the rural region. It is extremely difficult to navigate and provide end-to-end services to the smallholder customers with limited infrastructure especially when some initiatives such Babban Gona needs to manage a large logistical operation. Investment is key to initiate and upscale seed innovations. However, accessing affordable finance and attracting corporate partners are other challenges as no one would be interested to invest in new initiatives that needs to build entire ecosystem. So, significant time needs to be spent to convince partners including private sector to invest in new and early-stage innovations.
“We are really pioneering and hence need to develop the entire ecosystem. So, it takes time to build the trust and need to lead by examples.” – Jop Blom, CleantechHub
International organizations are supporting seed innovations and addressing challenges they are facing to upscale.
“Fundamentally, building resilience and adaptation solutions really need to buy in at the local level. That’s why we are focusing and endorsing locally led action. We are really trying to support organisations that are working on the bottom of the pyramid.” – Chongguang (Charles) Yu, UNDP ISGAP
Showcasing evidence and supporting ground-level actors are some potential strategies to address some of the challenges facing from the seed innovations. UNDP, for example, supports on multiple initiatives from local to national entities including CleantechHub to build the ecosystem, build trust, and understand the market and customers properly. GRP, on the other hand, supports grantees to gather knowledge and evidence which could be used to encourage corporate partnerships and investment, build trust, extend collaborations, and establish new policy norms. GRP is also supporting local initiatives that potentially can upscale and transform through ‘Seed of resilience for peace and stability’ program. GIF– an evidence-led impact investing organisation, invests through both grant and private sector investment. It is typically focused to Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia and supports a range of initiatives including those in fairly early stage such as Babban Gona.
More close collaboration and harmonisation is crucial across sectors and across disciplines.
The delegates in the panel emphasized the need to generate more innovations that can be tested with given time, get proof of concept, and get resources to upscale in the time of uncertainties. However, innovations needs flexible and patient funding, and continued support throughout the ecosystem. The panellists agreed for the need of more close collaboration among organisations and sectors recognising all actors have a role to play so that new ecosystems of innovation could evolve.
The session provided an instrumental platform to showcase the seed innovations for nature positive agriculture in the face of unprecedented impacts of climate change and food insecurities. The session allowed for an open dialogue space to hear from project proponents working on the ground, and from programmes and organisations that aim to support them, on challenges to upscale seed innovations, and anticipated support. The session end with a way forward to advance collective knowledge and create the collaboration ecosystem necessary to enable growth.