World Bank seeks innovators to solve top three agri-challenges

27 March 2020 | Agriculture

Did you know that investing in agricultural development is up to three times more effective for reducing poverty than doing so in any other sector?
With countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) depending heavily on the agriculture sector for food security, economic growth and trade, but being particularly vulnerable to climate change, the region is expected to experience the largest increase in extreme poverty due to the impacts of this threat.
To discover the most ground-breaking and impactful solutions for improving agriculture and food security risks in Southern Africa, the World Bank Agriculture Observatory, together with Draper University and InnMind, are calling on innovators to take part in the AG Innovation Challenge.
Diego Arias, Lead Agriculture Economist at the World Bank, explains that the Southern African agriculture sector faces three main risks: crop failures due to extreme weather; plant and animal disease outbreaks; and food price, agriculture and trade flow disruptions.
“Solving these challenges would contribute towards achieving the World Bank’s established mission of reducing poverty and increasing shared prosperity.”
For this reason, the World Bank has issued the following three challenges as part of the AG Innovation Challenge:
• Challenge 1: Alternative methods for measuring weather variables. Weather data is essential for the development of risk finance mechanisms and other key tools to strengthen the financial resilience of farmers to climatic shocks.
• Challenge 2: Predicting or monitoring animal and/or plant pests or disease outbreaks. With pathogens expanding into new areas that have never been affected before, this is exacting significant economic costs on farmers. Prevention and early warning for rapid response are therefore essential.
• Challenge 3: Agriculture Data. Objective, transparent, accessible, and accurate data is essential for developing high quality, affordable risk financing instruments (such as insurance) or agriculture information systems. With the expansion of novel data collection techniques, non-traditional methods of data collection can leap-frog traditional methods and expand the scope and availability of risk financing instruments for farmers.
“In this space we have observed that disruptive technologies often come from outside of the sector, in particular from ambitious and innovative start-up teams, hard-working students and entrepreneurs, as well as non-governmental institutions that encourage out-of-the-box thinking. We do not limit the application possibilities to a specific group of people, but rather invite everyone from all around the world to contribute and share their solutions and findings towards providing the region with improved measures for managing agriculture and food security risks.
“We have made the requirements as simple as possible for participation, so that the entry level is accessible for individuals, start-ups and small-to-medium sized institutions. We truly believe that by crowdsourcing these solutions we can collectively fight these global challenges in the most efficient and effective manner and will have faster access to state-of-the-art solutions that we haven’t thought of before,” says Arias.
Applicants will have an opportunity to get pre-selected to pitch their solutions to a panel of judges composed of experts in the field of agriculture risk management who hail from top international and regional institutions, including academia, the private sector, governments, and multilateral financial institutions. By making it into this round, the participants will be exposed to those experts who are likely to be interested in their solutions and may follow up with opportunities for collaboration and support.
The winners of each challenge will get to go on an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C. (conditional upon travel restrictions) where they will attend an award ceremony and have the opportunity to interact with potential partners.
They will also receive prizes from sponsors and partners such as being a participant in the Silicon Valley Start-up Bootcamp in Barcelona in September 2020, organised by InnMind and Draper University. Additionally, winners will be given the chance to exhibit their proposal work in a report on agriculture innovations published by the World Bank and its partners. Over and above this, they will be exposed to networking opportunities and get to interact with the key decision makers in the field of agriculture development - the direct supporters and implementers of innovations in the region.
“We would like to create a network of innovators, so even if your proposal is not selected, we would definitely want to keep in touch and support the innovation ecosystem regardless,” Arias says.
Innovators have until 2 April 2020 to submit methods and technologies that have the potential to change millions of lives of farmers and rural households across Southern Africa, and possibly even around the world.
To apply, or for more information, go to

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