May 2014

Dear Reader,

Innovation is Serious Business!   
During the month of May, scientists, technology experts, innovators and business leaders gathered in Nairobi at two separate events aimed at sharing cutting-edge best practice in the fields of innovation and business. From May 19th - 23rd, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation, and other partners, hosted the 3rd National Science, Technology and Innovation Week with the aim of improving understanding of the challenges and opportunities in Kenya's industrial growth and development. Almost as if on cue, on May 22nd, some of the country's most brilliant business minds convened at the Kenya Association of Manufacturers Business Leaders' Conference, dubbed 'Africa the Last Frontier - Shaping the future of Investments in Africa'. Separately, at the Feed the Future Global Forum held in Washington DC from May 19-21st , stakeholders and partners from around the world met to highlight progress, address challenges and chart a way forward in the fight against hunger and poverty. Speaking at the forum, Calestous Juma, Professor of International Development at Harvard Kennedy School said that, "by focusing on agricultural innovation, Feed the Future's vision and activities are aligned with African aspirations". What are some of these African aspirations? Perhaps to make innovation the big business that it could be for improved livelihoods, food security and better nutrition?

Through a unique approach of identifying viable agricultural innovations and
cultivating the establishment of sound business practices that can sustain these ideas in the market, USAID/Kenya Feed the Future Innovation Engine is part of a global effort to transform the lives of hundreds of thousands of small-holder farmers and rural households. Join us as we celebrate the businessmen and women who are hard at work innovating to fight poverty, hunger and under-nutrition.      
The Innovation Engine Team
Innovation Engine's Second Innovator Pitch Event Showcases 24 Compelling Pitches 


A section of the Investment Advisory Committee at the Pitch Event
On May 13th and 14th, the Innovation Engine held Innovator Pitch Days under the program's second solicitation wave. A total of 24 innovators made spirited, seven-minute presentations to an Investment Advisory Committee (IAC) in a bid to secure USAID funding and technical assistance through the Innovation Engine. The innovators, who had been shortlisted from a total of over 250 applicants in this second wave, presented the business case for innovations that could transform farming in Kenya. The shortlisted innovations range from various ingenious mobile phone applications and end-to-end farm solutions, to the bio-control of pests.

The Pitch Event was part of the Innovation Engine's selection process under its second call for applications, which closed on March 7th. Applicants submitted proposals under three categories: Proof of Concept (Stage I); Pilot Roll-Out (Stage II) and Transition to Scale (Stage III).
The Innovation Engine is currently supporting seven awardees under Wave I of the program. Please stay tuned for the announcement of award nominees under Wave II soon!
The next deadline for submissions under this rolling Request for Applications is June 27, 2014. Applications are invited for innovations that fit into any of the three categories listed above. Don't be left out!  
Human-Centered Design: the Oil that Runs the Innovation Engine?


Beyond providing financial grants to innovations at various stages of maturity, the Innovation Engine cultivates and coaches selected innovations towards sustainable business models as part of its efforts towards improving livelihoods, reducing poverty, and improving nutrition. This short-term technical assistance, which is tailor-made to suit the needs of each innovator, is at the heart of the Innovation Engine's approach. Working in partnership with IDEO.org - the pioneers of human-centered design - the Innovation Engine is applying this forward-thinking, outside-the-box support to selected innovators to enhance and sustain the uptake of high-impact agricultural solutions in the market.

Human-centered design (HCD) is a creative approach to the development of systems, products, and tools that focuses first on the people being served, enabling them to find a solution that genuinely addresses their identified problems. Instead of considering the challenge merely from a technical perspective, IDEO.org, a non-profit firm based in California, integrates what is desirable to the end users and the target market. In essence, "What is the problem that we are solving, and why are we solving it?" This unique
technical assistance is aimed at ensuring the technical feasibility of each innovation, bolstering organizational capacity to ensure that entrepreneurs can effectively implement and manage their projects, and building innovators' capacity to ensure strong financial and market-entry strategies for sustainability.  

Innovators recently awarded under the Innovation Engine's first wave are already poised to reap from this unique partnership. Using best practices from the venture capital model, the Innovation Engine team has assessed each innovating organization's strengths and gaps, and - in liaison with IDEO.org - develop tailored coaching and training plans toward commercialization and scale. Some of this technical assistance involves putting in place strong financial systems, ensuring user-friendly I.T. platforms for I.T.-based innovations, marketing, branding and distribution expertise, product testing, strategic business planning, and overall organizational development. IDEO.org is a member of the Innovation Engine's Investment Advisory Committee, which plays a central role in selecting innovations for each solicitation wave.    

Measuring Impact: Story from the Field
What do automated systems have to do with farmers' livelihoods? It would seem that they can make a world of difference between a farmer earning a pittance for his produce and being paid the fair market value for the same produce.  
French beans are weighed on a farm using a digital
scale that automatically relays the readings to the
AgriManagr system. The farmer can immediately
access readings via a mobile phone app.
Kenya's horticulture sector faces a number of significant supply chain and marketing challenges that hurt smallholder farmers and discourage private sector investments. These include poor market linkages, lack of information, power asymmetries, high production costs, low traceability from farm to market, and cash flow challenges. Like many other rural, low-income, smallholder farmers, french bean producers in Meru face myriad challenges related to access to markets. But now, thanks to its AgriManagr™ innovation, Virtual City is making a difference for smallholder farmers in this area by putting them in the know about their produce and increasing transparency and integrity in the value chain.
AgriManagr is an easy-to-use, cost-effective mobile tool, designed to help monitor movement and storage of farm produce; manage work-in-process inventory; and oversee the supply of finished goods from point of origin to point of delivery to the consumer. The tool facilitates automated supply chain management at the producer, aggregator and processor levels, thus helping to accurately track production and quality for individual farmers, thus ensuring that they are properly paid and rewarded for exactly what they deliver. It provides buyers with complete visibility into the supply chain, quick electronic reconciliations, and a powerful platform to efficiently provide extension services, mobile money payments, among others. This
An actual reading from a digital scale at at farm in Makueni.The weight reading was sent to this smart phone via blue-tooth ensuring transparency in the process.
represents a major departure from current practice in most Kenyan agricultural value chains, where the typical set-up involves an inaccurate manual weighing scale and a buying process that creates many loopholes. 

So far, Virtual City has partnered with three private agribusiness companies - Meru Greens (Meru County), Hillside Green Growers and Exporters Ltd and Vert Ltd (Makueni County and Embu County), for commercialization purposes. Through these arrangements, Virtual City is putting the innovation to test and gauging acceptability and adoptability in the market. Vert Limited and Meru Greens have already started using AgriManagr ™with selected farmers in these regions.

Look out for more on the impact of this and other innovations on farmers' and communities' lives as the Innovation Engine works with innovators under the first solicitation wave.

Contact Us

Land O'Lakes Inc., 

International Development.

Peponi Plaza, Westlands


Tel: +254 (0)722 517 149  

+254 20 232 9639

+ 254 20 232 9749
+254 20 232 7831

The Innovation Engine
USAID/Kenya Feed the Future Innovation Engine identifies, fosters and brings to scale innovative market-driven solutions to persistent food insecurity, under nutrition and poverty by partnering people who design new concepts, products and services with investors who can maximize their commercial potential.

Featured Innovator
Frederick Muthuri, Group M.D., Quest Agriculture Ltd.
Frederick Muthuri is the visionary and businessman behind Quest Agriculture, Quest  Laboratories and agriQuest Ltd
. A chemist and botanist by training, in just over 10 years, Fred has grown this enterprise from a two-man, family-run business to an internationally-accredited company with over 50 highly-qualified agriculturalists, plant pathologists, horticulturalists, soil scientists, lab technicians, and other professional staff.

In 2002, armed with a wealth of regional experience ranging from environmental assessment to project management gained in multinational companies such as Unilever Ltd, and a passion for soil testing developed while growing up on his parents' farm, Fred launched Quest Laboratories Ltd in Nairobi . The company initially provided soil analysis services to large-scale farmers, and later grew to include industrial and agricultural analytic services in its portfolio. In 2005, services expanded to include Quality and Environmental services, as well as assessment and training in ISO systems .

AgriQuest and Quest Agriculture were born in 2010 after Fred noticed the
gap in extension services and the untapped potential of locally-blended fertilizers that would be instrumental in meeting the unique needs of farmers . A huge turning point came in 2012 when the company began exploring the provision of these services to small-scale farmers at an affordable fee and piloted the mobile soil-testing kit. The concept is current being tested in Meru County with support from the Innovation Engine.    
Innovation Engine Issues 3rd Call for  Proposals


The Innovation Engine has issued a call for proposals under Wave III of the program. Eligible innovators include: domestic and foreign private sector commercial enterprises; Kenyan and East African business and trade associations; Kenyan and foreign non-profit organizations; domestic; regional and international higher education and research institutions; and i ndividual innovators who must be Kenyan nationals and over the age of 18 years (for Stage 1 innovations only). Tell a friend or send in your innovation now!
Short Video from the Innovation Engine's First Innovation Marketplace  
Innovation Champion Richard Stone-Wigg at the Innovation Marketplace in Fenburary. Lachlan Ltd. is piloting Viazi Power - a fusion farming technology in potato farming - in Bomet and Meru Counties 
Innovation Champion Richard Stone-Wigg at the Innovation Marketplace in Feburary. Lachlan Ltd. is piloting Viazi Power - a fusion farming technology in potato farming - in Bomet and Meru Counties
On February 26th, the Innovation Engine publicly announced its first cohort of innovators at a well-attended Award Ceremony officiated by Principal Secretary for the Ministry of Industrialization and Enterprise Development, Dr. Wilfred Songa and USAID Kenya's Mission Director, Karen Freeman.
Guests had the opportunity to interact with the seven awardees as well as finalists from the Innovation Engine's first solicitation wave at the Innovation Marketplace. Now here's your chance; click here to watch a five minute video of the event and "meet" some of these innovators!  The innovations represent game-changing approaches for thousands of Kenyan families through interventions for enhanced soil fertility, biological pest control, fusion farming, postharvest storage, information and communications technology (ICT) solutions for farmer information services, and supply chain management in a number of counties across Kenya.  
Innovation Champion John Waibochi takes PS Songa and Ms. Freeman through AgriManagr at Virtual City's stand at the Innovation Marketplace.

Feed the Future Releases Four-Year Progress Report 
Feed the Future Progress Report 2014
President Barack Obama's Feed the Future initiative this month released its four-year progress report at the Global Feed the Future Forum held in Washington, D.C. The report presents the progress of the initiative through 2013 and reflects United States Government efforts that put into practice the principles embodied in the U.S. Global Development Policy, the Rome Principles for Sustainable Global Food Security, the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and subsequent aid effectiveness resolutions. The report shows that Feed the Future is demonstrating country-level results that affect millions of households; in 2013 alone, the initiative reached more than 12.5 million children with nutrition interventions that can help ensure a stronger and more successful future. Feed the Future helped nearly 7 million farmers and food producers use new technologies and management practices on more than 4 million hectares of land.