April 2014

Dear Reader,

Innovation is Serious Business!   
Innovation and business are inextricably linked,even mutually-dependent. This week, scientists, technology experts, innovators and business leaders will converge in Nairobi at two separate and important events aimed at sharing cutting-edge best practice in the fields of innovation and business. In appreciation of the role of science and technology in facilitating economic, social and cultural transformations at national and even global levels, Kenya's Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation and other partners will host the 3rd National Science, Technology and Innovation Week from May 19th - 23rd, 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 will come together at the Kenya Association of Manufacturers Business Leaders' Conference, dubbed 'Africa the Last Frontier - Shaping the future of Investments in Africa', to share insights on this important subject.

By identifying viable innovations in agriculture and cultivating these ideas to establish sound business approaches that can sustain themselves in the market, USAID/Kenya Feed the Future Innovation Engine is working to address poverty, food insecurity, and poor nutrition in Kenya's rural areas. Innovation has the potential to transform the lives of hundreds of thousands of small-holder farmers and indeed households across Kenya through this program. Let's celebrate the businessmen and women that are hard at work innovating for a more prosperous Kenya.    
The Innovation Engine Team
Innovation Engine Unveils 24 Innovators Shortlisted in Second Solicitation Wave 


The Innovation Engine is pleased to announce the names of 24 innovators shortlisted under its second wave. Their innovations emerged tops among a total of  256 proposals submitted in a Req uest for Applications which closed on March 7th. The shortlisted organizations are listed below:

Proof of Concept (Stage I): 
Fanisi Produce Ltd; Global X Investments;  Real IPM;  University of Nairobi;  Happy Cow;  Access Agriculture;  Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI);  Synnefa Green Ltd.;  MobiPay K.;  Sweet 'N' Dried Enterprises;  Meru University of Science and Technolog y;  Maseno University;  Africa Green Energy;  Kenya Livestock Marketing Council;  iProcure; M-Shamba

Pilot Roll-Out (Stage II): KREP Foundation/ GOBI TEAM - Stanford University; Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN); Esoko EA; Sunculture; Remington Group; Amtech Technologies


Transition to Scale-up (Stage II): Indicus EA; Shujaaz FM


The Innovation Engine rolled out Wave II on January 17th, 2014 with a call inviting prospective applicants to submit innovations in agriculture, as well as special focus windows relating to nutrition-led agriculture, strengthening the dryland economy, and youth employment and inclusion.

In the next few weeks, a peer review panel will appraise the shortlisted proposals from this wave, following which
the innovators will present their respective shortlisted concepts to a room of experts at a Pitch Event scheduled for mid-May. An Investment Advisory Committee (IAC) will then vet the submissions, after which award nominees for this second round will finally be selected. Stay tuned for more on this!  


The next deadline for submissions for this rolling Request for Applications is June 27, 2014. Applications are invited for innovations that fit into any of the three stages listed above. Don't be left out!  

Esoko Officially Launches in East Africa
Esoko, one of the Innovation Engine's finalists in Wave I, and now Wave II, officially launched its regional office at a networking event at The Greenhouse in Adams Arcade, Nairobi. Ministry of Agriculture Principal Secretary Ms. Anne Onyango officiated the event which was attended by a broad range of stakeholders in the agricultural sector. Clic k here to watch a video from NTV on the Esoko East Africa launch.


Esoko is a company that supports farmers to increase their productivity and profitability through a mobile-based agriculture market information system. The service provides information via short message service (SMS) on market prices, Good Agriculture Practices (GAPS) tips, weather forecast and a market place to link farmers and traders. The company is headquartered in Ghana with operations in 14 countries across Africa. It has over 140,000 registered farmers.  


Esoko opened its East Africa office in 2013 and established a system to collect information on 30 commodities in 21 key markets across Kenya. The company currently covers the following towns with plans for expansion: Nairobi (Wakulima, Nyamakima, Kangemi), Kisumu, Eldoret, Busia, Machakos, Thika, Mombasa, Kagio, Meru, Oyugis, Wote, Taveta, Chwele, Nakuru, Kisii, Karatina, Kitui, Garissa and Kitale. Esoko has also started developing an agricultural content database customized to Kenya's crops, climate zones and practices, and is working in partnership with local research institutions and accredited bodies to ensure accuracy of this information. Later this year, Esoko Kenya plans to launch IShamba, a nationwide farmer club, in conjunction with Shamba Shape Up. This consumer model will see farmers paying directly for a bundle of information and trading services. Information sent out is specifically tailored to location and crop/livestock preferences. Watch this space!  Click here to contact Esoko Kenya directly. 

Guests mingle at the Esoko Kenya launch event



Measuring Impact: Story from the Field
Soil fertility is a big deal. The more produce a farmer can realize with even a small piece of land, the better the chances of improved income and livelihoods. While the right combination of fertilizers can boost soil quality, how does one know what this right combination is? Smallholder farmers in Meru are about to find out.

Like other rural, low-income, smallholder farmers, producers in Meru face myriad challenges related to access to inputs, technical assistance, and extension services. This has resulted in a big knowledge gap that negatively impacts on productivity as well as soil fertility, thereby resulting in a vicious cycle of poverty. Quest Agriculture, one of the awardees under the Innovation Engine's first solicitation wave, is currently piloting INTENSE (Innovative and Inclusive Training and Extension Services for Production of Sustainable Safe Food in Kenya), an innovation that uses a mobile soil-testing kit to test soils for farmer groups and give instant results on the farm. As the name suggests, the innovation goes further to train farmers on how to produce safe, world-class produce. At just 30% of the fee charged by classical laboratories, this mobile soil test eliminates the hassle of transporting soils to laboratories located miles away. An agrovet recommends a fertilizer based on the soil test results and Quest Agriculture then supplies custom-blended fertilizers, specific to the smallholder farmer's land and crop type. Each field is also registered into the Quest Agriculture Website by Global Positioning System (GPS) to promote traceability, which is critical for international markets.


So far,
over 45 farms have been mapped via GPS and a total of 287 farmers from six active farmer groups in Meru, Nkubu and Chuka region have been recruited under this innovation. An anticipated 3,000 farmers will be brought on board by the end of April. Quest Agriculture has identified potential buyers for the quality produce that will be grown by the farmers, and will structure a tripartite contract with the smallholder farmers, a finance institution and the exporter to purchase the crops produced by the farmers. The team has been in consultations with Meru County Executive for Agriculture to ensure that INTENSE can sustainably contribute to the growth of the agricultural sector in Meru and improve smallholder incomes. Look out for more on the impact of this and other innovations on farmers' and communities' lives as the Innovation Engine prepares to collect data from implementation sites.
Transplanting onion seedlings on a farm treated with recommended customized fertilizer at one of Quest Agriculture's implementation sites

Next Month...
  • Emerging Story from the Innovation Engine's Pitch Event for Wave#2
  • Human-Centered Design in Agriculture? What's That?    
  • Short Video from the Innovation Engine's Inaugural Award Ceremony and Innovation Marketplace 

Among others!

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
Fred Muthuri's passion is to
consistently develop innovative mobility solutions that simplify
John Waibochi, Founder and CEO - Virtual Group of Companies
The Virtual Group of Companies, which he founded about 15 years ago, has become a formidable force in East Africa. This is because it is not only transforming management of logistics for big companies, but also because it is pioneering mobile business management solutions for smaller traders. AgriManagr - a produce-purchasing innovation that provides transparency and integrity in the supply chain, earned Virtual City a spot among the Innovation Engine's seven awardees under the first solicitation wave. In 2010, the company beat  competition from 300 countries to win a US$1million cash prize in the Nokia Growth Economy Venture Challenge - putting John squarely on the world map as a top tech entrepreneur. The firm has also received a US$1.5 million convertible loan from the Acumen Fund to develop a mobile-based agricultural application to help small-scale farmers market their produce. John's innovations have also earned him other honors such as the World Summit Award Mobile 2010; Moran of the Order of the Burning Spear; Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund; Legatum Africa Award for Entrepreneurship; and the Dale Carnegie Highest Award for Achievement.

An Electrical Engineer by training, John has worked in the mobile communication sector in Kenya since 1994. According to him, when it comes to mobile's next-big-thing, Kenya is the country to watch. This is because of its early and leading adoption of m-commerce, large investments in terrestrial and submarine fiber, the government's strategy to grow the Business Process Outsourcing sector and, the position of Nairobi as the unofficial business capital of the East African community's common market. 
Innovation Engine  
Website Revamped! 
A snapshot of the new website
The Innovation Engine this month unveiled its new-look website on www.kfie.net. The revamped website provides information on our current innovations as well as counties where the program intends to roll-out activities. The next phase of the website revamp will incorporate an interactive feature where innovators can register, log in and interact to share ideas. There will also be a blog space for designated members to share innovative practices.
Global Feed the Future  Newsletter Features Two Innovation Engine Awardees
A snapshot of the two articles
 The Global Feed the Future Newsletter last month recognized University of Nairobi and Wanda Organic Innovation Champions
Dr. Jane Ambuko and Marion Moon for spearheading technologies in agriculture in Kenya. The March issue of the newsletter focused on Women and Water in Food Security.
Click here to read the article on Dr. Ambuko's CoolBot innovation and click here to read the article on Marion Moon's Organic Fertilizer innovation. To subscribe to the FtF newsletter or to find out more about Feed the Future, please click here.
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