November/December 2014

Dear Reader,

Food Security: Increasing Productivity Vs. Reducing Waste   
Published soon after the World Food Day 2014, our October issue focused on the role of improved agricultural productivity in ensuring global food security and eliminating poverty. This issue examines the issue of food security from a different perspective - that of food wastage.

In perhaps the most landmark study on international food waste, in 2011, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that one-third of the edible parts of food produced for human consumption, gets lost or wasted globally. According to Tristram Stuart, anti-food waste activist and author of the acclaimed book Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, rich countries waste around half of their food supplies. Stuart posits that one-third of the world's entire food supply could be saved by reducing waste. This is enough to feed 3 billion people - with enough left over for countries to provide their populations with 130 per cent of their nutritional requirements!
At this year's TEDx talk held in Nairobi on December 6th, Innovation Engine awardees from the University of Nairobi and Virtual City Ltd. had the opportunity to share their agricultural innovation stories, alongside this renowned visionary, under the theme "A WasTED World?!".

Now entering it's fourth wave, USAID/Kenya Feed the Future Innovation Engine is working with innovators and small-scale farmers to introduce innovative agricultural practices - not only for improved productivity, but also for food security and better livelihoods. This issue of "The Innovator" is dedicated to all conscientious stakeholders in the agricultural sector who are playing their roles towards ensuring food security, better nutrition and improved livelihoods, by improving agricultural and market practices - including reducing wastage. 
The Innovation Engine Team
Innovation Engine Awardees at TEDx Event 


University of Nairobi CoolBot innovation team. L to R: Dr. Willis Otieno, Innovation Champion Dr. Jane Ambuko, and Prof Margaret Hutchinson


Innovators from two Innovation Engine awardees  - University of Nairobi and Virtual City Ltd. spoke at this year's TEDxNairobi. University of Nairobi's Department of Horticulture Head Dr. Jane Ambuko shared insights on the CoolBot - a relatively low-cost post-harvest storage technology, and Virtual City's Chief Marketing Officer  Herbert Thuo spoke about the firm's AgriManagr™ - a mobile technology which is helping to improve traceability and reduce fraud in the horticultural value chain in Kenya. The event was attended by approximately 700 TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) enthusiasts.

TEDxNairobi is an annual flagship event that captures the spirit of ideas worth spreading. Alongside other world-class speakers, the two innovators' remarks addressed the theme - A WasTED World?! - which focused on rejecting waste, embracing good stewardship and investing in assets that reap greater returns in the long term.

By testing the CoolBot technology, Dr. Ambuko is using her expertise in postharvest science and technology to help smallholder farmers reduce post-harvest losses in fruits, vegetables and other perishable horticultural crops, thus offering hope for improved incomes and livelihoods. On its part, under the leadership of Innovation Champion John Waibochi, Virtual City's AgriManagr™ is benefiting hundreds of smallholder farmers, agricultural cooperatives and processors in the target areas by helping to ensure transparency in the horticulture value chain and ensuring that farmers are fairly paid for quality produce.


Following an open solicitation process, the two organizations were awarded support in January this year under the first wave of the program to pilot their innovative concepts with the aim of improving household incomes, food security and nutrition in Kenya.  

Shortlisted Innovators Wow Advisory Panel at Latest Innovator Pitch Events   

DECEMBER 9TH - 10TH 2014

Following the Innovation Engine's latest innovation solicitation wave, 22 shortlisted finalists from across the country made in-person presentations for consideration for catalytic grant funding and technical assistance awards. Selected from a pool of over 130 applicants, the finalists presented their innovations to the Innovation Engine Investment Advisory Committee (IAC), and select members of the development and onward investing communities, as part of the appraisal process.


Each of the seven-minute presentations consisted of an elevator pitch, a description of the development problem being addressed, the proposed innovative solution, envisaged market, pathway to scale, potential impact, and resources required. The proposed innovations are based on a variety of models, all in keeping with five special focus windows: the agriculture-nutrition nexus; the dryland economy; youth employment and inclusion; innovative agricultural financing; and innovations that enhance rural women's livelihoods.  

Congratulations to all the shortlisted innovators for the high-quality and compelling presentations! We look forward to sharing more emerging news on the award nominees!
A section of invited observers and members of the Investment Advisory Committee listen keenly to one of the presentations during the Pitch Event 

Next issue's highlights...  

  • 2015: The International Year of Soils
  • Update on Latest Innovation Engine Finalists
  • Stories from the field
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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.

In This Issue
Featured Innovator
James Nguo ALIN Regional Director/CEO
James Nguo has more than 18 years' experience in the area of ICTs for Development (ICTs4D). An MSc.  in Strategic Communication graduate with a first degree in Mathematics and Computer Science, James has been globally recognized as a social entrepreneur and change-maker, culminating in his appointment as an Ashoka Fellow 2011.

In  2000, James established the Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) in East Africa, with a vision to introduce Information Technology as the cornerstone to increasing the capacity of farmers to access information.
An international NGO working in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, ALIN applies ICT4D through a unique model of community-based knowledge (Maarifa in Kiswahili) centers. The organization leverages emerging technologies to deliver usable information to marginalized communities, particularly those living in arid lands. In 2009, with support from Ford Foundation,
ALIN began piloting an online and mobile phone-based platform known as Sokopepe (Kiswahili for Virtual Market).

Under James' leadership, ALIN has received international recognition for its ICT4D initiatives; 
the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

With James as the Innovation Champion, ALIN is working with the USAID Kenya Feed the Future Innovation Engine to test its
FARMIS (Farm Records Management Information System) innovation in Kenya. FARMIS is an online record-keeping service designed to enable farmers access current data on a 24-hour basis at the touch of a button. Within a year, using FARMIS, ALIN will work with a target 5,000 farmers in Meru County to generate on-demand customized reports on the status of their enterprises, produce seasonal profit/loss statements, develop a farm activity calendar, and link with other farmers for bulk sale of produce, among others.  
Innovators Make a Mark in the Media
Marion (right) explains to farmers in Machakos County how to apply the organic fertilizer.
Photo: Elizabeth Merab/Nation Media Group

In early December, Forbes Magazine named the all-woman management trio of M-Farm Ltd. among the 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa. The company's founders -  Innovation Engine awardees under its first wave - were recognized for developing a revolutionary mobile software that could potentially transform the fortunes of millions of African farmers, if replicated across several African countries. Not too long before this, The Saturday Nation's Seeds of Gold agricultural magazine highlighted the efforts of Wanda Organic Innovation Champion Marion Moon to improve soil fertility in Kenya using affordable organic fertilizer. Read the newspaper article here.
Smart Farmer, a local sector magazine, featured Real IPM's fruit-fly control innovation in the November issue of the magazine. With support from the Innovation Engine, Real IPM is working with farmers in Meru County to eliminate the pest in an eco-friendly way.

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