Fund to benefit maize farmers and spur innovations launched

Maize in a farm. Photo by Kilimo News

By Kimuri Mwangi

Maize farmers in 12 countries will be among the beneficiaries of a fund meant to enhance smallholder productivity, diversification, and risk mitigation in maize farming.

Dubbed the Ukama Ustawi Scaling Fund and coordinated by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the fund focuses on supporting innovation scaling to transform agrifood systems in East and Southern Africa.

For its inaugural round in 2023, three awards of $125,000 each will be granted to support the development of scaling strategies for innovations with significant impact in East and Southern Africa, along with in-kind contributions from Ukama Ustawi’s scaling experts.

Ukama Ustawi is led by the International Water Management Institute, in partnership with several other CGIAR organizations such as The Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)CIMMYTInternational Potato Center (CIP)International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), and WorldFish), as well as government agencies, donors, and the private sector (value-chain actors, including farmers, SMEs, financiers, and traders).

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The countries to benefit are Eswatini, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar, Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

“The Regional Integrated Initiatives of CGIAR have a strong emphasis and responsibility to support innovation scaling in specific geographies. The challenge is how to make this happen and to support coordination with so many other initiatives across the region. The scaling fund is a tangible mechanism to foster this coordination across many centres and countries,” says Dr Inga Jacobs-Mata, Initiative Lead for Ukama Ustawi and IWMI’s Director of Water, Growth and Inclusion.

The initiative also places special emphasis on gender and social inclusion, along with advanced extension services, SME development, effective governance structures, and increased investments.

“We not only support the diversification of maize space systems but also sustainable intensification of those systems through different practices like conservation agriculture practices, small scale irrigation, small scale mechanization and digital agriculture like the development of digital agri advisories,” opines Dr Inga Jacobs-Mata.

Dr Inga Jacobs-Mata, Initiative Lead for Ukama Ustawi and IWMI’s Director of Water, Growth and Inclusion. Photo by Kimuri Mwangi

The Scaling Fund also serves as a catalyst for high-impact innovations.  According to CGIAR, forty percent (40%) of its innovations were developed in East and Southern Africa, making this region a hotspot for innovation development.

These range from the Climate Security Observatory (CSO) for livestock production systems; to actionable drought forecasts for transboundary natural resource management authorities in Southern Africa using satellite-based climate information; to digital tools for delivering tailored fertilizer recommendations to potato farmers in Rwanda; and mechanization community of practice under the Excellence in Agronomy Initiative.

Dr Iddo Dror, the International Livestock Research Institute Program Leader, Impact at Scale asserts that the Ukama Ustawi Scaling Fund transcends being an investment to serve as a catalyst for innovation in East and Southern Africa.

Dr Iddo Dror, International Livestock Research Institute Program Leader, Impact at Scale. Photo by Kimuri Mwangi

“Scaling funds provide the essential financial support needed to take promising innovations to the next level. They bridge the gap between initial funding and the critical expansion phase, facilitating growth, market penetration, and sustainability,” says Dr Iddo Dror

He adds that these funds not only empower entrepreneurs and innovators to realize their visions but also contribute to economic development by creating jobs, stimulating innovation, and fostering competitiveness. “Scaling funds are instrumental in propelling early-stage ventures towards success, enabling them to reach broader markets, serve more customers, and drive impactful change, ultimately fuelling progress in various sectors and driving economic growth. As such, the Ukama Ustawi Scaling Fund will play a pivotal role in driving innovation, creating opportunities, and bolstering economic development in today’s dynamic and ever-evolving agri-food landscape,”

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