When Simple is Difficult: Agriculture Technology in the Age of Innovation

A pair of hands holding potatoes freshly harvested

This post was originally featured on the Chicago Council of Global Affairs’ Blog, Global Food For Thought As a US Peace Corps Volunteer in a rural Ugandan village in 2010, I never expected my neighbors to own satellite TVs. We couldn’t buy carrots at a market within a 30-kilometer radius.  I planted beans with my neighbors by stuffing my cheeks with seeds like a chipmunk, slicing rows in the ground with a hoe, and spitting the seeds into the soil at two-foot spacing.  No one in my village owned a plow or had access to diverse, quality seeds, but I could watch Al Jazeera each night. This bewildered me. Why do some technologies spread like wildfire across the globe while others stagnate in the prototype stage, in a seemingly perpetual cycle of minor iterations? In 2015, almost 4.5 billion people owned a mobile phone, about 2.5 billion of them smart phones.  In 2016, 3.5 billion people had access to the internet. Innovation diffusion theorists have a lot to say about what it takes for an innovation to spread. Risk. Market potential. Social influence. But the “invisible hand of innovation diffusion” is agnostic to the societal value of a successful innovation; sometimes, the technologies that stick aren’t the technologies that are most needed. And sometimes what’s needed are the most simple or incremental innovations. For example, the Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI), in its role as the Innovation Partner for The Rockefeller Foundation’s YieldWise initiative, recently conducted an Innovation Scan for solar drying technologies appropriate for smallholder farmers in Nigeria who grow tomatoes. Nigeria is Africa’s second largest tomato producer, but 40-50 percent of the harvest is lost before it reaches a market. The remaining portion faces price volatility during the harvest glut. Drying offers one solution to this challenge. Smallholder farmers in Nigeria are familiar with drying their excess or damaged tomatoes. They often do so in the sun on mats, rocks, or roofs; it is a slow, unreliable process that can […]

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An AUSpicious Journey: GKI’s New Partnership in Australia

A participant adds sticky notes to the wall to contribute to the exercise known as challenge mapping

Current evidence points to the fact that the world is more educated, healthy, and safe than ever before. In the Asia Pacific region specifically, the last several decades have seen major economic growth in the age of globalization and information technology. However, despite greater access to information and greater capacity to address complex challenges, large proportions of the population still do not have the ability to feed their families, earn an education, and lift themselves out of poverty. The Asia Pacific region, perhaps more than ever, is vulnerable to a multitude of shocks resulting from climate change, natural disasters, disease, and economic factors. The region experiences 70% of all worldwide natural disasters, has high levels of stunting and obesity, and includes 13 of the 30 global countries most affected by climate change. In 2015 the Australian government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) launched the InnovationXchange (iXc) to “take seemingly intractable development problems and come up with the best and most practical ways of solving them in the Indo-Pacific.” GKI has been asked to join the Innovation Resource Facility (IRF), which is a consortium led by AECOM in partnership with OpenIDEO, Struber, and the University of Technology Sydney. The IRF consortium will help the iXc: Contribute to embedding innovation in Australian aid programs Enhance the innovation capabilities of the Australian government’s foreign aid programs to maximize impact Measure, evaluate, and communicate out the results of innovation activities While still in its nascent stage, GKI’s work with the iXc will ultimately scan a breadth of development challenges. GKI is looking forward to providing more information as this work progresses, and we thank DFAT and the iXc for their groundbreaking efforts harnessing innovation to improve the livelihoods of individuals in the Asia-Pacific region. […]

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Thinking While Doing: What We’ve Been Reading, v. IV

Looking for something new to read this weekend? Check out these suggestions from some of GKI’s fantastic staff.  This fourth installation of our “What We’ve Been Reading” series is particularly exciting because it features selections from GKI’s two new interns, Karim Bin-Humam and Caroline Smeallie. Happy reading! […]

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Training-of-Trainers on Innovation in Tanzania: Refreshing and Revisiting

Back in August, we teamed up with UNESCO and the Nelson Mandela Africa Institute of Science and Technology to conduct a Training-of-Trainers program on innovation management skills in Tanzania.  During our first visit we trained trainers on the fundamentals of the skills needed for collaborative innovation and the training techniques needed to impart those skills on more innovators. We see this as a long-term relationship that we hope will yield chain reactions of innovation—read more about the initial training here. This January we had the chance to return to Tanzania to see how well the trainers were doing.  First, we conducted a quick refresher course for the trainers and then we observed them as they took charge.  Four focal trainers delivered courses on how entrepreneurs could deliver value more efficiently and effectively within the Tanzanian innovation system.  Approximately 20 Tanzanian entrepreneurs hailing from Arusha, Moshi, and many other Tanzanian communities gained important practical skills despite their (very) diverse backgrounds (the agriculture, mining, dairy, manufacturing, and tourism sectors were all represented).  This was a thrilling, inspiring experience for the GKI team, the trainers, and the entrepreneurs alike. – Contributor: Peter Glover […]

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