Cross border collaboration driven initiative to benefit smallholder farmers across Asia and Africa

With the agriculture sector in developing countries hit hard by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a new initiative was launched today to facilitate implementation of innovative agri-tech and agri- fintech solutions to address challenges faced by smallholder farmers across Asia and Africa, with the objective of helping improve their financial health.

The United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) in partnership with Atal Innovation Mission – NITI Aayog (Govt. of India), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Rabo Foundation have launched the Agritech Challenge 2021. The Challenge will help address challenges faced by smallholder farmers around productivity, climate change and supply chain, by also working alongside International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and Bayer as partners.

“The last year has been exceptionally difficult at the personal, communal, and economic level for so many people. As we look to the recovery phase, it is critical that the global financial architecture intensify its support to accelerate achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, specifically in frontier markets,” said UNCDF Executive Secretary Preeti Sinha. “The UN Capital Development Fund has a unique role to play in supporting innovative solutions that can support those most at risk of being left behind, notably small-holder farmers in last mile markets. Digital transformation can be a key enabler for driving recovery and resilience. We are proud to partner with NITI Aayog, Rabo Foundation and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through the Financial Health Programme to support the development and expansion of digital solutions across borders that alleviate the constraints faced by small-holder farmers affected by the pandemic.”

According to the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), agriculture employs more than one billion people across the globe. In addition, more than 50% of micro small and medium enterprises in emerging economies are also engaged in agriculture. A large number of the people employed in agriculture are smallholder farmers who own less than 2 hectares of land, yet constitute 82% of total agriculture landholding. Nearly 50% of this farmland is in lower-middle-income or low-income countries. In terms of production, smallholders play an important role in driving agriculture productivity, as they are responsible for more than 50-60% of agriculture produced in these countries.

“While agriculture is a lifeline in many developing countries, it is also a high-risk sector. It is subject to unpredictable factors from prices, policies, diseases, to erratic weather and climate change. Rabo Foundation is happy to support The Agritech Challenge, which is aligned with our focus on innovations in addition to traditional approaches to help develop a more self-reliant and shock responsive agriculture ecosystem that can address the issue of food security and also benefits the smallholder farmers,” said Arindom Datta, Executive Director, Rural & Development Banking/Advisory, Rabobank.

As per FAO, about 113 million people worldwide were already suffering from severe acute food insecurity before the COVID-19 pandemic. This figure is estimated to have dramatically increased in 2020-2021 with WFP estimating 272 million people already or at risk of becoming acutely food insecure.

Through this challenge, UNCDF will also enable cross-border collaborations among emerging markets across India, Indonesia, Malawi, Malaysia, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia.

“The Indian start-up and innovation ecosystem has successfully catapulted itself to earn global recognition in the recent years. To further facilitate Indian start-ups for expanding their global footprint and providing an access to international markets across Asia and Africa, Atal Innovation Mission, NITI Aayog, is delighted to partner with UN Capital Development Fund.

Indian start-ups leverage their tech and data capabilities to provide solutions for the next billion people of the world and shall prove to be globally relevant in the coming years. I am confident that by 2025, Indian start-ups will have a lion’s share in the technology export market globally. This initiative is an important step in that direction,” Amitabh Kant, CEO, NITI Aayog, Govt. of India.

“India’s innovation ecosystem has matured rapidly over the last decade and the creativity and vigor of Indian entrepreneurs and researchers can play a critical role in solving some of the toughest societal challenges. We are proud of our partnership with Atal Innovation Mission at NITI Aayog which will enable a supportive ecosystem for innovations that have the potential to deliver impact across multiple sectors, as well as facilitate a south-south platform that can provide opportunities to scale across multiple countries”, said Anjani Bansal, Private Sector Partnerships Lead, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Over the course of the Agritech Challenge, the participants will get access to industry & markets linkages, investors and mentorship to help them expand to their chosen international market. The Challenge will work towards helping the participants build and test their solution in the new market, as part of UNCDF’s work under the Global Centre for Financial Health, with subsequent support on scaling the solution as well.

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