Blog Insights from CGIAR A4IP’s Delegation to the World Agri-Tech and Future Food-Tech Innovation Summits

CGIAR’s role in the innovation ecosystem is critical: What is CGIAR doing at the cutting edge of agri-food tech, how can partners capitalize on CGIAR’s assets for greater impact, and what comes next? The A4IP team weighs in following their participation in the World Agri-Tech and Future-Food Innovation Summits in San Francisco on March 14-17.

Food and agriculture sectors are increasingly transformed by new technological and knowledge-based solutions brought by innovative startups as a response to the complex and interlinked challenges faced by the global food systems. Indeed, even as humanity struggles to respond to shocks like COVID-19 pandemic aggravated by ongoing conflicts and rampant inflation, changing climate, potentially catastrophic biodiversity loss, and degradation of land and water systems are disrupting value chains worldwide. Agri- and food-tech innovations – such as novel technologies that harness the power of genetics, bio-technologies, sensors, automation and robotics, or big data – just to name a few – are providing applicable solutions for value chain actors including farmers and their communities to optimize productivity, nutrition, and minimize waste while addressing such challenges.

CGIAR is working at the cutting edge to develop such agri- and food-tech innovations. We are an agricultural science and innovation for development organization dedicated to developing research-driven innovations, management practices and policy options to transform food, land, and water systems in a climate crisis through the work of 8000+ scientists and 3000+ partners in over 100 countries.

This March, 2500+ leading investors, startups, accelerators and industry experts gathered in San Francisco and online for the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit and Future Food-Tech Innovation & Investment from Farm to Fork. Among them was CGIAR’s Accelerate for Impact Platform (A4IP) : the venture space that builds on CGIAR’s legacy in Research and Innovation to co-design, accelerate and fund science-driven technologies to address some of the world’s most pressing challenges. By participating in the Innovation Summits in San Francisco, the A4IP brought CGIAR science to a buzzing market of strategic partners in a big way – and at the next round of Summits in London this September, A4IP will even bring them to the main stage and exhibition hall.

This much is clear: CGIAR’s role in the innovation ecosystem can be a paradigm shift. The agri- and food-tech ecosystem at large should devote higher priority to the global south, farmers, science, and innovations at the early stage. Following the Summits, we see that CGIAR’s involvement is an important step in creating a platform to do so. Why:

More investment into innovation in emerging markets opens an untapped opportunity to accelerate sustainable economic development. 

The involvement of growers bundled with local knowledge can lead to better-informed development of solutions and likelier adoptions.

Stronger networks between scientists and partners will help ensure innovations are grounded in science and research advances are scaled past the laboratory.

The World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit’s opening session on Tuesday March 14th convened founders, corporates, investors, experts, and startups across the innovation ecosystem

CGIAR scientists and partners are already providing success stories for sustainable and equitable innovation:

The Accelerate for Impact Platform explores innovative partnership models to bridge research products from lab to market, creating demand for CGIAR science and strengthening its role in the innovation ecosystem, all while funding the most visionary teams to leverage their scientific creativity. A4IP plays a catalytic role for entrepreneurial scientists who want to be drivers of change by developing high-impact, multi-disciplinary, science-based technologies, solutions, and enterprises that make our food systems healthier, equitable, and sustainable. Examples of how A4IP is already working within the innovation ecosystem include Innovation Challenges like AgriTech4Morocco, Venture-Out Events to showcase stories of scaling from lab to market, and a tailored incubation program for CGIAR innovations in partnership with Rockstart. Read more about these activities and more, here.

In the realm of digital and data innovations, CGIAR is working to develop new digital business models in emerging regions, build artificial intelligence (AI) leadership in emerging regions, link data standards and break data silos. Brian King, Digital and Data Accelerator Lead at CGIAR, attended Day-1 of the World Agri-Tech Summit, advocating for the particular importance of pre-competitive collaboration at the intersection of digital technologies and life sciences. CGIAR’s recent strategic partnership with the Linux Foundation to build open-source, open standard capabilities for the equitable innovations of digital solutions for agriculture and climate is a step in this direction. CGIAR researchers across our global programs are applying innovations in areas as diverse as predicting soil type and estimating organic carbon from space; monitoring and predicting changes in natural resources and land use; predicting crop yield and loss; mapping and predicting cropping patterns in agro-ecologies; conducting high-throughput phenotyping in breeding operations; enabling genomic breeding selection; and building decision support systems that link traditional knowledge with governance mechanisms for managing natural resources.

The development and deployment of climate-resilient beans advanced through digital technologies, as articulated by the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT’s Digital Inclusion Scientist David Guerena, provides further examples of CGIAR innovation at work. Genomic Selection uses technology to move early-generation breeding from the research station to on-farm. Accelerated Variety Replacement explores digital innovations to enable the movement of improved, climate resilient bean seed into farmer's fields and through the formal and informal seed sectors. Mobile phone technology enables on-farm performance evaluation of improved varieties coming from public and CG breeding programs, allowing for the crowd-sourcing of farmer varietal preferences. Project Artemis uses imagery and AI technology to develop smartphone-enabled phenotyping tools for breeding and on-farm uses. These tools can be used to enable more precision for breeding programs to speed-up the variety development process.

The World Agri-Tech and Future Food-Tech Innovation Summits were a critical opportunity to raise the profile for these CGIAR innovations and more which can provide the tools humanity needs to adapt to and mitigate some of its most pressing food security challenges. In addition, the A4IP convened meetings with several key strategic partners to advance conversations on joint initiatives, scouted potential collaborators in the startup space, and joined key discussions including an exclusive roundtable on Exploring the Role of Data and AI for Food Security.

CGIAR was invited to take part in a roundtable hosted by satellite and decision-analytics venture SatSure on how data, AI, and other technologies impact the four pillars of food security.

Since having participated in San Francisco, the A4IP is reflecting on how these events need to evolve to further empower the global south, by promoting north-south exchanges of information and particularly access to data and science for mastering new technologies and their deployment at local level. CGIAR and its partners’ work in agri- and food-tech innovation can influence the global innovation stage toward these needed changes, and the Accelerate for Impact Platform has these ambitions to bridge science, entrepreneurial creativity with the innovation ecosystem and capital to develop and deploy tailored solutions. 

CGIAR Accelerate for Impact Platform will be at the next round of these Summits in London this September to catalyze more equitable and sustainable innovation moving forward.

Stay tuned.

Learn More about CGIAR’s Accelerate for Impact Platform (A4IP): a venture space that builds on CGIAR’s background in Research and Innovation to co-design, accelerate and fund science-driven technologies to address some of the world’s most pressing challenges. Stay tuned for our upcoming partnership at the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit in London this September. Contact us: [email protected]