Speaking in an exclusive interview with The Guardian yesterday, WFP Country Representative Michael Dunford said if well-designed, innovation can be the game changer towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“We need innovation to do things differently, bolder and bigger. We cannot achieve the SDGs by maintaining the status quo. With current global hunger and climate trends, a breakthrough is needed to ensure there is enough food to feed the next generation,” said Dunford.
Dunford stated that through its Innovation Hub, WFP is working to initiate, refine and scale innovation so that it can have impact on the lives of people it is working with. He asserted that such innovations should be conducted in a collaborative manner.
“We are working together with the Tanzania innovation ecosystem and seeing how, we, as a United Nations agency can catalyze, strengthen and add weight to the innovation activities that are already going on in Tanzania,” he elaborated.
The Innovation Hub in Tanzania is the first of its kind for WFP, which has supported 13 startups over the past two years such as Ninayo and Jembe, the representative noted.
NINAYO.com is an online trading platform for agriculture in Tanzania which uses crowd-sourced data to provide actionable business intelligence for its users.
“Ninayo users are typically small holder farmers from across the country with an average annual income of US $637. The tool enables farmers to earn hundreds more,” he said, suggesting that networking enables farmers to contact different buyers and better price quotations.
Ninayo.com Founder, Jack Langworthy said he saw an opportunity in Tanzania’s agriculture sector and decided to develop a platform where farmers can access markets and inputs. Today, Ninayo has 35,000 registered farmers.
“Tanzania’s agriculture industry is huge, worth US $12 billion. We saw the opportunity because most smallholder farmers were facing difficulties in marketing their crops as well as in sending and receiving money,” the innovator stated.
The platform, he said, has helped to change farmers from being price takers to price makers. Initially the pilot project was designed for 500 famers, but they have expanded to meet increased demand.
Langworthy explained that Innovation Hub arose from an idea to achieve zero hunger.
Also involved in this innovation drive is Rose Funja, an engineer and entrepreneur who created a startup—‘Agri-Info’ specialized in drone technology and developing solutions in the agriculture value chain.
“WFP has supported me in two ways. It has provided me with funding to develop a minimum viable product, as well as giving me a mentor to help strengthen the sustainability and business model for my idea,” she said.
One of the key outputs of the innovation hub was channeling energy towards closing the gap to zero hunger in Tanzania by working with local innovators, connecting, complementing global partners’ knowledge and building the capacity of the Tanzanian innovation ecosystem.
“We provide entrepreneurs, start-ups, companies and NGOs access to mentorship, training, financial support, expert insights and WFP operations,” he stated.
To mobilize Tanzanian innovators, WFP organizes annual innovation challenges to source talent and catalyze ideas to solve challenging issues. In addition, WFP hosts monthly events for SDG innovators to meet, exchange ideas and identify new partnerships.
WFP also hosts boot camps with partners such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to guide innovators through intensive human-centered design and lean start-up methodologies.
To date, WFP has reached over 900 innovators, partners and ecosystem players through its activities.
The World Food Programme plans to raise US $4.5 million (over 10bn/-) to support the nurturing of innovative ideas to address hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity challenges in Tanzania. The funds are targeted to be raised from 2017 to 2021, he added.