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GAIA: A ‘market place’ for AgTech Innovation

There was a wealth of talent and invention at AWARD’s inaugural boot camp that brought agricultural innovators from East Africa together. This team of diverse agricultural disruptors ushered in the launch of AWARD’s new initiative, Gender in Agribusiness Investments for Africa (GAIA).

AWARD partnered with Intellecap, Centum, African Development Bank (AfDB) and UN Women to kick off the pilot program. Thirty-one innovators from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia convened in Nairobi, Kenya from the 8-10 November, 2016.

GAIA’s call for innovations attracted over 100 applications that were narrowed down to thirty-one semi- finalists. The semi-finalists were taken through a rigorous two-day entrepreneurship boot camp that focused on the investor environment and honed in on building individual pitching skills.

The participants were given an opportunity to evaluate each other’s projects which then resulted in the ten finalists. “Evaluating our peers gave us an upper hand because we asked different questions that cover a lot of loop holes which get thrown at us by potential investors,” said Japhet Sekenya, a representative from Biofood Tech Enterprises Company. Biofood Tech produces probiotic drinks for lactose intolerant Tanzanians.

On Thursday, the finalists showcased their innovations to investors and a panel of judges comprised of Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, AfDB’s Vice-President and Special Envoy on Gender, Paul Greener, African Enterprise Challenge Fund CEO, Valentine Njoroge, Centum Foundation Director, Dr. Jemimah Njuki, AWARD Steering Committee Chair and International Development Research Centre Senior Programme Officer, and Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, AWARD Director.

In delivering her keynote address, Ms. Fraser-Moleketi noted that initiatives like GAIA fall within the bank’s five strategic priorities and called for the greater inclusion of women in efforts that are geared at uplifting the continent. “Initiatives such as GAIA address the need for gender responsiveness in agricultural research and development. By ensuring the visibility, commercialization and scaling up of female led agricultural research innovations, we enhance more inclusive growth of Africa’s agricultural sector,” she said. “It is also aligned to our Gender Strategy on women’s economic empowerment, creation of knowledge and capacity building.”

The innovators’ presentations culminated with the judges selecting the winner of the 2016 GAIA AgTech Innovation Challenge. Lydiah Wangechi-Muya of Tech for Trade took the top prize. Muya’s Kenya-based project, Open Book Trading, facilitates transparent agricultural trading networks, offering a trading platform that tracks all parts of a deal through a value chain from farmer to buyer. The second best innovation went to Dorothy Akinyi, who developed a bio-fertilizer that aims to increase the production of groundnut oil. In addition, the people’s choice award, which was decided by the innovators, went to a Tanzanian project that dehydrates fruits and vegetables that helps prevent food-losses.

GAIA offers AWARD new opportunities for partnerships, and provides a window to share its inclusive gender agenda outside the sphere of agriculture research and development, and now into the agribusiness sector.