How collaboration and strong partnerships are powering AgriFood system innovation in Africa

Innovate UK AgriFood Africa Connect has brought together hundreds of partners in the UK and Africa to collaboratively develop new products and services to support food security and the sustainable management of AgriFood systems in Africa.

Posted on: 26/02/2024

The need: to forge collaborative partnerships between the UK and Africa to address AgriFood system challenges

Nearly 282 million people in Africa (about 20% of the population) are undernourished, an increase of 57 million people since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Globally, 42% of the population remain unable to afford a healthy diet and in Africa this proportion is far greater at 78%, equating to more than a billion malnourished people and causing stunting in 30% of children (FAO).

In Africa, there is now a critical intersection between food insecurity, AgriFood system sustainability and the acute challenges linked to climate change. Improving the sustainability, productivity and resilience of food supply chains is urgently needed. To find appropriate solutions for the size, scale and complexity of the aforementioned challenges, collaborative innovation is essential.

Establishing strong relationships between academics and forward-thinking businesses in the UK and Africa has been fundamental to AgriFood Africa Connect’s success. By capitalising on these new connections, the Innovation Awards have made significant progress towards addressing fundamental issues such as food waste, access to nutritious food, and unstable supply chains.

The solution: AgriFood Africa Innovation Awards

UK-African collaborations have opened many doors, allowing the flow of new knowledge from theoretical research to establishing practical application on the ground.

Since the programme finished, 76 project teams have continued working together while 59 projects have applied for follow-on funding. It’s a resounding testimony to the value of international teamwork.

This article celebrates the impact of adopting a collaborative approach.

  • Developing a resilience framework using digital innovations for the aquaculture industry in South Africa (REDIA) 

    Commercially cultivated off South Africa’s Western Cape, abalone is one of the world’s highest value seafoods. However, like many forms of aquaculture production, it faces social, economic and environmental challenges, including the risk of naturally occurring harmful algal blooms (HABs) which can lead to significant losses.

    In Round 3 of the Innovation Awards, Dr Tahmina Ajmal of the University of Bedfordshire worked with Sarah Halse, the Research and Sustainability Manager at Abagold, one of South Africa’s largest abalone producers. Together they employed digital technology to deliver a low-cost prediction framework for HABs.

    This was made possible through the University of Bedfordshire’s development of an advanced mathematical forecasting model which analysed data from Abagold’s in-situ water quality sensors. This joined up approach demonstrates how international academia-business partnerships are helping build greater resilience in the aquaculture sector, enabling farmers to take action where possible to mitigate the negative impact that increasing HABs occurrences has on their produce.

    The project partners conducted a successful knowledge exchange workshop where the forecasted findings were well-received by local stakeholders. Delivering such high levels of engagement and applying new technologies to improve productivity and sustainability is a testament to the strong relationship forged between Africa and the UK during the project.

     I enjoyed the networking opportunity and was so impressed by the calibre of projects that were ongoing in Africa on our doorstep. Proud to be part of the project!

    – Sarah Halse, Research and Sustainability Manager, Abagold Ltd, South Africa

    Future opportunities: 

    • Continuing to work with the European Maths Group to improve understanding and usability of the project data.
    • Working with partners in different places to continue modelling HABs.
  • Using biological control to reduce synthetic pesticide usage in tea nurseries in Kenya

    More than 4.5 million Kenyans are involved in tea growing, making this crop a major income source for around 8% of the population. Maintaining production to meet the high demand for tea is often reliant on the widespread use of synthetic pesticides. Producers are keen to support the development of other effective and affordable options for pest management which reduce known environmental impacts.

    In their drive to lead the sector’s sustainable development, global tea producer Ekaterra worked closely with Dr Evelyn Cheramgoi of KALRO (Kenya’s Tea Research Institute) on a project aiming to reduce the application of pesticides

    Young tea plants are particularly vulnerable to pest infestations. The partnership investigated a holistic approach to pesticide-free tea propagation by implementing biological control methods in their estates.

    Through wider community engagement, the project gathered information from 387 female smallholders to identify the most significant pest issues. Through this study’s findings they trialled environmentally friendly alternatives such as co-planting pest-repelling flowers and herbs which proved to reduce the presence of pests in young tea plants.

    As well as creating numerous jobs and deepening relationships with local tea farmers, this partnership has accelerated the development and scale of adoption of beneficial agronomic practices.

    As the African partner, we have benefited from the project in terms of resources and have managed to extend this [biological control] to small-scale tea growers.

    – Evelyn Cheramgoi, Researcher, KALRO – Tea Research Institute, Kenya

    Future opportunities:

    • Spreading the model more widely to increase understanding of biological pest control.
    • Investigating the resistance of different tea varieties to key pest species.

Discover more about our impact

With 86 Innovate UK AgriFood Africa Connect Innovation Awards completed, each project has helped to improve the sustainable management of African AgriFood systems. The commitment from project leads is to create positive change, guided by GCRF AgriFood Africa’s key goals which aim to reduce poverty, increase economic prosperity, and improve wellbeing.

There were some very valuable outcomes that emerged from the AgriFood Africa Connect project. We’ve had lots of different new projects, which form an excellent basis for further collaborations in future.

It would be great if we could build upon the existing platform that we’ve developed within this project, extend the excellent UK-Africa collaborations into new areas or take forward some of the existing partnerships.

– David Telford, Head of AgriFood, Innovate UK Business Connect

Dive deeper into our journey and explore our other ‘Innovation Award Impact’ summaries:

Related programme

AgriFood Africa Connect

AgriFood Africa Connect

Innovate UK AgriFood Africa Connect brought innovative people and organisations across the UK and Africa together to develop solutions for the sustainable management of AgriFood systems in Africa.


Connect with Innovate UK Business Connect

Join Innovate UK Business Connect's mailing list to receive updates on funding opportunities, events and to access Innovate UK Business Connect's deep expertise. Please check your email to confirm your subscription and select your area(s) of interest.