Five lessons learned from AgriFood Africa Connect

Innovate UK AgriFood Africa Connect ran for five years from 2019-2024. During this time, multiple delivery mechanisms were used. To support those wanting to deliver similar international collaboration building projects in the future, we wanted to share some key learnings about what we did and the approaches we used.

Posted on: 05/03/2024

Focusing in on key AgriFood topics or challenges helped build networks

The overall AgriFood Africa Connect project had the overarching objective to benefit African AgriFood production. By narrowing in on specific topics within the wider AgriFood area, we designed activities targeted at specific groups of people. This helped build communities and stimulated networking. For example, we produced a report on the ‘Opportunities for phage-based technologies in African AgriFood’ which offered the chance to dive deeply into a key topic.

Hosting short online events on clearly defined topics worked well

Our primary form of communication with the AgriFood innovation community was through online events.

Concise events on defined topics made marketing straightforward and ensured attendance and engagement was high throughout each session. During events, we often included a mixture of short talks to maintain attention and interest, and fewer, longer talks that delved into a topic in greater depth. Our decision on the structure to use depended on whether we wanted attendees to really understand a topic or to make them curious to learn more through follow up conversations.

Technical challenges are always a risk in online events. We tried out various platforms but often felt familiarity was best. With most attendees familiar with Zoom, sticking with this worked well.

It’s useful to have ways for people to connect after an event

We sometimes shared ‘collaboration databases’ with those attending an event. These databases included brief information supplied by those registering for the event. Details about what each person did and how to contact them helped enable everyone to follow up with each other. This helped stimulate networking and ensured more collaborations could be made during a single event.

Capturing the impacts of networking activities is hard

It’s important to demonstrate what impacts result from programmes or projects, but the challenges related to this should not be underestimated. New collaborations don’t happen immediately and are often associated with whether funding is available to support these. Following up with event attendees and speakers after the date to find out what happened next is time consuming but is often the only way to demonstrate impact.

Short, funded projects build relationships and accelerate activity

We ran short projects, like the AgriFood Africa Innovation Awards, aiming to build relationships between partners and make a solid start on exploring an innovation or idea. Lots of projects included a business which helped ensure that the new ideas identified within the projects could be applied or understood within a delivery context. This also enabled novel ideas from academia to progress into industrial settings.

Although the outputs that can be achieved within a short project are limited, the Innovation Awards established numerous successful collaborations well placed to work together on future, bigger projects with more confidence and trust. The breadth of the portfolio also enabled interesting links between projects to be identified. Enabling researchers or businesses to explore new ideas is exciting, but it is helpful if routes to scale up and focus in on these are also available to maximise the outcomes of a partnership.

Learn more about the different approaches used in AgriFood Africa Connect to build collaborations, and some ideas on how these could be applied or improved in future projects.

  • 6–12-month projects, <£40,000, 2 partners (combination of UK / African partners, and academic / business partners)

    Good for: Building relationships and trust between partners; developing a broad portfolio of viable projects suitable for follow on funding.

    Could be improved by: Enabling a pipeline for follow on funding for collaborations.

    Example: The GCRF Agrifood Innovation Award projects explored a broad range of AgriFood topic areas.

  • Funding for targeted trip, <£8,000, 2 partners (combination of UK / African partners, and academic/business partners)

    Good for: Building relationships; sharing knowledge on a problem; demonstrating new technologies.

    Could be improved by: Linking these to future funding calls, so that successful projects can be progressed.

    Example: The GCRF Agrifood Travel Grants enabled a UK organisation to travel to meet with potential partners in African countries.

  • Focused on a specific topic, Public, Held on Zoom

    Good for: Drawing attention to a topic; understanding who is involved or interested in the area; rapid networking. Works well when building international networks and generating new collaborations.

    Could be improved by: Promoting a platform for networking.

    Example: The Breeding approaches for African forgotten foods’ event brought together researchers in Africa and the UK to share experiences and expertise.

  • Focused on a specific topic

    Good for: Engaging deeply on a topic.

    Could be improved by: Determining ways to measure impact; finding ways for stakeholders to engage with each other.

    Example: Opportunities for phage innovation for African AgriFood report involved interviews with African phage researchers.

During AgriFood Africa Connect the range of approaches brought together many partners around different topic areas. The variety of approaches used ensured that organisations and individuals were able to engage in a way that best suited their needs.

Get in touch if you have any questions about how the project was delivered and the mechanisms used.

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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.


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