Top tips from collaborators on international AgriFood projects

This guide brings together insight from partners involved in international AgriFood projects and from the Innovate UK Business Connect AgriFood project team.

Posted on: 05/03/2024

If you are an AgriFood innovator looking to fast-track your project, collaborating internationally with organisations could unlock unique opportunities. It can open the door to knowledge, research and technologies you might not find in your country. It could also help you access a whole new customer base.

“There were many benefits to working with a UK academic institution, but the ability to access new and innovative methodologies for analysis of designs before starting to manufacture eliminated a lot of trial and error for the product development.”

– Peter Chisawillo, Intermech Engineering Ltd, Africa

AgriFood Africa Connect supported 86 UK-Africa collaborative projects in agriculture and food production. This guide brings together insight from partners involved in international AgriFood projects and from the Innovate UK Business Connect AgriFood project team.

Planning or developing your project

  • Building relationships between partners before a funding call is announced will increase your likelihood of success, both when submitting a funding application and once you are delivering a project together. Taking the time to have introductory meetings and build trust before you commit to a project together is key.

    “We built strong links with our partners at the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research Centre, who had a wealth of knowledge on the development of teff and understood the farmers’ requirements.”

    – Stephanie Swarbreck, NIAB

  • Working with partners on the early-stage scoping of a project idea will ensure that your technology or idea is desired, and that it is useful for your target market.

    “Ensure there is a ‘pull’ for the innovation as well as a ‘push’. Is there a real need for the project? Importantly, does the community want the planned outcomes?”

    – Kirk Taylor Semple, Lancaster University

    “Make sure you have a good understanding of the current state of technology and understanding around your project before you write the application.”

    – Rob Simmons, Cranfield University

  • Before you get started, it’s important to agree on how intellectual property (IP) will be shared between partners. This will help build trust and open communication. To do this, make sure you set up a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) or a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) early on.

    Useful links:

    “Communication around the project plan can be difficult.  Use your institute’s legal team to help ensure that everyone agrees on their roles and responsibilities.”

    – Dr Oluyinka Opoola, The University of Edinburgh, Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health 

  • Universities and other institutions often have specific approval processes when it comes to the ethical considerations around data collection or use of animals in research. When working on research projects internationally, make sure you discuss the guidelines around data collection and handling for each organisation.

    Collaborating remotely often means working with partners to collect data or test things out. Having clearly defined roles and approaches will ensure that ethical considerations are well thought through and meet the highest standards.

Running projects

  • When collaborating internationally, you are likely to encounter unexpected challenges. Past project leads specifically reported difficulties relating to importing equipment and materials into some countries. This can cause severe delays and additional costs, build time into the project to accommodate for possible delays.

    “If you hit difficulties with shipping project equipment or consumables, work with a local partner to demonstrate that the items are for research purposes, not private use.”

    – Dr Oluyinka Opoola, The University of Edinburgh, Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health

    “Research equipment available in African countries is often very expensive. Try to take some specialist equipment with you and plan for visits.”

    – Anton Immink, ThinkAqua

  • Finding out what forms of communication work best for each partner is crucial. Many projects found that using WhatsApp or SMS to keep in touch worked well and others emphasised the importance of meeting regularly through Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Many projects included mobile data within their budgets to be able to collect data and join online meetings when out in the field.

  • Setting up a shared online folder (Google files, Microsoft SharePoint, or OneDrive) from the start will make it easier to collaborate on documents and outcomes. The ability to share photos and plans can be useful to help explain complex ideas and enable you to work together to solve problems. Using online tools like Mural also make remote collaborations easier.

  • As we all aim to reduce travel for sustainability reasons, thinking carefully about maximising the value of trips is crucial. Despite this, meeting face to face when it comes to new partnerships and working on international challenges is crucial to successful collaborations.

    “You need to have flexibility to work on the ground. Communicate with your funder to help that happen.”

    – Anton Immink, ThinkAqua

Get in touch with Joanna Scales if you would like to learn more about AgriFood Africa Connect and what it achieved.

Joanna Scales

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Joanna Scales

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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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