- technology dissemination fellowship program
- visiting practioners program
- yunus challenges
2007 – 2013:
value from waste
clean hands for health and prosperity
affordable small-scale energy storage solutions
indoor air quality pollution
tuberculosis drug adherence
2011 muhammad yunus innovation challenge:
improved agricultural processes for better
Around the world, 550 million smallholder farmers lack access to mechanized agricultural technology. Many important food staples like maize (corn) and grains (e.g., rice or wheat) are harvested and processed by hand, which is both labor intensive and time consuming. This year's Yunus Challenge calls for locally and environmentally sustainable innovations to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers.
The 2011 Yunus Challenge will be awarded to participants who create an innovative solution that has the most potential to increase adoption of beneficial agricultural technologies, financial systems, or market access among smallholder farmers to improve their livelihoods. Participants are encouraged to put their energy toward creating solutions that overcome the behavioral and situational hurdles of the adoption of agricultural innovations, rather than looking at the challenge only in terms of the creation of new technologies. That said, the proposed solution may involve a physical device.
Agricultural innovations are potentially transformative, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where the sector accounts for the biggest share of the economy and employs over two-thirds of the population, either directly as farmers and laborers or indirectly as sellers and entrepreneurs. Research shows that agricultural innovations can help break the cycle of poverty by improving incomes while reducing hunger and malnutrition, which affect over 1 billion people and are contributing factors to the majority of the deaths of children under 5. The World Bank estimates that growth in the agricultural sector is twice as effective as other sectors in reducing poverty.
Over the past few decades, billions of dollars have been invested in developing agricultural innovations. Some examples include:
- Improved seeds for higher yield, resistance to pests and disease, and better nutrition
- Environmentally sustainable farming techniques and fertilizersAn emphasis on innovative funding and market development programs, such as microfinance and fair trade initiatives
- Affordable water pumps and drip irrigation systems
- Methods to convert agricultural waste into resources like charcoal and fuel
- Technologies for information transfer about market opportunities
- More efficient devices for post-harvest processing, transport and storage
Yet adoption of these promising agricultural innovations has been far from ubiquitous, and remains especially low among the poor. Around the world, millions of smallholder farmers still lack access to beneficial agricultural innovations. Poor farmers, who are mostly women and often have low levels of education, may be left out of training services and have difficulty accessing credit, insurance, land, and markets. The Agricultural Technology Adoption Initiative (ATAI) has identified a spectrum of challenges to adoption of agricultural innovations, ranging from lack of information about available technologies and their benefits, to distribution issues stemming from weak supply chains and infrastructure (a summary is available online at http://atai-research.org/Our-Approach.html
Without access to agricultural innovations, smallholder farmers must manually grow, harvest and process important food staples like maize (corn) and grains, which is labor intensive and time consuming. Conducting agricultural activities by hand also contributes to avoidable injuries and pulls children out of school, since producing food for survival takes priority over education in subsistence farming households. Manual work is typically less precise and much slower than technology, which can lead to unnecessary waste of crops as well as farming inputs like water and fertilizer. Furthermore, options to sell agricultural products at fair prices may be limited if farmers lack transportation, storage facilities and information about market prices. As a result of these and other factors, smallholder farmers may put in long hours of hard labor, but still struggle to capture enough value from their crops to support their households and remain vulnerable to seasonal and market variations.
ATAI suggests that to maximize the impact of investments in agricultural innovations, we need to know why technologies and systems that could dramatically improve people’s lives are not being used and then determine how best to deliver them. This means understanding the political, economic and socio-cultural landscape as well as how smallholder farmers behave and make choices about the investments, utilities and risks associated with new innovations. It is also important to explore how barriers to adoption relate to one another and whether some consistently matter more than others. Targeting a single barrier without addressing others may be unsuccessful, but at the same time, attempting to overcome all barriers simultaneously may not be cost effective or necessary.
Key Considerations and Judging Criteria
Solutions should be designed for implementation in communities living at or below the poverty level, where infrastructure is limited. Innovation, feasibility and impact will be important criteria in judging. Proposed solutions should be new, focus on measurable change, and aim for a price point that makes intervention accessible to the poorest populations and allows for dissemination on a large scale. Specific aspects to address include, but should not necessarily be limited to:
- Acceptability within the community (e.g., likelihood of adoption)
- Livelihood impact (e.g., increased incomes from value-adding activities, time and labor saved)
- Health impact (e.g., reduced hunger from higher yields, improved nutrition)
- Environmental impact (e.g., waste reduction or reuse, decreased land and water degradation)
Credit will be given for supporting rationale regarding how the solution will directly address the issues faced. The needs of the poor are wide and varied and teams are not expected to address all issues surrounding adoption of agricultural innovations, however, proposed solutions should address a particular need and fill it well. Participants are encouraged to work on solutions with a specific community or region in mind, as this can be helpful in identifying constraints and providing context.
Opportunities are available for students who want to learn more about the Yunus Challenge and the context in which a solution should operate. Students are encouraged to apply for Public Service fellowships, internships and grants that provide them with the opportunity to work on a potential program and with communities to develop a feasible solution which takes local context into account. For more information, please contact Alison Hynd at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For additional support in gathering information about the local context, customs and conditions of a specific community or country, participants may leverage the expertise of D-Lab teams who have local partners in more than 20 countries and who do field work over the January IAP sessions in eight countries across three continents. For more information, please contact email@example.com.
Participants also may enter proposals into the IDEAS Competition Global Challenge, where special awards have been created to
provide winning teams with funding to pursue their ideas. For more information, please contact Lars Hasselblad Torres or Kate Mytty
- October 13, 2010: IDEAS + Global Challenge Generator Dinner, from 7:00-9:30pm, Morss Hall in Walker Memorial
- October 21, 2010: Yunus Innovation Challenge Kickoff, from 7:00 to 9:00pm, R&D Pub Lounge (Stata Center, 4th Floor)
- March 5, 2011: Initial Proposal Deadline, IDEAS Global Challenge
A sampling of resources about agriculture and in the developing world follows:
- Urban horticulture supplies fresh food, creates jobs, recycles waste, FAO 2010
- Food Prices: Smallholder Farmers can be Part of the Solution. International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), 2010
- Pathways to Resilience: Smallholder Farmers and the Future of Agriculture. The Canadian Food Security Policy Group, 2008
- The Family Farm in a Globalizing World: The Role of Crop Science in Alleviating Poverty. Michael Lipton. International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), 2005
- Smallholders Unite. Derek Byerlee, Alain de Janvry; Joan Van Wasenhove, Donna Barry. Foreign Affairs, March/April 2009
- The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2009 – Economic Crisis: Impacts and Lessons Learned, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 2009
- Outcomes and Actions for Global Food Security UN High-Level Taskforce on the Global Food Security Crisis, 2008
- Health Impacts of the Global Food Security Crisis World Health Organization (WHO)
- Norman E. Borlaug Articles and Interviews on Global Agriculture & Food Issues, AgBioWorld
- The Board for International Food and Agricultural Development (BIFAD)
- Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC)
- Bread for the World
- Central Asia Institute
- The Chicago Council on Global Affairs
- The Clinton Global Initiative
- The Congressional Hunger Center
- Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR)
- Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations
- Friends of the World Food Programme
- Global Policy Forum
- Global Crop Diversity Trust
- Hunger Plus Inc.
- International Food & Agricultural Trade Policy Council
- International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
- International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)
- Oxfam International
- Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa
- World Food Day Teleconference - October 16, 2010
- Design, Engineer, and Implement Appropriate Technology for Farming Amaranth in Rural Communities in Oaxaca, Mexico
- Help develop LaunchPad, a Rural Innovation Center
For assistance in finding additional resources specific to your project, please contact an MIT librarian.
For more information on the 2011 Yunus Innovation Challenge, please contact Laura Sampath at firstname.lastname@example.org.