Olam Prize for Innovation in Food Security 2019 winner announced

Olam Prize for Innovation in Food Security 2019 winner announced
This year's winner, Innovation Mapping for Food Security (IM4FS), hopes to boost food security by helping farmers identify which crops are best to grow, how, when and why. Image: Unsplash

Singapore, June 6, 2019 – A unique mapping approach that will give smallholder farmers a ‘best fit’ for what to grow, where and how, has been awarded the 2019 Olam Prize for Innovation in Food Security thanks to its potential to improve productivity in food insecure areas and countries.

The approach, called Innovation Mapping for Food Security (IM4FS), is being developed by a team coordinated by Dr Tomaso Ceccarelli of Wageningen Environmental Research, The Netherlands, and Dr Eyasu Elias Fantahun of Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia. Crucially, IM4FS is building on the strength of the CASCAPE project, which has been carried out in close cooperation with the Agricultural Growth Programme (AGP) of the Ethiopian government.

CASCAPE designed and implemented site-specific combinations of crops, soils and farming practices, enabling around 200,000 farmers to boost their harvests above the Ethiopian average (yields increasing threefold for wheat and doubling for Tef and Faba bean), and start becoming self-sufficient by applying these best-practice interventions.

Whilst existing land evaluation approaches are focused on improving agricultural productivity, CASCAPE combines data with stakeholder engagement to ensure proposals will work in practice. To ensure this, farmers, extension workers, local experts and planners are engaged from the start, bringing an understanding of the realities on the ground to any approaches.

This data and information is then fed into the GIS3-based tool, which then matches the best farming practices with bio-physical and socio-economic conditions in a given area. The tool will then create ‘recommendation maps’ that highlight areas most suitable for specific innovations. Local stakeholders will then verify the recommendation against their specialist knowledge and expectations.

IM4FS takes these learnings one step further through its unique ability to offer a scenario planning function that informs decisions in agri-landscapes and food insecure areas. This ultimately creates a more dynamic and interactive tool to provide simulations and aid stakeholder engagement. Combined, this was central to the judges awarding the US$75,000 prize.

Dr Tomaso Ceccarelli, senior researcher at Wageningan Environmental Research commented: “It is really motivating to work with local researchers and other parties to develop smart solutions to tackle something as devastating as hunger. The US$75,000 Prize  will help fund the roll-out of in-situ data collection by extension workers and other local staff, and develop the mapping tool to include the ‘scenario planning’ function. The maps can then be used by government institutions, planners and others to simulate which agricultural interventions and investments should be undertaken where, when and how.”

Co-project lead Dr. Eyasu Elias Fantahun, professor at Addis Ababa University, added: “Ethiopia is a perfect example of a country in need of an innovative solution to boost productivity: it is the second largest country in Africa for arable land, but imports half of its food. It doesn’t have to be that way – there is the potential for self-sufficiency in grains and other staple crops, and the Ethiopian government is supporting this ambition with national

“The funding from Olam will strengthen engagement between our researchers, planners and farmers, accelerating the adoption and implementation of specific agricultural innovations so as to improve food productivity and livelihoods at greater scale.”

Sunny Verghese, Olam Co-founder and Group CEO, said: “As a global food and agribusiness, investing in farmers and our own plantations across the world, we are constantly monitoring and assessing the best areas for crops to grow. But with the rate of weather changes and stark warnings on biodiversity loss, air pollution and soil degradation, there is increasing risk that what is planted today might not be suitable for those fields in the future.

IM4FS will help inform about this risk with a better understanding of the interactions between land resources, demography, climate change and farming technology and defining the optimal conditions to boost food production. It will equip farmers, as well as local and regional stakeholders with the information they need to solve food security.”

Marie-Christine Cormier-Salem, Director of Agropolis Fondation and scientific partner to the Olam Prize, said: “Because IM4FS combines the use of IT-based tools like GIS with participatory approaches, you have a tool that is not only visually accurate, but one that stakeholders can relate to. In the end, you have a product that matches knowledge of best practices and adoption drivers with biophysical resources and socio-economic circumstances.”

Learn more about our winning researchers by reading their Q&A.

About the Olam Prize for Innovation in Food Security

The Olam Prize for Innovation in Food Security was launched in 2014 in partnership with Agropolis Foundation. The winner receives an unrestricted US$75,000 grant for the scaling up of proven research. Since the inaugural Prize was awarded in 2015, farmers across the world have benefited from the winning innovations, recognised for their potential impact on the availability, affordability, accessibility or adequacy of food.

The previous Prize winner was Dr Filippo Bassi of ICARDA and Professor Rodomiro Ortiz (SLU, Alnarp), and funded by the Swedish Research Council. They used non-GM molecular breeding techniques to develop a set of durum wheat varieties that can withstand constant 35-40 degree heat along the savannah of the Senegal River basin. The inaugural Prize went to a research team based at Cornell University for SRI-Rice; a system of growing that requires 80-90 per cent fewer rice seeds, up to 50 per cent less water and, in many instances, no fertiliser. Yields were boosted by 20-50 per cent (often by much more), with farmers’ costs reduced by 10-20 per cent.

Additional contributors to IM4FS from Wageningen University and Research and from the
Universities of Mekelle and Addis Ababa

“Contributors who deserve credit for IM4FS are: Remko Vonk, who has been inspiring IRM from the beginning, together with Irene Koomen and Nina de Roo. Dennis Walvoort who contributed to the development of the model and tool. Andrew Farrow who has been instrumental in developing the model and tool together with the 2 Centres of Excellence in Ethiopia (Mekelle and Addis Ababa Universities, represented by Dr. Amanuel Zenebe and Dr. Ermias Teferi), as well as in capacity development. Herman Agricola as facilitator and trainer. Desalegn Haileyesus and Dr. Eyasu Elias who have been coordinating the IRM activities in Ethiopia with the CASCAPE Cluster managers, and scaling experts operating in different regions of Ethiopia. Herman Snel and Tomaso Ceccarelli who are coordinating IRM and shaped the award winning proposal. We also want to acknowledge the support of Eric Smaling (project coordinator of CASCAPE in Wageningen) who has been always recognizing and promoting the value of this approach and of Dr. Tewodros Amade, project leader of REALISE, with whom the approach will be developed in the future. A special thanks also to Saskia Visser, for her support to the ideas behind “recommendation mapping”. Dr Tomaso Ceccarelli and Dr Eyasu Elias Fantahun.

GIS = Geographic Information System

About Olam International Limited

Olam International is a leading food and agri-business supplying food, ingredients, feed and fibre to 19,800 customers worldwide. Our value chain spans over 60 countries and includes farming, processing and distribution operations, as well as a sourcing network of an estimated 4.8 million farmers. Through our purpose to ‘Re-imagine Global Agriculture and Food Systems’, Olam aims to address the many challenges involved in meeting the needs of a growing global population, while achieving positive impact for farming communities, our planet and all our stakeholders.

More information on Olam can be found at www.olamgroup.com.
Olam is located at 7 Straits View, Marina One East Tower #20-01, Singapore 018936.
Telephone: +65 63394100, Facsimile: +65 63399755.

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