Funding competition Agri-tech Catalyst round 7: agriculture and food systems innovation

UK businesses and research organisations can apply for a share of up to £3 million from DFID for projects with partners in eligible African countries.

This competition is now closed.

Register and apply online

Competition sections


There is up to £3 million of funding available from the Department for International Development (DFID) for early-stage feasibility studies, mid stage industrial research and late-stage experimental development. Projects must work on agri-tech and food chain innovations with partners in eligible African countries.

A full definition of research categories is available in the general guidance for applicants section of our website.

The aim of this competition is to increase the pace of development and scale of uptake of agricultural and food systems innovation by farmers and food systems actors (such as manufacturers, processors, retailers, distributors or wholesalers) in Africa.

All projects must be collaborative and must include at least one partner from the UK and one from an eligible African country. All funding for businesses and research organisations will be sent through the administrative lead organisation.

If your project’s total costs or duration fall outside of our eligibility criteria, email at least 10 days before the competition closes for approval.

Funding type


Project size

Early stage feasibility studies: £100,000 to £500,000, 12 to 18 months. Mid stage industrial research: £250,000 to £1 million, up to 3 years. Late stage experimental development: £150,000 to £800,000, up to 18 months. Projects must start by 1 April 2019.

Who can apply

All projects:

  • must be collaborative
  • must include a partner from an eligible African country, who can be the technical lead
  • must include a UK-based administrative lead
  • must be carried out in the UK or an eligible African country or both

See the table in the guidance for applicants to understand the different international collaboration options.

Any UK business claiming funding must be eligible to receive state aid. If you are unsure please take legal advice. For further information please see our general guidance.

Lead applicants

The administrative lead:

  • will be the recipient of the award
  • will manage and be accountable for the finances for the project in accordance with the terms and conditions of the award
  • must be UK based
  • can be a business (of any size), academic organisation, charity, public sector organisation or research organisation for early and mid stage projects
  • must be a business (of any size) for late stage projects
  • must claim funding through this competition
  • can partner in up to 2 other applications

The technical lead:

  • will lead on the development of the scope, work packages within the project and other work from a technical perspective
  • must be a UK or eligible country partner organisation
  • can be a business (of any size), academic organisation, charity, public sector organisation or research organisation for early and mid stage projects

  • must be a business (of any size) for late stage projects
  • must claim funding through this competition
  • can also be the administrative lead

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs), civil society organisations (CSOs) and other organisations are also eligible to:

  • claim grant as a project partner or
  • join the consortium as non-grant claiming partners

Additional assurances

In view of the overseas nature of this funding Innovate UK is imposing some additional assurance requirements:

  • successful UK applicants must demonstrate they have proper and transparent arrangements for passing grant monies to African participants
  • Innovate UK will carry out initial due diligence and final audit checks on African participants
  • successful UK participants must provide documented evidence that African participants agree to such checks

Grant funding will be withdrawn if Innovate UK does not receive these additional assurances.

Innovate UK and DFID reserve the right to refuse funding to projects in areas where our risk-based considerations find that the cost of due diligence and monitoring requirements outweigh the potential benefits of funding.

Eligible countries

  • Angola
  • Benin
  • Burkina Faso
  • Burundi
  • Cameroon
  • Central African Republic
  • Chad
  • Congo (Brazzaville)
  • Congo, Democratic Republic of
  • Côte d'Ivoire
  • Eritrea
  • Ethiopia
  • Gambia, The
  • Ghana
  • Guinea
  • Guinea-Bissau
  • Kenya
  • Lesotho
  • Liberia
  • Madagascar
  • Malawi
  • Mali
  • Mozambique
  • Niger
  • Nigeria
  • Rwanda
  • Sao Tome and Principe
  • Senegal
  • Sierra Leone
  • Somalia
  • South Africa
  • South Sudan
  • Sudan
  • Tanzania
  • Togo
  • Uganda
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe


If you have been unsuccessful in a previous round of the Agri-tech Catalyst, you can reapply once with the same project.


We have allocated up to £3 million to fund innovation projects in this competition.

For early-stage feasibility studies, and mid-stage industrial research projects, you could get funding for your eligible project costs of:

  • up to 70% if you are a micro or small business
  • up to 60% if you are a medium-sized business
  • up to 50% if you are a large business

For late-stage experimental development projects, you could get funding for your eligible project costs of:

  • up to 45% if you are a micro or small business
  • up to 35% if you are a medium-sized business
  • up to 25% if you are a large business

Find out if your business fits the EU definition of an SME.

For early and mid-stage projects:

  • UK academic partners will be funded through Je-S at 80% of full economic cost (FEC)
  • other UK research-base partners will be funded at 100%
  • research-base partners from eligible African countries will be funded at 100%

For early-stage feasibility studies and mid stage industrial research projects the total costs for your research partners must not exceed 50% of the total project costs. If your consortium contains more than one research organisation, this maximum will be shared between them.

For late stage projects:

  • research base partners cannot claim funding but can participate as subcontractors

If you have any questions concerning the eligibility or grant rate of African country partners please contact customer support services on 0300 321 4357 or

Your proposal

The aim of this competition is to increase the pace of development and scale of uptake of agricultural and food systems technology and innovation in Africa by:

  • farmers
  • other food systems actors

Agriculture and food systems are changing rapidly, which has important consequences for diets. Uptake of new technology and innovation in this area is low in developing countries, particularly Africa.

Your project proposal must aim to benefit African country agriculture and food systems in order to contribute to healthy, safe and nutritious diets.

Your project’s innovations must:

  • be sustainable in the context of environmental challenges such as climate change and resource scarcity
  • minimise negative effects such as pollution, food losses and waste
  • promote safe, healthy, nutritious diets

There are many opportunities and challenges for food systems, as described by the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition.

The Agri-tech Catalyst will take innovative ideas from any sector or discipline. Ideas must show the potential to deliver impact for poor people through the uptake of agricultural and food systems technology and innovation. The scope of the Catalyst includes:

  • primary crop and livestock production, including aquaculture
  • non-food uses of crops, excluding ornamentals
  • challenges in food processing, distribution or storage, and value addition (such as through a change in the physical state or form of the product)
  • improving the availability and accessibility of safe, healthy and nutritious foods

Your application must demonstrate how your project will contribute to international development outcomes, specifically enhanced food and nutrition security, and welfare of the poor in urban and rural areas.

If your project will support crop breeding it must have clear potential for impact at scale, in more than one country. We are looking to fund a portfolio of projects, across a variety of technologies, markets and technological maturities.

Your project and its outcomes must fit within the Official Development Assistance (ODA) criteria.

Gender analysis and data disaggregation

Men and women experience poverty differently and face different obstacles in moving out of poverty. A significant gender gap in agriculture means women have unequal access to and control over productive assets and income, despite contributing a significant share of agricultural labour.

If your project is not sensitive to how this affects agriculture productivity, marketing and processing, the impact will be limited and potentially exacerbate gender inequalities. It should not be assumed that the household is a unit in which everything is pooled and shared, and in which the household head makes decisions on behalf of all household members.

Your proposal should recognise that to promote gender equality and empower girls and women is not only a goal in its own right. It is often a means to improving agricultural productivity or achieving food and nutrition security.

You must include an analysis of the gender factors impacting on the innovation. For example, you may find it is inappropriate to refer to ‘farmers’ without indicating whether you are referring to male farmers, female farmers, or both. Consider whether you need to include expertise on gender and social analysis within your project.

You must separate data about other variables, where relevant, such as ethnicity, age, disability and spatial geography.

Animal welfare

You must make sure that all your proposed research, both in the UK and internationally, complies with the principles of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s (BBSRC) and other UK funders’ common guidance on ‘Responsibility in the use of animals in bioscience research’.

Projects likely to directly compromise farm animal welfare outcomes will not be funded. Projects likely to benefit animal welfare will be viewed favourably.

UK institutions should be aware of the following guidance on research or collaboration outside the UK:

“When collaborating with other laboratories, or where animal facilities are provided by third parties, researchers and the local ethics committee in the UK should satisfy themselves that welfare standards consistent with the principles of UK legislation (e.g. the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986), and set out in this guidance, are applied and maintained. Where there are significant deviations, prior approval from the funding body should be sought and agreed.”

Specific themes

The following are priorities for DFID funding. You could consider focusing on one or more themes:

  • integrating smallholders into global and local supply chains
  • meeting quality standards and improving productivity
  • increasing the value of production to smallholders
  • innovation that supports food systems to deliver nutritious, healthy and safe food
  • control of crop pests, weeds and diseases
  • reducing food losses ‘post-farm gate’ and through the value chain
  • addressing food safety issues through the value chain
  • addressing challenges in downstream food processing, distribution or storage and value addition
  • new food technologies and data-driven food systems, including for urban areas

Project types

This competition is looking to fund several categories of research: early stage feasibility studies, mid stage industrial research and late stage experimental development. Please see the general guidance to help you decide which category your project fits in.

Early stage feasibility studies

Your project will explore the commercial potential of an early-stage scientific idea through feasibility studies.

They must be industry focused with a clear case for business benefit and international development benefits.

The work included in these projects will be dependent on the technology application and the nature of the technological solution.

Mid stage industrial research

Your project will involve planned research or critical investigation to gain new knowledge or skills. This should be for the purpose of product development, processes or services that lead to an improvement in existing products, processes or services.

The work included in these projects will be dependent on the technology application and the nature of the technological solution.

Further examples of project work in this category can include but are not limited to:

  • development of work undertaken in early stage feasibility studies
  • all aspects of plant agronomy, and animal husbandry (including aquaculture)
  • food processing, value chain addition, food safety and related innovations
  • related engineering, IT, electronics and other non-biological solutions

Projects can develop relevant innovative solutions from across all areas of the agri-tech sector and/or other industrial sectors. This could include:

  • technology development
  • lab-based prototyping
  • product development planning
  • extending proof-of-concept using plot or field trials
  • exploration of production mechanisms
  • market testing

Late stage experimental development

Your project will test and validate innovative ideas in a commercial environment. This will demonstrate the ideas’ economic and technical feasibility before large-scale deployment, including field-based prototyping and experimental production and testing.

You can trial innovative ideas in a real-life environment prior to large-scale deployment through:

  • the visualisation, planning and documentation of new products, processes or services
  • producing drafts, drawings, plans and other documentation, provided that they are not intended for commercial use
  • the development of commercially-usable prototypes

We expect that all projects will be based on significant prior research where the feasibility has already been demonstrated.

Projects we will not fund

We will not fund projects that cover:

  • forestry or ornamentals
  • wild-capture fisheries
  • equine
  • crops for energy production

28 August 2018
Competition opens
10 September 2018
Recording of the briefing event
27 September 2018
London briefing event
5 October 2018
Edinburgh briefing event
21 November 2018 12:00pm
Registration closes
28 November 2018 12:00pm
Competition closes
1 March 2019
Applicants notified

Before you start

Please read the general guidance for applicants. It will help your chances of submitting a quality application.

To apply:

  • register online using the green button
  • read the guidance for applicants for this competition
  • consider attending one of the briefing events listed in ‘Dates’
  • complete and upload your online application to our secure server

We will not accept late submissions. Your application is confidential.

External, independent experts will assess the quality of your application. We will then select the projects to fund, building a portfolio of projects that:

  • are high quality
  • address the range of themes as described in the scope
  • represent the potential for return on investment for the company and the UK

Subject to meeting the quality threshold, we reserve the right to manage the portfolio to achieve the correct balance of projects and funding.

You must use Microsoft Word or your application will be ineligible.

Background and further information

International development impact of agriculture and food systems

Most of the poorest people in Africa (75%) live in rural areas. They rely on agriculture and livestock for their livelihoods. Several factors are placing increasing stress on the food system, especially in poor countries:

  • climate change and resource scarcity
  • demographic and dietary changes
  • transformations to the organisation and functioning of markets

These challenges are threatening the gains made in recent decades in addressing global hunger and poverty. The current pace of technological development and uptake is too slow to respond to these challenges. Agricultural and food systems innovation in developing countries, particularly Africa, is low. For example, the share of cultivatable land planted with modern crop varieties in Africa is only 28%. This compares with 65% globally.

Without immediate action, the situation is set to worsen dramatically over the next 20 years as powerful drivers of change such as population growth, climate change and urbanisation converge on our food systems. Emerging food systems, supplying urban areas in developing countries, need to deliver nutritious and safe food to support population health. Innovations in food systems must be sustainable in the context of environmental challenges (such as climate) and resource scarcity, while minimising negative externalities (such as pollution, food losses, waste) across all parts of the food system. Substantial further background on opportunities and challenges for food systems are provided by the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition.

In Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs), the intended users of new technology and innovation, whether producers or consumers, are often poor with limited purchasing power. This leaves firms with little incentive to develop relevant technologies for these end users. The poor are a user group firms are less familiar with, so it is difficult to assess the potential demand for new technologies, as there are uncertain or unknown demands and returns. This exacerbates the risk involved in developing new products for them.

DFID funding through the Agri-Tech Catalyst aims to encourage activity in the rapidly transforming field of agricultural systems and food value chains in developing countries. This will reduce risks, introduce new players and potentially lead to new enterprises.

There is scope for research to explore how urban and peri-urban areas (as well as rural ones) can harness existing and new technologies, with opportunities including processing, value addition, management and reduction of food loss and food waste, and food safety.

The catalyst mechanism provides an excellent opportunity to use UK agri-tech sector skills to support international development and identify new markets for UK technology and skills. It will also help the agri-tech sector in developing countries to source new technology and learn from the world-leading UK sector.

If you want help to find a project partner, contact the Knowledge Transfer Network.

If you need more information, contact the competition helpline on 0300 321 4357 or email us at

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