Funding competition Agri-tech Catalyst round 8: agriculture and food systems innovation

UK businesses and research organisations can apply for a share of up to £3 million from DFID and Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) 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) and Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) (Text update 10 April 2019: added additional funder GCRF) 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.

Read the definitions of research categories in the general guidance for applicants.

The aim of this competition is to increase the pace of development of agricultural and food systems innovation and its uptake by farmers and food systems actors in Africa. Actors can include manufacturers, processors, retailers, distributors and wholesalers.

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.

This competition closes at midday 12pm UK time on the deadline stated.

Funding type


Project size

Early stage feasibility studies: £100,000 to £500,000. Mid stage industrial research: £250,000 to £1 million. Late stage experimental development: £150,000 to £800,000.

Who can apply

State aid

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

Your project

Your project’s total eligible costs must be between:

  • £100,000 and £500,000 for early stage feasibility studies
  • £250,000 and £1 million for mid stage industrial research
  • £150,000 and £800,000 for late stage experimental development

Projects must start by 1 November 2019.

Early stage feasibility studies must last between 12 and 18 months. Mid stage industrial research can last up to 3 years. Late stage experimental development can last up to 18 months.

If your project’s total eligible costs or duration fall outside of our eligibility criteria, you must provide justification by email to at least 10 days before the competition closes. We will decide whether to approve your request.

All projects must:

  • be collaborative
  • include a partner from an eligible African country from the list below
  • include a technical lead from any country
  • include a UK-based administrative lead
  • implement significant activity in the eligible African country
  • include at least one business

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

Lead applicants

The administrative lead:

  • will be the recipient of the award
  • will manage and be accountable for the project’s finances 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
  • can be a partner organisation from any country
  • 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 if a UK organisation

For late stage projects, research organisations cannot claim funding but can participate as subcontractors.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs), civil society organisations (CSOs) and other organisations can:

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

Innovate UK acknowledges that the legal categories for institutions differ in other countries. If you wish to partner with an organisation that does not fit into the categories listed above, email at least 10 days before the competition registration deadline.

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 or we will withdraw grant funding
  • Innovate UK will carry out initial due diligence and final audit checks on African participants

Innovate UK and DFID have the right to refuse funding to projects where the cost of due diligence and monitoring requirements outweigh the potential benefits of funding. This decision will be made as part of our risk-based considerations.

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 any questions concerning the eligibility or grant rate of African country partners, email

Previous applications


If Innovate UK judges that your proposal is not materially different from your previous proposal, it will be classed as a resubmission. We will accept resubmissions in this competition.

If we decide not to fund your proposal, you will be able to use it to apply once more. Your resubmission can:

  • take into account the feedback received from the assessors
  • be for a later round of this competition or for another competition

Failure to exploit

If you applied to a previous competition as the lead or sole company and were awarded funding by Innovate UK or UK Research and Innovation, but did not make a substantial effort to exploit that award, we will award no more funding to you, in this or any other competition. You will not be able to contest our decision. We will:

  • assess your efforts in the previous competition against your exploitation plan for that project
  • review the monitoring officers’ reports and any other relevant sources for evidence
  • document our decision, which will be made by 3 team members, and communicate it to you in writing

Previous projects

Under the terms of Innovate UK funding, you are required to submit an independent accountant’s report (IAR) with your final claim. If you or any organisation in your consortium failed to submit an IAR on a previous project, we will not award funding to you in this or any other competition until we have received the documents.


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.

This competition provides state aid funding under article 25, ‘Collaborative R&D, Industrial Research’, of the General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER). It is your responsibility to make sure that your organisation is eligible to receive state aid.

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 such as manufacturers, processors, retailers, distributors and wholesalers

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 show benefits to African country agriculture and food systems in order to contribute to healthy, safe and nutritious diets. It must clearly demonstrate a research or innovation component.

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 loss and waste
  • promote safe, healthy and 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 have a positive impact on poverty 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 project and its outcomes must fit within the Official Development Assistance (ODA) criteria.

Your application must demonstrate how the primary benefit from your project will be a contribution to international development outcomes, specifically:

  • enhanced food and nutrition security and
  • welfare of the poor in urban and rural areas in developing countries

Activities carried out in the UK must be clearly relevant to delivering impact in a developing country. Any benefits to the UK must be secondary in nature and result from delivering the primary benefit. Your proposal must clearly demonstrate the ways it will impact in developing countries.

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.

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 extract from the guidance:

“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 of these themes:

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

Research categories

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.

Projects we will not fund

We will not fund projects that cover:

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

22 March 2019
Birmingham briefing event
1 April 2019
Competition opens
5 April 2019
Online brokerage event: crop
5 April 2019
Online brokerage event: livestock and aquaculture
5 April 2019
Online brokerage event: food systems and nutrition
9 April 2019
Online briefing event recording
29 May 2019 12:00pm
Registration closes
5 June 2019 12:00pm
Competition closes
2 August 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:

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 (75%) of the poorest people in Africa 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 cultivable 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, email us at or call the competition helpline on 0300 321 4357.

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