Funding competition Agri-tech catalyst round 9: agriculture and food systems innovation, mid stage

UK organisations can apply for a share of up to £5 million to work on agri-tech and food chain innovations in Africa.

This competition is now closed.

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Competition sections


Up to £5 million of funding is available from the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF). This is for projects working on agri-tech and food chain innovations with partners in eligible African countries.

We are running 3 strands to this competition at the same time:

  1. Early stage feasibility studies
  2. Mid stage industrial research (this competition)
  3. Late stage experimental development

It is your responsibility to make sure you are applying for the correct strand.

The aim of this competition is to increase the pace of innovation in the development of agricultural and food systems in Africa. Your project must result in more use of innovations by farmers and food systems organisations such as manufacturers, processors, retailers, distributors and wholesalers.

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

Funding type


Project size

For mid stage industrial research, your total eligible project costs must be between £250,000 and £1 million.

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 £250,000 and £1 million for mid stage industrial research. Projects must start by 1 July 2020 and last up to 3 years.

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 or not.

All projects must:

  • include a UK registered administrative lead
  • include a technical lead from any country
  • include at least one business (UK or African)
  • be collaborative
  • include an organisation from an eligible African country from the list below
  • implement significant activity in the eligible African country

Lead organisation

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 a UK registered business of any size, academic institution, charity, public sector organisation or research organisation
  • must claim funding through this competition
  • can partner in up to 2 other applications where they are neither the administrative lead nor the technical lead

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
  • must be a business (of any size)
  • must claim funding through this competition
  • can also be the administrative lead if a UK organisation

UK organisations can be both the administrative and technical lead.

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

Find out which definition your organisation falls into. 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. We will decide whether to approve your request or not.

Additional assurances

Funding for this competition comes from the Department of International Development (DFID) and the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

In view of the overseas nature of this funding, we are imposing some additional assurance requirements:

  • successful UK applicants must demonstrate they have proper and transparent arrangements for passing grant monies to African partners applying for funding, or grant funding will be withdrawn
  • Innovate UK will carry out initial due diligence and final audit checks on all non-UK partners
  • 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.

Multiple applications

Any one UK organisation can be the administrative or technical lead on one application and collaborate in a further 2 applications.

If a UK registered business is not leading an application, it can collaborate in up to 3 applications.

If an academic institution or research and technology organisation (RTO) is not leading on any applications they can collaborate on any number of applications. (Please note change made on 24 October 2019. Research organisations, if not leading can collaborate on any number of applications.)

Eligible African 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 organisations, email

Previous applications


You can use a resubmission to apply for this competition. A resubmission is a proposal Innovate UK judges as not materially different from one you've submitted before. It can be updated based on the assessors' feedback.

If you submit a new proposal this time you will be able to use it in no more than one future competition that allows resubmissions.

Failure to exploit (UK applicants)

If you applied to a previous competition as the lead or sole organisation 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 (UK applicants)

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.


The Department for International Development (DFID) and the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) have allocated up to £5 million to fund innovation projects in the 3 strands of this competition.

For 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

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

The research organisations in your consortium can share up to 50% of the total eligible project costs. If your consortium contains more than one research organisation, this maximum is 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

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

We are looking to fund a portfolio of projects, across a variety of technologies, markets, technological maturities, research categories and different strands of the competition.

Your proposal must show the potential to have a positive impact on poverty through the uptake of agricultural and food systems technology and innovation.

You can choose from one or more of the following areas:

  • 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’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

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 clearly deliver impact in an eligible African 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 have an impact in the country.

If your project will support crop breeding it must have clear potential for impact at scale, in more than one eligible African country.

Gender analysis and data disaggregation

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

If your project is not sensitive to how this affects agricultural productivity, marketing and processing, the impact will be limited and potentially exacerbate gender inequalities. You should not assume that the household is a unit in which everything is pooled and shared and in which one person 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 affecting 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. There is more guidance in question 5.

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.

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

UK institutions should be aware of this 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

Your project can focus on one or more of the following:

  • 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

We will fund mid stage industrial research projects as defined in the general guidance.

Projects we will not fund

We are not funding:

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

14 October 2019
Competition opens
24 October 2019
Birmingham briefing and consortium building event
30 October 2019
Online briefing event
6 November 2019
Online briefing event: crops
6 November 2019

Online briefing event: livestock and aquaculture

6 November 2019
Online briefing event: food systems and nutrition
8 January 2020 12:00pm
Competition closes
3 April 2020 2:40pm
Applicants notified

Before you start

You must read the general guidance for applicants before you start.

International applicants

If your organisation is not registered in the UK and is:

  • a business, you must apply as a business
  • an academic institution, you must apply as a ‘non-Je-S registered organisation’
  • an RTO, you must apply as an RTO
If you need more information on this process, email us at or call the competition helpline on 0300 321 4357 between 9am and 5:30pm, Monday to Friday.

What we will ask you

The application is split into 3 sections:

  1. Project details.
  2. Application questions.
  3. Finances.

1. Project details

This section sets the scene for the assessors and is not scored.

Application team

Decide which organisations will work with you on the project. Invite people from those organisations to help complete the application.

Application details

The lead applicant must complete this section. Give your project’s title, start date and duration. Is the application a resubmission?

Project summary

Describe your project briefly and be clear about what makes it innovative. We use this section to assign experts to assess your application.

Your answer can be up to 400 words long.

Public description

Describe your project in detail, and in a way that you are happy to see published. Do not include any commercially sensitive information. If we award your project funding, we will publish this description. This could happen before you start your project.

Your answer can be up to 400 words long.


Describe how your project fits the scope of the competition. If your project is not in scope it will not be eligible for funding.

Your answer can be up to 400 words long.

2. Application questions

The assessors will score your answers. You will receive feedback from them for each one.

Your answer to each question can be up to 400 words long.

Question 1: What is the business opportunity that this project addresses?

Outline the business opportunity and what the project team needs to do to successfully address it within the preferred timeframe and cost.

Describe the nature of the international development challenge or issues facing you and/or your potential customers. How will the intended outputs of the project respond to these challenges and issues?

Question 2: What is the size of the market opportunity that this project might open up?

Describe the size of the market opportunities that this project might open up, including details of:

  • the current nature of the specific market or markets the project is targeting, including whether it is characterised by price competition among commoditised suppliers or dominated by a single leading firm
  • the dynamics of the market, including measuring its current size, and actual and predicted growth rates
  • the projected market share for the project outcome, with justification in the light of any potential competitors
  • the potential to add value to the economy of the developing country organisation and any secondary benefits to the UK or European Economic Area (EEA)

Describe and clearly quantify the return on investment that the project could achieve. Provide relevant source data references.

Where possible provide evidence for your statements about the target market for project outcomes. Outline your strategy for developing market share.

For highly innovative projects (see question 7) where the market may be unexplored, explain:

  • what the route to market could or might be
  • what its size might be
  • how the project will explore the market potential

Question 3: How will the results of the project be exploited and disseminated?

List or describe the potential exploitable outputs of the project such as:

  • products or services
  • processes
  • applications

Then describe how these outputs will be exploited including, where applicable:

  • the route to market
  • protection of intellectual property rights
  • reconfiguration of the value system
  • changes to business models and business processes
  • other methods of exploitation and protection
  • how they will deliver international development impact

Where it is helpful to the exchange of best practice, and is not damaging to commercial interests, we expect you to make public the results from this work. You must include a plan for the distribution of generic outputs from the funded project.

If you are a research organisation involved in a project and funded for undertaking non-economic activity provide evidence of your plans to distribute your project outputs over a reasonable timescale. The reason we require dissemination of research results is to secure wider benefit from the higher level of public support given to research organisations. For further information, please see the Innovate UK funding rules.

Question 4: Why is the project eligible for Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding?

To be eligible for DFID and GCRF funding, you must clearly explain and give evidence for why and how your project fits within scope for Official Development Assistance (ODA).

Official Development Assistance (ODA) compliance

You must explain how your project’s main objective will be to promote the economic development and welfare of people in developing countries. Benefits to the UK and UK partners must be secondary.

Describe the benefits to project partners and to those people outside the consortium (in the developing country, particularly people in poverty and underserved groups). Make a clear distinction between the two. Be clear about what stakeholder groups in the developing country you expect to benefit from this project. Avoid making generic statements.

Describe any expected socio-economic impacts, either positive or negative on, for example:

  • quality of life
  • social inclusion or exclusion
  • jobs, such as safeguarding, creating, changing or displacing them
  • education
  • public empowerment
  • health and safety
  • regulations
  • diversity

You must explain how the project will, or has the potential to, deliver outcomes and impact in agriculture and food systems in Africa. Particularly, how will it help the poorest members of society, including women, girls and other disadvantaged groups? Explain what those benefits are and who will benefit. Be clear about how you will make sure there is a clear route to impact after the project has ended.

You must show you are eligible for ODA by providing further information in the appendix, including a basic logic model. The appendix must be a PDF and can be up to 2 pages long and no larger than 10MB. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Only applications that meet the eligibility, scope and ODA requirements of the competition will be sent for assessment. You will be notified if your application is not sent for assessment with an explanation as to why.

Question 5. How is your project compliant with the International Development (Gender Equality) Act 2014?

How is your project helping to promote gender equality and social inclusion?

Your answer is a mandatory requirement for all GCRF programmes under the International Development (Gender Equality) Act, 2014.

Successful applicants will be expected to attend a workshop on gender equality and social inclusion to discuss good practice and share experiences. Innovate UK will separately reimburse expenses for attending this workshop. We expect one person per project team to attend.

Who is involved?

To make sure that your innovation has the highest chance of being successfully adopted, you will need to understand the cultures, attitudes and other context specific factors in the African country you are focusing on.

In order to deliver the desired economic and societal impacts, you will need to take into account gender equality and social inclusion issues by:

  • highlighting any relevant diversity and social inclusion experience or expertise within the core project team and their businesses
  • providing information on any partner organisations you are already working with and their role and expertise related to gender equality and social inclusion, such as community groups, NGOs or government stakeholders
  • identifying where you see the need to build new links with partner organisations and why

How will you factor this into your project plan?


  • how your project will address gender equality and social inclusion issues, including for poorer consumers, disabled people and older people
  • how you will measure this
  • how this will feed into the overall project plan in question 6

What is the potential?

Describe your current understanding of:

  • the expected outcomes of your project and benefits of your innovation on gender equality and social inclusion
  • the potential negative effects of your project and innovation, and how you plan to mitigate against these

Describe any gaps in your current understanding and how you intend to address these.

Question 6: What technical approach will be adopted and how will the project be managed?

Provide an overview of the technical approach, including the main objectives of the work. Describe the main areas of work together with their resource and management requirements. State who will be the technical lead and why they are suitable.

In evaluating this the assessors will consider whether:

  • the technical approach and methodology are appropriate to the needs of the project
  • the innovative steps are achievable through the proposed approach
  • the project plan matches the complexity of the project, including whether there is detail to understand the tasks involved and the resources required
  • the main milestones are realistic
  • it demonstrates enough resource commitment and capability to undertake the project
  • you have identified clear management reporting lines

Describe rival technologies and alternative research and development (R&D) strategies and describe why your proposed approach will offer a better outcome.

You must submit a project plan as an appendix. It must include a chronological schedule of project activities presented in graphical form (such as a Gantt chart). It must be a PDF and can be up to 2 pages long. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

In your project plan:

  • clearly indicate the estimated time required for the completion of each main task in addition to milestones
  • identify specific participant assignments for each task in the project plan, even if this information was provided elsewhere
  • separately identify and describe all task assignments for subcontractors and consultants, along with the location of all work include a work breakdown structure (WBS) detailing the start and end dates and planned time commitment for each task

If you are successful and offered funding, you will be required to submit a more detailed project plan that will be used to monitor project progress.

Question 7: What is innovative about this project?

Identify the extent to which the project is innovative, both commercially and technically.

In evaluating this section, assessors will consider whether your project:

  • pushes boundaries over and beyond current leading-edge world science and technology
  • is looking to apply existing technologies in new areas

Highlight and explain the timeliness and novelty of the research aspects of the project in an industrial and/or academic context.

Your project will not be eligible if it is primarily designed to support a commercial investment.

Describe any evidence you have to support your belief that your intended work is innovative. This could include the results of patent searches, competitor analyses, literature surveys and so on. If applicable, outline your own background intellectual property rights related to the project.

Question 8: What are the risks (technical, commercial and environmental) to project success? What is the project’s risk management strategy?

Innovate UK recognises that projects of this type are inherently risky, but we look for assurance that the projects we fund have adequate arrangements for managing this risk. In your answer, focus on the arrangements for managing and mitigating risk by:

  1. Identifying the main risks and uncertainties of the project and providing a detailed risk analysis for the project content and approach. Include the technical, commercial, managerial and environmental risks as well as other uncertainties (for example ethical issues) associated with the project. The main risks should then be rated as high, medium or low (H/M/L).
  2. Stating how the project would avoid these main risks. You should tackle all significant and relevant risks and their mitigation.
  3. Identifying vital project management tools and mechanisms that will be used to help minimise operational risk and promote a successful project outcome. This should include arrangements for managing the project team and its partners.

You can submit a risk register as an appendix. It must be a PDF and can be up to 2 A4 pages long. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 9: Do the project team have the right skills, experience and access to facilities to deliver the identified benefits?

Describe the track record of the project team members in undertaking and exploiting the results of R&D projects. Highlight your capability to develop and exploit the technology.

Describe or explain:

  • the track record of the project team members in undertaking and exploiting the results of R&D projects
  • the roles, skills and experience of all members of the project that will enable you to deliver the project successfully
  • your formation objectives
  • whether the team would have been formed without investment from this competition
  • the additional benefits that will come from the collaboration, such as increased knowledge transfer
  • the details of any vital external parties, including subcontractors, who you will need to work with to successfully carry out the project

You must submit an up-to-date working draft of your collaboration agreement (CA) as an appendix. It must be in PDF format and up to 2 A4 pages long. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

If your application is successful, the final CA must be signed by all consortium members in the developing country and the UK before the grant is confirmed. Please see the Lambert Toolkit for example formats.

UK and developing country organisations are free to develop alternative formats for their CA, but they must include clauses on IP management, dispute resolution and governing law.

Question 10: What is the financial commitment required for the project?

Detail the estimated project cost, making clear the level of contribution from each partner and the total level of funding you require. Provide this information in the financial summary table in the application form.

Explain your project costs. These must be consistent with the category of R&D being undertaken within each work package. Please see our general guidance for further details on our categories of research and development.

If the project spans more than one type of funding (for example because significant work packages are in both early stage feasibility studies and mid stage industrial research), you must describe and justify the breakdown of costs between them in your answer.

In evaluating your answer the assessors will consider whether:

  • the budget is realistic for the scale and complexity of the project
  • the financial support required from this competition fits within the limits set by the specific competition
  • a financial commitment from other sources is demonstrated for the balance of the project costs
  • a realistic budget breakdown has been provided
  • any work package breakdowns have been described and justified adequately

Find out more about eligible and ineligible project costs.

Make sure that all vital finance information you wish the assessors to consider are included in the main body of your application form, as the assessors will only see a high level view of your finance form.

Question 11: How does financial support from Innovate UK and its funding collaborators add value?

What impact would an injection of public funding have on the partners involved?

Describe or explain:

  • if this project could go ahead in any form without public funding and if so, the difference the public funding would make, such as a faster route to market, more partners or reduced risk
  • the likely impact of the project on the businesses of the partners involved
  • why you are not able to wholly fund the project from your own resources or other forms of private-sector funding, and what would happen if the application is unsuccessful
  • how this project would change the nature of R&D activity the partners would undertake, and the related spend

3. Finances

Each organisation in your project must complete their own project costs, organisational details and funding details. UK academic institutions will need to complete and upload a Je-S form. For full details on what costs you can claim please see our project costs guidance.

Finances must be in £GBP for all organisations, including overseas partners.

Background and further information

International development impact of agriculture and food systems

75% of the poorest people in Africa live in rural areas. They rely on agriculture and livestock for their livelihoods. Several factors place 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 threaten the gains made in addressing global hunger and poverty over recent decades. The current pace of technological development and uptake is too slow to respond to these challenges. Agricultural and food systems innovation is low in developing countries, particularly Africa. 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 that supply 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. At the same time they must minimise the negative effect of external influences such as pollution, food losses and waste across all parts of the food system. The Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition provides more information on opportunities and challenges for food systems.

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 businesses with little incentive to develop relevant technologies for the end user. The poor are a user group businesses are less familiar with, so is difficult for them to assess the potential demand for new technologies, because of uncertain or unknown demands and returns. This increases the risk involved in developing new products for this demographic.

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, peri-urban and rural areas can harness existing and new technologies. Opportunities include 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.

Extra help

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 between 9am and 5:30pm, Monday to Friday.

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