Guest Column | July 7, 2016

26 Things I Learned At The Ag Innovation Investment Summit

Donna Vincent Roa

By Donna Vincent Roa

In early June, USAID and its partners hosted the first Ag Innovation Investment Summit to connect investors with innovators at the food-water-energy nexus and to accelerate game-changing technologies that can help smallholder farmers improve their productivity and competitiveness.

Sixty innovators from Securing Water for Food: A Grand Challenge for DevelopmentPowering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development; and Feed the Future’s Partnering for Innovation Program showcased their innovations in: 1) The open marketplace, 2) TED talk-style presentations, 3) A pitch competition, and 4) “Match-making” sessions with potential funders.

Here are 26 things I learned at the event that are worth sharing:

  1. Private investment is crucial to fulfilling sustainable development goals.
  2. Partners across the ag sector can help to catalyze innovation and help transform ag.
  3. In agriculture, there’s needs to be disruption along the whole value chain.
  4. Women make up 43 percent of the agricultural labor force across developing countries.
  5. Government needs to encourage innovation internally and externally.
  6. If we want to change the world, we have to have institutional innovation.
  7. Social impact and development should be in every corporation’s sustainability portfolios.
  8. Feeding the future requires partnerships, hard evidence and an ardent focus on results.
  9. Solving hard problems is intrinsically rewarding.
  10. We need to use evidence where it exists and build it where it doesn't.
  11. We need to embed M&E DNA across all innovators.
  12. We need to have more segmentation in social impact investing.
  13. We need a diversity of ideas, solutions and perspectives to achieve food security.
  14. We can't forget the need to get a financial return in investment.
  15. Ideas are nothing without execution.
  16. The management team embodies the greatest risk for investors.
  17. Spurring a social movement of ag will reap great returns.
  18. You can reach a million farmers with ICT for Ag.
  19. Weather can be predicted with 84 percent accuracy.
  20. Governments needs to reach beyond the usual suspects for innovation.
  21. You can grow pumpkins (“magic golden balls”) on sand.
  22. Ag tech can reduce poverty and empower women.
  23. Ag tech can help to mitigate climate change.
  24. Food and water scarcity affects all of us.
  25. Innovation can have multiple owners.
  26. Technology can change lives.

View the Ag Innovation Investment Summit summary video below:


Donna is Chief of Party for the Securing Water for Food Technical Assistance Facility, the world's only multilateral, government-funded incubator-accelerator that helps innovators improve market-driven business development, commercial growth and scaling. The SWFF TA Facility works with partners along the food value chain to provide acceleration services that help address one of the world's most pressing development challenges.

SWFF is preparing for a Round 4 Call for Innovations in early August and is looking for influencers, partners, and media to help us get the word out. Contact for more information.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of and should not be attributed to USAID or the USG.