CGIAR awarding 100K in Rapid Response Grants to digital innovations tackling COVID-19 impacts

Additional funding will help catalyze the BIG DATA Platform’s portfolio of innovative, big data projects’ responses to food security challenges presented by the COVID-19 crisis.

In response to the unfolding food security issues brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, CGIAR’s Platform for Big Data in Agriculture has made funding available for agile, big-data enabled projects working to tackle food system challenges.

The Inspire Challenge Rapid Response Grants, totaling up to 100,000 USD, are available to current or previous Inspire Challenge winners—groundbreaking innovations that use big data approaches to solve agricultural development challenges across the globe.

The Rapid Response funds will be awarded on a rolling basis to Inspire projects that bring forth a new or adapted approach to solving food security issues related to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Individual awards can be for any amount between 10,000 and 50,000 USD.

“From very early on in the crisis, our researchers and network of partners have been working to sense and respond to the food security issues related to the coronavirus crisis,” said Coordinator of the BIG DATA Platform Brian King. 


“Through the grants, we want to mobilize our on-the-ground, active, digital projects to diagnose, predict, and respond to the food security challenges that are unfolding,” King added. “We believe these teams’ demonstrated innovation and on-the-ground projects are the place to turn for quick responses to COVID-19 and the challenges it brings.”

Since the first annual Inspire Challenge in 2017, three cohorts of winners have been selected. Its growing portfolio, totaling 14 projects in 2019, demonstrates impressive early-stage results. For example, an advisory service that uses crowd-sourced smartphone images reached more than 33,000 Indian wheat farmers, increasing crop insurance efficacy and agricultural practices knowledge by 78%. A project tracing informal food flows by leveraging free WiFi has collected data from over four million smartphones and has been adopted on a national scale in Vietnam as a tool to assess and predict COVID-19-related food security shocks. A near real-time small-scale fisheries monitoring system is being scaled to seven countries in Africa and Asia.

The BIG DATA Platform expects that the Rapid Response Grant winners will build on their learnings as pilot or scale-up projects and leverage their innovative, data-driven designs to respond to the situation with agility.  The Inspire Challenge teams up food security researchers with external partners of any type—governments, small startups, other research organizations, and more—to target digital innovation and apply it towards complex food system challenges.

2020 Inspire Challenge updates

The 2020 Inspire Challenge will incorporate new adaptations in response to the crisis that provide an opportunity to test a key part of our theory of change: that data and digital tools bring critical capabilities for agile adaptation in food systems.

Two new categories, co-designed with funders, for 2020 are directly relevant to the current crisis:

  • Sustaining Farm Income will link sustainable practices in food systems directly back to farm income. It provides a mechanism for digital innovations for (re)building resilient, inclusive agricultural value chains at a time that will be important for COVID-19 recovery.
  • Measuring and Building Resilience will leverage the vast amount of data and applied research methods to understand and operationalize resilience in target food systems.

The Inspire Challenge first-stage grants process will run mostly as planned but target specific response, recovery, and resilience metrics added to the judging rubric in all challenge categories. 

The BIG DATA Platform will award the Rapid Response grants in June 2020.

Visit the Inspire Challenge page for more information and updates.

Feature photo: C. De Bode / CGIAR. Sita Kumari (right), farmer, uses mobile phone apps to enhance her yields and get access to market and labor.


The CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture embraces the power of big data analytics, supporting CGIAR as it becomes a leader in generating actionable data-driven insights. It builds capacity throughout CGIAR to generate and manage big data, assisting CGIAR and its partners’ efforts to comply with open access/open data principles to unlock important research and datasets. It also empowers researchers to strengthen data analytical capacity, developing practical big data tools and services in a coordinated way, and it addresses critical gaps, both organizational and technical, expanding the horizon of CGIAR research. The Platform is co-led by the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

CGIAR is a global research partnership for a food-secure future dedicated to reducing poverty, enhancing food and nutrition security and improving natural resources. The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT and IFPRI are members of the CGIAR Consortium.

May 26, 2020

Hannah Craig

Communications Deputy
CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture


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