Demonstrating the power of big data analytics through inspiring and innovative projects

What is the Inspire Challenge?

Global agriculture is increasingly driven by data. Advances in computing power, data storage, and data communications over the last 30 years have given rise to powerful tools for helping make farming and food systems more precise, profitable, and adaptive. Newer digital innovations — including machine learning, the expansion of connected sensor technologies, and robotics — promise more dramatic changes in the farming landscape in the near future.

The Inspire Challenge is CGIAR’s signature digital innovation process. It leverages the global footprint and deep food security subject matter expertise of CGIAR with expert industry partners to link digital technologies to impact in developing economies.

The Challenge:

  • Bridges the deep subject matter expertise of CGIAR researchers with the capabilities of external partners
  • Challenges research organizations to partner with industry in order to leverage public good data
  • Robust, established application and review process evaluated on the following:

More info:

How to apply

Challenge 2020

Challenge 2019

Challenge 2018

Challenge 2017








Digital Innovation and COVID-19

The current crisis provides 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, codesigned 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 targeting specific response, recovery, and resilience metrics added to the judging rubric in all challenge categories.

The two other Inspire Challenge categories also hold great potential for targeting digital innovation towards response, recovery, and resilience related to the food security challenges unfolding from the COVID-19 crisis:

  • Sensing and Renewing Ecosystems links ecosystem services to long-term resilience of food systems (which could include, for example, managing future risk of zoonotic disease).
  • Revealing Food Systems sources and implements novel, high-frequency methods for tracing and understanding food flows (an important capability for monitoring and predicting emergent food security shocks before they become acute).

As a result, the 2020 Inspire Challenge startup grant evaluation will include specific COVID-19 response, recovery, and resilience metrics added to the judging rubric.

Challenge categories

Applications must fall under one of the following Challenge categories:

Revealing Food Systems

Measuring & Building Resilience

Sustaining Farm Income

Sensing & Renewing Ecosystems

Grants that make a difference

The Inspire Challenge has so far awarded 28 grants to 21 projects, a combined total of USD3.225 million.

In 2017 and 2018, five projects received an initial grant of USD100,000 each, and in 2019 the Platform awarded the same amount to an additional four projects.

Demonstrating CGIAR’s continued commitment to scale and sustainability of projects, additional scale up funds were awarded to three of the five 2017 winners in 2018, and in 2019, four winners from both 2017 and 2018 were also awarded. The total amount of scale-up funds granted to date is USD1.125 million.

In 2020, seven projects received an initial grant of USD100,000 each. 




See all the winners

Since its first round of awards in 2017 the Platform´s portfolio of 21 projects has already begun showing impressive early results on the life of smallholder farmers in the developing world:

2019 scale up winner

PlantVillage Nuru

A phone App for cassava pest and disease monitoring using AI. Now expanding diagnostics to other crop diseases.

Early results: The free phone application works offline and has proved twice as accurate as extension workers. The app has been downloaded by users on all continents. The project is now expanding from cassava diagnostics to additional crop diseases. An accurate model for potato diseases is expected to reach 200,000 farmers in India during 2020.

2019 scale up runner

Revealing informal food flows through free WiFi

Free WiFi helps characterize informal food flows in traditional markets in Hanoi

Early results: In 2019, the team collected data from over five million smartphones to analyze for improving market policies and food safety. The data has revealed 56% of users are women. The project has been adopted by the General Statistics Office of Vietnam for assessing and predicting unfolding food security shocks from the CoVid-19 crisis at a national level.

2019 scale up runner

Integrated data pipeline for small-scale fisheries

Near real-time data highlights temporal and spatial changes in fish production

Early results: The project has put near real-time data in the hands of fisheries officers, researchers, and local stakeholders by creating an automated data pipeline. In 2019, 300 tracking units were deployed on fishing boats around Timor-Leste, and 11 new local data collectors were trained. The project is currently expanding to Egypt, Nigeria, and Zambia, with plans to scale up in Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Malawi, as well. 

2018 scale up winner


Picture-based advisory services make crop insurance work for smallholder farmers in India

Early results: Pictured-based advisories have improved the correlation between insurance payouts and the damage that farmers experience. Farmers are therefore willing to pay more for a combined advisory-insurance package. If insurers can promote the adoption of risk-preventive measures by farmers, they could potentially reduce insurance premiums.

2018 scale up runner


A Facebook group and Messenger chatbot to connect and inform livestock farmers in Kenya

Early results: The project has built a Facebook community called Africa Farmers Club and mobile chatbot service. A survey of chatbot users revealed that 92% of the 2,473 respondents that were farming at the time of the survey said the Africa Farmers Club had influenced the way they farmed.

2018 scale up runner


Mobile and real-time diagnostics for devastating wheat rust in Ethiopia

Early results: The project has developed an affordable, mobile in-field pathogenomics platform called MARPLE (Mobile And Real-time PLant disEase), which provides extremely rapid diagnostics ( < 48H). The data generated by the pilot has been incorporated into national early wheat rust warning systems in Ethiopia, enabling more effective control of disease outbreaks in farmers’ fields.

Join the Challenge

The Inspire Challenge team seeks co-investors and thought partners to strengthen the incubation to acceleration pipeline for digital agriculture:


In the 2020 Inspire Challenge through a partial or full award sponsorship


A 2020 Inspire Challenge category


In the development of the next generation of innovative solutions in agriculture


The Inspire Challenge is made possible with contributions from: