KENYA – Kenya is among the 12 countries set to benefit from a project launch meant to enhance smallholder productivity, diversification, and risk mitigation in maize farming in East and Southern Africa.

Dubbed the “Ukama Ustawi Scaling Fund’ and coordinated by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the project was launched on October 25 at the ILRI Campus in Nairobi, Kenya.

The Scaling Fund is envisioned to support innovative scaling to transform agrifood systems in East and Southern Africa (ESA).

According to the officials, Ukama Ustawi aligns with the CGIAR 2030 Research and Innovation Strategy with a focus on maize-based farming across Eswatini, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar, Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

The initiative also places special emphasis on gender and social inclusion, along with advanced extension services, SME development, effective governance structures, and increased investments.

Speaking during the launch, Dr. Inga Jacobs-Mata, Initiative Lead for Ukama Ustawi and IWMI’s Director of Water, Growth, and Inclusion said that the scaling fund is a tangible mechanism to foster this coordination across many centers and countries.

She however expressed concern on how to make this happen and to support coordination with so many other initiatives across the region.

“We not only support the diversification of maize space systems but also the sustainable intensification of those systems through different practices like conservation agriculture practices, small scale irrigation, small scale mechanization and digital agriculture like the development of digital agri advisories,” opines Dr Inga Jacobs-Mata.

The Scaling Fund also serves as a catalyst for high-impact innovations.  According to CGIAR, forty percent (40%) of its innovations were developed in East and Southern Africa, making this region a hotspot for innovation development.

Dr Iddo Dror, the International Livestock Research Institute Program Leader, Impact at Scale asserted that the Ukama Ustawi Scaling Fund transcends being an investment to serve as a catalyst for innovation in East and Southern Africa.

“Scaling funds provide the essential financial support needed to take promising innovations to the next level. They bridge the gap between initial funding and the critical expansion phase, facilitating growth, market penetration, and sustainability,” says Dr Iddo Dror

He adds that these funds not only empower entrepreneurs and innovators to realize their visions but also contribute to economic development by creating jobs, stimulating innovation, and fostering competitiveness.

As such, the Ukama Ustawi Scaling Fund will play a pivotal role in driving innovation, creating opportunities, and bolstering economic development in today’s dynamic and ever-evolving agri-food landscape.