Saudi Arabia, a leading advocate of sustainability, has taken a significant step towards optimizing global crop yield and promoting climate-smart agriculture. The Kingdom has initiated the Smarter Climate Farmers Challenge in collaboration with Uplink, the open innovation platform of the World Economic Forum. This challenge aims to identify and support innovators in the field of sustainable agricultural solutions. During the 14th annual meeting of the New Champions organized by the World Economic Forum in Tianjin, China, the Saudi Minister of Economy and Planning, Faisal Al-Ibrahim, announced the launch of this initiative.
Al-Ibrahim highlighted the need for immediate action to address food security challenges, particularly in the dry desert environment of Saudi Arabia. The Smarter Climate Farmers Challenge seeks to enhance food production, improve farmers’ resilience, and promote zero-emission practices through innovative agricultural solutions. The challenge envisions a comprehensive approach that covers the entire supply chain, emphasizing healthy consumption and reducing food loss.
Communities and farmers are at the forefront of the severe effects of climate change, which is increasingly impacting food production and consumption. Drought, extended desertification, land degradation, unreliable rainfall, heavy flooding, stronger storms, and extreme temperatures are all increasing in frequency.
To address these challenges, the Smarter Climate Farmers Challenge is calling for innovations that champion the ability of farmers and people working within land and food systems to use climate-smart agriculture approaches. These solutions will provide a more secure and sustainable food present and future while helping people adapt to the effects of climate change and incentivizing resilient solutions.
Agriculture also requires large amounts of land, water, energy, and often, chemicals. Therefore, the challenge focuses on innovations from the agricultural sector that produce food while protecting and replenishing the planet and helping to capture carbon or keep it in the ground. It welcomes both low and high-tech innovations that engage local communities and use Indigenous or ancestral approaches.
The Smarter Climate Farmers Challenge encompasses several key focus areas. The first is knowledge, skills, and education, which aims to promote agricultural knowledge, empower farmers with new skills, and enhance educational opportunities in sustainable farming practices. The second focus area is resource efficiency and sustainability, which seeks to improve the efficient use of resources such as land, water, and energy in agriculture while minimizing waste and environmental impact.
Inclusive technology is another important focus area of the challenge. It leverages technology to make agricultural practices more inclusive, accessible, and efficient, particularly for marginalized communities and smallholder farmers. The fourth focus area is innovative financing, exploring new models and mechanisms to support sustainable agriculture, including innovative approaches to funding, investment, and partnerships.
To ensure the selection of impactful and scalable solutions, the challenge follows specific selection criteria. It considers the business model of the solutions, including for-profit start-ups, social enterprises, and small and mid-sized enterprises that have already received capital/funding and are generating revenue with a sustainable funding model. Not-for-profit organizations with a clearly defined, income-generating project may also be considered.
The stage of development of the solution is another criterion, with preference given to solutions beyond the ideation and prototype phase and demonstrating the potential to scale and achieve long-term financial viability, impact, and sustainability. The challenge encourages female-founded solutions, where women are founders, co-founders, or leading in chief executive roles.
Geographic scope is also considered, with submissions from across the globe welcomed, as long as they are scalable in their local contexts and potentially replicable in different parts of the world. The socio-economic and environmental impact of the solutions is evaluated, with emphasis placed on economic impact through improved incomes and inclusion of agricultural farmers and communities.
A just rural transition is a key aspect of the selection criteria, where farmers are considered and engaged throughout supply chains. Partnerships and collaboration with local, national, and global stakeholders are also valued, as they contribute to the growth and expansion of the solutions. Additionally, the challenge seeks innovative and replicable solutions that can be applied in challenging contexts or serve as stepping stones for food systems transformation while protecting the environment.
The benefits for the selected top innovators of the Smarter Climate Farmers Challenge are extensive. Between 10 and 15 submissions will be chosen as Top Innovators and become part of the UpLink Innovation Network. This curated program offers access to selected World Economic Forum and partner-led events, projects, and communities. The top innovators gain global exposure through the Forum’s and UpLink’s digital media channels and receive strategic introductions to selected organizations within the network. Targeted support is provided, including programming and assistance on technical, business, and operational matters. Furthermore, the top innovators are eligible for a portion of a monetary award by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The timeline for the challenge in 2023 includes a launch on June 28, open submissions until August 10, a review and selection process until September, and the announcement of the winning top innovators during the World Food Forum in October. By fostering innovation and collaboration, Saudi Arabia aims to transform global food production, ensure food security, protect the environment, and support economic growth, setting an example for other nations to follow in building a sustainable future for agriculture.