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March 04, 2009

Global online competition seeks to reward farming innovations

Ashoka’s Changemakers announced today the launch of “Cultivating Innovation: Solutions for Rural Communities,” a global, online competition to seek out the most innovative solutions in farming and rural communities in Sub-Saharan Africa, India, and around the world. The competition is funded as part of a grant awarded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Using the Changemakers’ open-source online platform, the competition will be open to anyone striving to stimulate rural development and agriculture.

Today, three quarters of the world’s poorest people—the 1 billion who live on $1 a day or less—live in rural areas, and most rely on agriculture for their food and income. Many small farmers cannot grow enough food to sell or even eat. Innovative solutions like the ones Ashoka is seeking offer hundreds of millions of the people the opportunity to overcome hunger and poverty.

Over the next two months, people from around the world will be nominating those who are making a difference in farming and rural communities, or submitting their own innovative projects. The Changemakers community will be continually commenting on the initiatives entered in the competition. Entrants and nominators will be able to network with media, academics, and thought leaders.

A panel of judges—Roy Steiner, Senior Program Officer for Agricultural Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Gene Kahn, Global Sustainability Officer for General Mills; Beatrice Gakuba, CEO of Rwanda Flora; Suzana Padua, Founder of the Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas (Institute of Ecological Research); and Raj Patel, activist and author, Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World Food Systemwill narrow the entry pool to 10 to 15 finalists.

The global Changemakers community will then vote for three winners, who will each receive a USD $5000 award from Changemakers to fund their initiatives. The finalists and winners will receive media attention and are showcased on the Changemakers website. All entrants will gain increased access to a global network of innovators, supporters, and investors with the means to help them fund and/or scale their projects.

The Changemakers community is an open, online forum for anyone who is passionate about social change to participate in a vibrant exchange of ideas and friendship,” states Charlie

Brown, Changemakers Executive Director. “This competition is the opportunity to expand our reach even further, into the rural areas of Africa and India, to work with those innovators who may or may not have online access.”

These innovations have many faces and can come from anywhere. For example, we are motivated by people like C.K. “Bablu” Ganguly, an Ashoka Fellow whose innovations have regenerated farmland and created jobs via organic farming and marketing cooperatives in southern India. Or, people like Adrian Mukhebi, another Ashoka fellow who created a virtual trading floor via radio and SMS messaging to link thousands of farmers and buyers and sellers in Kenya. Ganguly and Mukhebi’s work not only helped to revitalize the local farming economies but also directly met many of their communities’ education and health needs, in addition to empowering local women to actively participate in farming and business development.

The online competition will showcase innovative solutions, encouraging members to comment, network, and assist one another in making a difference. Nominations and submissions are welcome until May 13.

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