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Call for Expressions of Interest — Hub for Responsible AI for Agriculture and Food Systems Innovation Research Network in Africa


May 03, 2021 by 23:59 (EDT)


Agriculture, food systems, management, research, technical support and guidance


Up to 32 months

Funded by

IDRC and Sida






CAD $1.2 million






The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) invite expressions of interest from individual organizations, or consortia of organizations to express interest in applying for a grant to play the role of the Innovation Research Hub for an African-based research network on responsible artificial intelligence innovations in agriculture and food systems. The Hub will design, develop, and manage the innovation research network as key part of the Artificial intelligence for Development in Africa program (AI4D Africa).

The general objective of this innovation research network is to contribute to improving agriculture and food systems in Africa through the responsible development and deployment of artificial intelligence innovations.

Note that all innovation work supported will seek to be responsible and uphold the Principles for Digital Development

Key Dates

March 29, 2021
Expressions of interest release date
April 14, 2021
Deadline for submission of questions
April 16, 2021
Answers to questions posted
May 3, 2021
Submission deadline

The selected Hub will design and implement an innovation research network of researchers and innovators applying responsible AI techniques to advance sustainable agriculture and resilient food systems outcomes in Africa and participate in and contribute to the global movement on agriculture and AI. For a consortium, IDRC will enter into a funding agreement only with the lead organization.

Eligibility and requirements

This call for expressions of interest is open to individual organizations or groups of organizations that:

  • Have their headquarters based in lower and lower-middle income countries in Sub-Saharan Africa with preference given for organizations in low- and medium-income countries (see Annex II for complete list).
  • Have a proven record of working in Africa and supporting the design, development, and scaling of agriculture and AI innovations in these contexts.
  • Internal expertise in AI and agriculture and food systems;
  • Ability to work in both English and French at a minimum. Other languages a plus.

Transdisciplinary consortia are encouraged to apply. Consortia may consist of up to three (3) organizations. In case of a consortium, the expression of interest needs to provide a rationale explaining why the consortium has come together to implement this innovation research network and describe the role and added value provided by each member organization. Consortia must describe the governance and coordination arrangements they will use to produce high quality work and support fair and equitable partnerships.

NB: This call for expressions of interest is not open to individuals or government ministries and agencies, but it is open to public research institutes and public university centers, labs and departments. It is also open to private sector actors.

In case of a consortium application, individual members can be based in different countries and the non-leading members may be based in countries other than the list of Annex II. However, the leading member can only be based in an eligible country (see Annex II). IDRC will get into contractual agreement with the lead member only. The other members will be considered as subcontractors.

Evaluation Criteria

1. Knowledge and expertise on agriculture, food systems, AI innovations, and research (20%)

  • Demonstrated experience engaging in agricultural and food system research and innovations in Africa (expertise can be shared among different consortium members), or strong experience in one with proven track record of collaborations in the other domains;
  • Experience with machine learning or other AI applications to address pressing agriculture and food systems challenges in Africa;
  • Connections with research and policy communities relating to agriculture and food systems.

2. Knowledge and expertise in supporting research and/or innovations networks (20%)

  • Demonstrated experience running collaborative research activities and/or networks.
  • Proven ability to support and guide researchers and technologists.
  • Ability to facilitate knowledge exchange through participatory mechanisms both virtually and face-to-face.
  • Experience managing calls for proposals processes.

3. Innovation Research Network Plan (20%)

  • Logical network plan that funds and supports responsible AI for agriculture innovations
  • Approach ensures inclusion and equity of both genders and other vulnerable groups
  • High impact knowledge synthesis and sharing activities
  • Reasonable and feasible budget

4. Expertise in synthesis, learning facilitation, and knowledge mobilization (15%)

  • Ability to facilitate cross-grantee learning and synthesis.
  • Experience in designing and developing products that support knowledge sharing and use: high quality practitioner-oriented outputs, toolkits, rapid knowledge syntheses, supporting resources, and policy briefs.
  • Experience in knowledge mobilization for policy and practice improvement.

5. Organizational performance (20%) 

Evidence that the organization has the basic systems, resources, and management capacities to succeed in setting up and running a Pan African research network. Capacity to work in English and French (other languages would be an asset).

6. Organizational motivation (5%)

Evidence that the organization’s programmatic strategy, institutional mandate, and previous experience align with and are relevant to the role of the Hub.

If you have any questions about this call for expressions of interest, please contact IDRC at [email protected]

Any inquiries that affect all applicants will be posted anonymously online when the answers to questions are posted. Applicants are strongly encouraged to monitor this website (ai4d.ai) for any updates regarding the call.


The selected organization will also be responsible for the following non-exhaustive set of activities:

  • Supporting the competitive selection of high-quality research projects from African innovators and researchers at the intersection of Artificial Intelligence, agriculture and sustainable food systems;
  • Providing conceptual and technical support and guidance to the research network members as required such as ensuring responsible AI innovation development and deployment with a strong gender and inclusion considerations;
  • Support the exchange of knowledge and good practices between network members;
  • Building synergies and collaborate where appropriate with other AI and agriculture and food systems networks and communities; and
  • Contributing to the strategic guidance of the AI4D Africa program.

Specific objectives are to:

  • Deepen understanding of how to develop and scale sustainable African agriculture and food system AI innovations;
  • Build the capacity of African innovators and researchers to develop, deploy and scale such AI applications; and
  • Facilitate the contribution of African research to relevant international AI policy and practice conversations.

I. Set up and manage the network

  • Establish research network’s AI innovation in agriculture and food systems innovation and research agenda;
  • Develop and run a call for proposals for AI for agriculture and food systems innovation research based on the innovation research agenda;
  • Develop and manage a call review committee, made up of multi-disciplinary experts and ensuring equal engagement of men and women;
  • Sub-grant to successful research teams to become members of the network and implement their innovation research projects (ensuring equity and participation of different researchers in projects);
  • Manage sub-grants to winning institutions (henceforth sub-grantees), including sub-grantee monitoring and evaluation; and
  • Interim and final technical and financial reporting to IDRC.
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II. Support network members

  • Provide technical and methodological assistance to sub-grantees as required;
  • Ensure network members engage in responsible AI practices and approaches – ensuring that interventions contribute to rights, inclusion, ethics and sustainability practices;
  • Plan and run network workshops and other network support activities designed to collectively tackle common issues and/or facilitate cross-project collaboration where appropriate;
  • Support network members in finding engagement opportunities with agriculture and food systems initiatives that may benefit from their research results and methods;
  • Facilitate sub-grantee reporting;
  • Connect sub-grantees to other resources (knowledge, financial) as required.
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III. External Engagement

  • Coordinate with other African or international AI and agriculture networks of programs to engage in global and multi-disciplinary exchange, organize joint initiatives and events as appropriate, and otherwise enable the impactful and responsible development of work at the intersection of agriculture and artificial intelligence.
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IV. Contributing to advancing knowledge and policy dialogues

  • Produce a baseline scanning document of AI for agriculture and food systems innovations in Africa;
  • Produce report(s) on the state of AI innovations in agriculture and food systems in Africa;
  • Design a framework for facilitating the synthesis of lessons learned from across the different innovation projects supported by the network;
  • Support uptake and scaling of research for policy or practice change;
  • Require that all grantees openly release any data sets that are generated by the research project;
  • Facilitate the production, communication and marketing of research outputs stemming from the network and ensure research publication in appropriate venues in accordance with IDRC’s Open Access Policy.
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V. Contribute to the overall AI4D Africa program strategy

  • Participate in the implementation steering committee of AI4D; and
  • Participate in the AI4D Africa learning, monitoring, and evaluation activities.
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Research Areas

To achieve these objectives, the AI4D Africa program will support the implementation of an innovation research network, managed by the Hub, which will bring together (~6-10) African innovators and researchers working on or researching AI innovations that benefit agriculture and food systems through an open call. The selected innovators and researchers will receive funding and support for a research project of at least 18 months on their innovation. It is expected that the selected projects will represent linguistic, gender, and geographic diversity across Africa; diversity across relevant areas of application of AI to agriculture justice; and diversity of relevant involved stakeholders, e.g., university researchers, start-ups, research-oriented think-tanks, consultancies, labs. The Hub will play a critical role in establishing, managing, and supporting the innovation research network.

Critical to this is the role of the hub in:

  • Supporting researchers across the various geographies and in at least two languages (English and French), and to facilitate equitable engagement of women in research and leadership roles.
  • Ensuring that each research project is multi-disciplinary, engaging researchers with different skillsets and expertise working together to advance new innovations (e.g., ensuring a combination of AI-related expertise, such as computer science, data science, and statistics; and agriculture related skills relating to value chains for small holders, financial services and mechanism, new or underutilized crops, and high-value animal products; and intersectional expertise in relevant frameworks such as rights and law, sociology, or gender studies.

The exact nature of the role of the Hub is not fully determined and the proposing organization(s) should provide information on how they propose to add value to the network to ensure that its outputs and outcomes are greater than the simple sum of the individual research projects.

Eligible Countries

Burkina Faso
Central African Republic
Rep Côte d'Ivoire
Sierra Leone
South Sudan
The Gambia

How to Apply

The applicant organization (or, in the case of consortium, the lead organization) should submit an expression of interest of no more than 3,500 words that clearly addresses the following:

  • The organization’s (or consortium’s) interest in becoming the Hub and how this role aligns with their organizational mandate.
  • The organization’s (or consortium’s) experience running innovation and/or research networks.
  • The key areas where leveraging AI in support of African agriculture and food systems innovations can bring the biggest benefit, and the challenges to achieving those benefits.
  • How the organization engages in the agriculture space and/or artificial intelligence/ data science for development.
  • How the organization would build an innovation research network that (1) secures diverse participation across Africa, (2) supports responsible innovation, and (3) provides innovation and research support.
  • How the organization will ensure gender equity and the inclusion of other marginalized groups research design, implementation, and outcomes.
  • Experience with research synthesis and knowledge mobilization.
  • The team composition and resources deemed necessary to successfully implement the network, including its evaluation and governance processes (in the case of consortium, outline the roles each member would play, which organization would lead, how partners would coordinate equitable and effective partnerships).
  • What major challenges the organization (or consortium) foresees in implementing the network and what actions it will take to address them.
  • Indicative budget. We expect that a minimum 55% of the total budget goes towards network research projects.

In addition, please include:

  • Contact information of the lead applicant and members of the consortium if applicable.
  • Abridged CVs of the lead applicant with relevant experience and key contact individuals from other organizations in the case of the consortium (CVs should be no longer than two pages).

The review process will consist of the following steps:

  1. Verification of eligibility requirements and expression of interest completeness: IDRC will review all submitted expressions of interest to ensure they meet eligibility requirements and all necessary materials. Incomplete expressions of interest or those that do not meet the requirements will not be considered further.
  2. Review and ranking of expressions of interest: IDRC staff will review eligible expressions of interest using the evaluation criteria. Each expression of interest will be reviewed by at least two reviewers. Expressions of interest will be ranked based on scoring and subsequent IDRC discussion.
  3. Shortlisting expressions of interest: On the basis of scoring and internal discussion, IDRC will shortlist high-quality expressions of interest and will invite them to submit a full proposal. The full proposals will be assessed by an external expert review panel, who will recommend a shortlist to IDRC and Sida.
  4. Proposal feedback will only be provided to those that are requested to submit a full proposal.

The expression of interest and all requested supporting materials must be consolidated into one PDF/Word document and sent by email to [email protected] with a timestamp no later than 23:59 EDT on May 03, 2021. Please use the follow subject when submitting your EOI: Name of the lead institution – Agriculture innovation research network.

Ready and Eligible?

Apply Now!