• About
  • Partnerships
  • Challenges
  • Awards
  • Grant Opportunities
  • News

New Approaches for Strategic Prioritization of Agricultural Development Policies (Round 22)


The Opportunity

Inclusive agricultural transformation (IAT) is the process by which a country moves from subsistence agriculture to a stage in which the sector is integrated with, and contributes to, the macro-economy. This then leads to the development of integrated rural-urban sectors, accompanied by a growing non-farm economy. Inclusivity encapsulates the idea that this growth also benefits the vulnerable in society and generates gains in gender-based differences.[1] Many low-income countries currently face challenges in strategically prioritizing a set of policies for driving IAT[2] due to a lack of access to relevant high-quality data and appropriate analytical tools. In addition, policy analysts sometimes provide inconsistent, competing, or unrealistic recommendations relating to a range of needs, including R&D, extension, rural infrastructure, the private sector enabling environment, and other interventions for facilitating country-level IAT.[3] Such recommendations for multiple major investment areas make prioritization difficult and research recommendations hard to implement by resource-constrained governments.

The lack of policy prioritization is primarily manifested in the wide scope of many countries' national agricultural investment plans (NAIPs). NAIPS often contain a wide and ambitious range of policies and public investment for improving the agriculture sector,[4] while research (e.g. Mellor 2018; AGRA 2017) suggests that there is a need to include targeting policies to specific segmented farmer groups. Additionally, consistent observation has shown that NAIPs rarely have sufficient budget for all that they claim they will cover. Therefore, it is imperative to develop new approaches to prioritize policy choices to: 1) ensure governments are identifying, prioritizing and starting to implement strategically optimal sets of policies and public investments for driving IAT that align to their individual contexts, growth opportunities and resource constraints, and 2) advance the field's availability of - and use of - tools that produce forward-looking research to set country priorities.

The Challenge

We seek new approaches for strategic prioritization of agricultural development policies. We specifically encourage approaches that not only help countries prioritize agricultural development policies, but also inform long-term strategic planning. Proposals must closely align with the goals of the Gates Foundation's Agricultural Development team. Although proposed solutions may be generated from ideas and contexts outside of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), all solutions must be relevant, transferrable, and applicable, in our SSA focus countries: Nigeria, Tanzania, and Ethiopia. These approaches could include one or more of the following:

  • Building a more robust approach to the challenge of policy prioritization using - but not limited to - modeling, e.g., creating a new "package" or "blend" of complementary practices that maximizes current tools to expand their use in data-scarce SSA contexts
  • Improving how modeling is currently done, including new innovations around the cost-benefit analysis element of modeling
  • Exploring alternative analytical approaches to the policy prioritization challenge outside of modeling altogether

What we are looking for:

  • Approaches should help countries prioritize which policies they should focus on when they are faced with a wide range of options - a related but distinct challenge from assessing the quality or feasibility of a single, already-identified policy choice, which is not the focus of this Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) call for proposals
  • Approaches can already have been proven in other disciplines and sectors (e.g., behavioral economics, data science, web crowd-sourcing, or the infrastructure sector), but not yet have been validated for policy prioritization in low-income countries
  • Approaches can be stand-alone or coupled with additional tools and methods, and can be either a long-term approach or paired with short-term, demand-responsive policy technical assistance
  • Approaches or models should yield detailed and specific recommendations that will enable countries to unambiguously allocate budgets consistent with their policy choices
  • Approaches should be suitable for the SSA context and based on data with demonstrated availability, e.g., they should not consist of economic modeling of returns on investment that are based on very high-quality, comprehensive data sets
  • Approaches should be distinct from and not duplicate ongoing work by the Agricultural Development team that is outside the scope of this call for proposals: literature reviews reflecting various country's pathways towards IAT; expert consultations and convenings to learn about new tools and policy approaches; and diagnostic reports identifying "binding constraints" to achieving IAT through methods such as benchmarking, empirical research, price distortion analysis, consultations with the private sector and other information

All proposals should:

  • Be clear about who the user and audience would be
  • Be clear about what can be done in the Phase 1 stage of the grant ($100K over 18 months) and what would be a Phase 2 step
  • Show how this approach breaks new ground or extends existing approaches
  • Build in an acknowledgement of developing country contexts and potential political economy factors when demonstrating the potential success of the approach
  • Outline the skills and environment needed to replicate and scale the approach
  • Show specificity in recommendations
  • Provide examples of actionability from developing country’s perspectives

We will not consider funding:

  • Literature reviews
  • Models or approaches that only offer broad, non-specific recommendations
  • Methods or approaches that are not likely to be replicable or successful under developing country conditions
  • Traditional policy modeling approaches
  • Theoretical research
  • Ideas for which a relevant indicator of success cannot be demonstrated within the scope of the GCE Phase 1 award ($100K over 18 months)


[1] Mellor, J.2017. Agricultural Development and Economic Transformation: promoting Growth with Poverty Reduction.

[2] This challenge is about helping countries prioritize which policies they should focus on when they are faced with a wide range of options, which is related to, but distinct from another challenge of assessing the quality or feasibility of a single, already identified policy choice (not the focus of this GCE)

[3] Key sources include: Goyal and Nash (2017) Reaping Richer Returns: Public Spending Priorities for African Agriculture Productivity Growth. Africa Development Forum series. Washington, DC: World Bank; AGRA (2016) Africa Agriculture Status Report: Progress Towards Agriculture Transformation in Africa. Nairobi, Kenya. Issue No 4; Jayne, Meyer, and Traub (2014) Africa’s Evolving Food Systems: Drivers of change and the scope for influencing them. IIED Working Paper.

[4] Key sources include: ONE Campaign (2011) A Growing Opportunity: Measuring Investments in African Agriculture which show that the first generation of NAIPs featured significant financing gaps; Gates Foundation analysis of Dalberg's (2016) overview of Tanzania's ASDP II budget, Bain's (2016) zero-based costing analysis of Nigeria’s Green Alternative plan, and IFPRI ReSAKSS public expenditure data (2010-14) indicates that second generation NAIPs may also be generally unaffordable to implement.

Great ideas come from everywhere.

Sign up for email updates of the latest grant opportunities and awards.

View the Grand Challenges partnership network

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is part of the Grand Challenges partnership network. Visit www.grandchallenges.org to view the map of awarded grants across this network and grant opportunities from partners.
Map of grant distribution