Annual Learning Event 2021: All Recordings & Resources

Apr 29, 2021 | All

Thanks for joining us at our 5th Annual Learning Event (ALE). This year’s virtual event was held from Monday 26 – Thursday 29 April 2021 and brought together over 850 participants engaging in 2 plenaries, 12 thematic sessions, 12 award presentations and 147 marketplace booths.

>>Download the ALE Event Report<<

The four-day conference focused on impact & innovation and convened the industry’s top experts and practitioners. We hosted over 80 speakers, representing a diverse group of organizations dedicated to driving transformational change in the agriculture sector around the globe. The themes explored ranged from the impact of COVID-19 and Desert Locusts, to the role of digital platforms in technology innovation, bundled financial and non-financial services, and impact research.

While a key focus of the week was reflecting on lessons learnt, we also looked to the future and key shifts in the areas of gender transformation and climate change – reflected in our opening and closing plenaries. We also used the opportunity to highlight the exceptional work of our partners through 12 recognition awards, presented by our Advisory Council and Donors.


As the culmination of 6 years of program work, we are incredibly proud and thankful for all your active contributions during the event, and look forward to the next phase of AgriFin!

While ALE Week 2021 is over, the event report features the main takeaways. Join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #AgriFinALE2021. Follow along on Twitter at @MercyCorpsAFA, LinkedIn: Mercy Corps AgriFin, and YouTube: Mercy Corps AgriFin

If you had registered for the ALE before the event, you will continue to be able to access the virtual event portal using your personalized log-in details. For everyone who is new to the event and had not registered, you can access all session recordings and associated materials below. We will update this page with the ALE Rapporteur’s Report once ready. If you have any questions about the ALE, please reach out to us.

Day 1: Monday 26th April 2021

Opening Plenary: Six Years of AgriFin Evidence, Impact and Innovation

The Opening Plenary of AgriFin’s 5th Annual Learning Event presented the culmination of the past year of impact evidence from program work and AgriFin partnerships from the last six years with a strong focus on impacts for women. It began with a pre-recorded video message by a UN Secretary General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance and Development Queen Máxima of the Netherlands.

The session explored how digital innovation can drive scale, impact and inclusion, as well as agricultural systems transformation, with addresses from Tjada D’Oyen McKenna, Mercy Corps CEO, and Thule Lenneiye, leading the development of the Agricultural Transformation Office for the Government of Kenya. The session closed with recognition awards celebrating AgriFin’s partners on their work reaching women with the Mastercard Foundation and officially kicked off the event. 

Day 2: Tuesday 27th April 2021

The Future of Rural Employment and Building Back Better

Following the successful webinar with CGAP in July 2020 on “The Future of Work: Remaking Rural Employment after COVID-19” which also served as the official launch of the Rural Jobs Landscape Study, AgriFin revisited the conversation with the two panels of experts 9 months on, deeper into the pandemic landscape.

The session highlighted AgriFin’s work in rural employment, youth, and convened transformative practitioners and thinkers around the future of work in a post-pandemic landscape. This session was structured around an interactive session-specific landing page linking to the core content of the study and previous webinar (Read the report summary). The three pre-recorded videos contextualized the work, and carried the conversation forward based on the past year.  

Moderator: Elena Holtkotte, Strategic Learning and Communications Lead

Speakers: Leesa Shrader, Mercy Corps AgriFin; Jamie Anderson, CGAP; Christabell Makokha, Aceli Africa; Nathaniel Peterson, Busara Center for Behavioral Economics; Chandrakanth PS, Cropin; Hafsah Jumare, CoAmana; Ben Taylor, Agora Global; Mikael Hook, Rural and Agricultural Finance Learning Lab (RAFLL); Ravi Chhatpar, Dalberg Design; Peninah Wanja, DigiCow 

Improving Agriculture Data Sharing to Increase Digital Climate Agriculture Adoption

The global volume of data is growing exponentially, driven primarily by new data collection instruments and the increasing adoption of digital technologies. This “digital data wave” in agriculture is supporting the development of new business models and services that can provide lower-cost solutions that can more readily reach scale and open new markets. Despite this innovation, many companies and partners are facing significant barriers in realizing the potential of data, particularly through data-sharing partnerships. 

The first part of this session featured AgriFin’s learning brief published in 2020, “Digital Data Sharing in Agriculture”, summarized the important role data plays in agriculture and key data trends, identified barriers faced by data sharing arrangements, and provided practical guidance on overcoming data barriers. We introduced a Data Readiness Tool that provides a holistic way of assessing organizational readiness to start working with data internally or in data-sharing partnerships.

As smallholder farmers increasingly struggle with the impacts of climate change, how can better data sharing within the agriculture sector help to drive greater adoption of digital climate-smart agriculture practices, services, products and tools? A panel of experts debated this question and shared insights from the private and public sector perspectives. 

Moderator: Victoria Clause, Senior Technology and Agriculture Expert

Speakers: Matthew Shakhovskoy, ISF Advisors; Beza Bogale, Digital Green; Inbal Becker-Reshef, NASA Harvest; Georgia Barrie,; Boniface Akuku, KALRO.

Moonshot Technology Innovations Tackling Climate Change with Smallholder Farmers

Climate change poses an immediate challenge for smallholder farmers. Technologies for climate change adaptation and mitigation are increasingly prevalent globally. What are some of the most exciting digital technologies and who are the innovative organisations tackling climate change in agriculture? This session presented some of the most cutting edge organisations and digital solutions. Innovators include: Cropnuts, Plant Village, Dudutech, The Blue Globe Consultants and ConserWater with 60 Decibels

Moderator: John Mundy, Digital Climate Smart Agriculture Lead

Speakers: Jeremy Cordingley, Cropnuts; Aaron Jay Fossett and Alex Zhuk, CloudAgronomics; Annalyse Kehs and David Hughes, Plant Village; Tom Mason, Dudutech; Beth Woodlams, University of Leeds; Katie Reberg, 60 Decibels; Samir Ibrahim, Sunculture; Aadith Moorthy, ConserWater.

Farmer Client Impact: Evidence Base for Innovations Reaching Smallholder Farmers

Mercy Corps AgriFin programming (MCAF) represents USD 35 million in innovation funding from the Mastercard Foundation, Bill &Melinda Gates Foundation and many others to support development, testing and scale of digitally-enabled services for smallholder farmers with 50 percent outreach to women. AFA seeks to bridge the inclusion gap among smallholder farmers living on less than USD 2 per day in Sub-Saharan Africa. These farmers lack access to affordable, accessible, demand-driven financial products and services that drive higher income, productivity and resilience.

In recognition of the wide reach and diverse range of products and services offered through the AgriFin ecosystem, we worked with 60 Decibels and Busara to assess our impact on smallholder farmers across some of our strategic partners. Partners were selected based on their area of expertise and level of engagement. The Lean Data approach considers differences across the following categories by adding the element of flexibility in the research approach; products and services offered, expected outcomes, harvest periods, and data available. 

This session aims to highlight AgriFin’s impact among smallholder farmers over the past 6 years by digging through the client/farmer insights, analyzing key data points and charting the way forward.

Moderator: Collins Marita, Director for Research and Impact Assessment

Speakers: Prashant Maheshwary, 60 Decibels; Lang Gao, Busara Center for Behavioral Economics; Albert Wasike, Digifarm Research; Josephine Okolodi, TruTrade Africa; Jan Willem, eProd Solutions; Patricia Gichinga, Mediae; Harriet Sekizo, CARE; Seth Kamens, Ignitia AB; Funke Adebola, Hello Tractor; David Bergvinson, aWhere.

Gender Impact and Learning: Exploring Key Insights and Next Steps

Mercy Corps AgriFin programming (MCAF) represents USD 35 million in innovation funding from the Mastercard Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and many others to support the development, testing and scale of digitally-enabled services for smallholder farmers with 50 percent outreach to women. 

Women account for nearly half of the smallholder farmers in the world but are disproportionately affected by systemic challenges when accessing credit, inputs and markets. Their situation is further exacerbated by the digital divide, climate change and the ongoing global pandemic. Driving productivity especially for women can ensure that Africa can feed its future generations and realize its agricultural potential.

With this in mind, AgriFin and its ecosystem members are seeking to understand factors affecting adoption and usage of digital technologies and services by women smallholders and their impact on this segment. We engaged our research and design partners to carry out gender impact studies on adoption and usage of digital agricultural platforms among women farmers. 

The Gender Impact aimed to unpack our past engagements through a gender lens and glean lessons that players in our ecosystem can adopt. 

Moderator: Lydia Wafula, Research Officer

Speakers: Hannah Reed, Gates Foundation; Maureen Gitata, Dalberg Advisors; Edna Gathigia and Albert Wasike, Digifarm Research; Jessica Chisompola, Zanaco Bank; Mary Wanjohi, Farm to Market Alliance (FtMA), World Food Programme; Lonah Wanjama, Mercy Corps; Osman Siddiqi, Arifu.

Day 3: Wednesday 28th April 2021

Digitizing Field Force: The Opportunities and Challenges

Agricultural organization engagement with smallholder farmers is evolving significantly on digital channels, growing from manual, field-based data collection and service delivery through limited numbers of highly skilled agronomists and extension officers to digitally-enabled field force leveraging digital tools and mobile devices to deliver a wide range of content and services. 

AgriFin impact research and experience with our partner network has clearly demonstrated the value of blended models of an extension where a combination of trusted human interaction and digital tools can enhance and expand information and service provision, data collection and dynamic management tools for field force themselves. There are a range of challenges, however, in determining how best to leverage the power of digital tools and human touchpoints in a way that optimizes delivery, farmer utility, revenue streams and costs.

Mercy Corps AgriFin has supported several partners in developing digital field force strategies and the technology required to merge agricultural field teams and digital tools. This session explored the challenges, breakthroughs and lessons learned, starting with an expert presentation, followed by a panel of experts sharing emerging insights and key considerations to successfully manage and deploy digitally-enabled field force to maximize impact for smallholder farmers and bottom line for farmer-facing organizations.

Moderator: Emmanuel Makau, Technology Data Decision Manager

Speakers: Charlie Habershon, Dalberg Global Advisors; Abidah Ferej, Dalberg Global Advisors; Sriram Bhartaram, Kuza; Karen Vandergaag, CARE Tanzania; Jennifer Githinji, AIS Solutions.

Digital Platforms for Agriculture

This session provided the audience with insights into digital platforms for agriculture from a taxonomic perspective as well as operators that have initiated these platforms. The panelists unpacked 2 research pieces done by Dalberg and ISF Advisors that look at digital platforms from both the above perspectives. The audience will have the opportunity to share their experiences with digital platforms and tackle some of the pertinent issues facing digital platforms for small-holder farmer agriculture. 

Moderators: Sieka Gatabaki, Mercy Corps AgriFin; Marc Huemmer, GIZ.

Speakers: Flavia Howard, Dalberg Advisors; Clara Colina, ISF Advisors.

6 Years of Impact: What Have You Learned?

The AgriFin Accelerate (AFA) program is a USD 24.7 million program of Mercy Corps, supported by The Mastercard Foundation that ran from 2015-2021. AgriFin Accelerate was designed to address the financial “inclusion gap” for smallholder farmers (SHF) who regularly lack access to affordable, accessible, demand-driven financial products and services that drive higher productivity and income for farm families. 

The AgriFin Accelerate (AFA) Final Ecosystem Review and Program Evaluation was designed to answer a series of evaluation questions that gauge AFA’s influence at the client, institutional and ecosystem level as the program concludes. It combines extensive document review with key informant interviews through a case study design, coding both sources of data through a structured process, that yields nuanced findings. These findings were then mapped to the evaluation questions.

The session delved into the findings and recommendations from the exercise and charted a way forward in enhancing ecosystem effects at the agribusiness level, gender, climate, policy and youth levels.

Moderator: Collins Marita, Director for Research and Impact Assessment

Speakers: Jerioth Mwaura, Mercy Corps; Philip Thigo, Executive Office of the Deputy President; Mikael Hook, Rural and Agricultural Finance Learning Lab (RAFLL); Nathanial Peterson, Busara Center for Behavioral Economics; Matthew Klick, Causal Design.

Designing for Gender Transformation and Equity

Gender transformative approaches (GTAs) are programs and interventions that create opportunities for individuals to actively challenge gender norms, promote positions of social and political influence for women in communities, and address power inequities between persons of different genders. While there are methodologies, tools and practices to help design for gender transformation, using them effectively requires starting with an awareness of the gender transformation journey we’re all on. This session introduced alternative ways to think about gender transformation in the context of your own organization, programs and journeys.

Moderators: Leesa Shrader, Mercy Corps AgriFin; Jamie Anderson, CGAP; Vicki Wilde, Gates Foundation; Ravi Chhatpar, Dalberg Design.

Day 4: Thursday 29th April 2021

Climate Change, Financial Inclusion and Digital Climate Smart Agriculture: Research and Evidence-Based Strategies

Smallholder farmers are on the front lines of climate change. To shift to resilient practices, adopt new technologies for sustainable intensification and benefit from voluntary carbon markets, climate finance, and digital innovations must be an accessible enabler at scale. Meanwhile, digital finance and advisory services are offering new solutions to unlock new tools for smallholder farmers to adapt to climate change. So what is the evidence saying about the state of the sector in addressing climate change and what are the gaps? How can research and the evidence guide how we deliver digital solutions to the climate emergency with smallholder farmers? 

This session featured the latest research and sector overviews from the World Resources Institute Center for Global Adaptation (WRI), ISF Advisors and 60 Decibels with a short presentation from AgriFin describing next steps on our strategy for climate change over the next 4 years. The presentations highlighted the latest research on the climate change gaps and needs for smallholder farmers from the finance, digital advisory and pathways perspectives. 

Moderator: John Mundy, Digital Climate Smart Agriculture Lead

Speakers: Matt Shakhovskoy, ISF Advisors; Tyler Ferdinard and Cristina Rumbaitis del Rio, World Resources Institute; Sonia Kuguru, 60 Decibels.

An Introduction to Open Content Agricultural Platform (OCAP), A Digital Public Good

Studies have projected that agriculture productivity on the continent has not been able to meet growing demands. Environmental shocks, major disruptions, and outdated and/or traditional agronomic practices have further undermined farmers ability to meet growing agriculture demands. The majority of smallholder farmers have little access to a wide range of quality and updated agricultural information. However, based on our numerous engagements and experiences, we have learned that digital solutions have emerged as a scale pathway to reach large numbers of farmers.

Under the Digital Agriculture Africa (DAA) Program, the Mercy Corps AgriFin Program is designing, developing and piloting an Open Content Agriculture Platform (OCAP), where a range of content can be shared amongst partners before being distributed to smallholders, through farm facing distribution channels where the information can be used to build their capacity, more informed, and ultimately more resilient. The OCAP is intended to be leveraged as an agricultural information exchange or marketplace where Agriculture Content Providers can upload/share agriculture information and Agriculture Content distribution Partners and identify the content that is most suitable and needed for their smallholders before disseminating the content through their distribution channels.

By providing a centralized, open access platform innovators can use the platform to deliver high quality content at lower cost, that can reach a larger number of farmers, in a shorter amount of time. For the pilot, AgriFin will develop a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and make the OCAP available for our partners to test and leverage with their users. The Kenyan Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization will develop and host the OCAP content platform and will develop the WhatsApp for Business (WA4B) and chatbot library. 

Moderators: Elias Nure, Project Manager & Regional Tech Expert; Kristin Peterson, Senior Technical Advisor and Independent Consultant

Speakers: Phil Abrahams, CABI; Ravi Chhatpar, Dalberg Design; Elizabeth Mudogo, Digifarm; Boniface Akuku, KALRO; Maida Hernandez, GIZ; Kalvince Okello, FSPN Africa.

Emergency Digital Response: What Have We Learned about from the Combined COVID-19 and Desert Locust Emergencies

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the unprecedented Desert Locust swarms in East Africa, posed significant challenges for smallholder farmers. Digital information channels became important as quickly scalable low-cost channels to reach large numbers of farmers during these fast-moving crises. 

The Emergency Digital Response session explored the impacts on smallholder farmers through groundbreaking research from 60 Decibels, drawing from their farmer dashboard. Then the Busara Center for Behavioral Economics showcased the evidence behind digital channels’ efficacy on behaviour change in times of crisis. The presentations were followed by a panel discussion exploring themes of future preparedness for shocks to the smallholder farmer systems – including our research partners as well as leading implementers: Mediae, Producers Direct, and the Agricultural Transformation Agency of Ethiopia (ATA).

Moderator: John Mundy, Digital Climate-Smart Agriculture Lead

Speakers: Guy Mondji,Viamo; Patricia Gichinga, Mediae; Louis Graham, Busara Center for Behavioral Economics; Claire Rhodes, Producers Direct, Temesgen Gebeyehu, Agricultural Transformation Agency of Ethiopia; Katie Reberg, 60 Decibels.

Closing Plenary: Leaning into Climate Solutions

The Closing Plenary of AgriFin’s 5th Annual Learning Event inclined to the next four years of AgriFin programming across Africa, with a focus on climate change and the critical role of digital innovation addressing the challenges and opportunities facing smallholders around the globe.

This session began with a taped address by Bill Gates, Co-Founder and Chairman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on the climate imperative delivered by Stewart Collis, Senior Program Officer for Digital Agriculture Solutions. It explored the technology approaches the agricultural sector must leverage to address climate change. The opening address was followed by Wanjira Mathai, Vice President and Regional Director for Africa at the World Resources Institute, who spoke to the expected impacts of climate change on agriculture across Africa. 

A diverse expert panel led by Sieka Gatabaki and Victoria Clause on climate technology for agriculture in developing markets, discussed the roles of governments, agribusinesses, investors, technology innovators to protect farmers and help them become part of climate solutions. Panelists included: Georgina Campbell Flatter, TomorrowNow; Ranveer Chandra, Microsoft Farmbeats; Samir Ibrahim, SunCulture; Bradley D. Doorn, NASA Applied Sciences; Boniface Akuku, KALRO; Andrew Lala, Ignitia AB; Tamer El-Raghy, Acumen Capital Partners.

The 5th Annual Learning Event closed with recognition awards celebrating AgriFin’s partners’ climate-smart achievements with the Bayer Foundation’s Stefan Wilhelm.