All farmers are affected by climate change, but it is especially problematic for small farmers because they often lack the resources or expertise to deal effectively with issues such as drought and soil erosion. The problem is even more pronounced in Africa due to the continent’s heavy dependence on rain-fed farms and a dramatic loss of biodiversity in recent years.
Among the companies looking to address the problem is Diageo, the London-based alcoholic beverage giant whose brands include Johnnie Walker, Crown Royal, Smirnoff, Ketel One, Captain Morgan, Baileys, Tanqueray, and Guinness.
In August, the company’s Diageo Sustainable Solutions initiative announced that it would provide £450,000 (about $525,00) in funding for three innovation challenges designed to monitor and lower the impact of water and climate crises on smallholder farms in Africa.
The objective is to discover and develop innovators and technology, with the larger aim of helping Diageo achieve its sustainability goals by 2030.
The funding round’s three pilot challenges will focus on water, carbon, and biodiversity. They are open to applications from innovators, start-ups, and others who have developed relevant technology or need seed funding to develop their technologies further. The application period was set to run through October 7, 2022.
“Globally, we have unpredictable weather with increasing droughts and floods and a gap in our agriculture monitoring capabilities,” John Cant, head of Diageo Sustainable Solutions, said in a press release. “Soil moisture monitoring must be improved so we can look at where we can improve soil water holding capacity, supporting our farmers to maintain a steady farming cycle and income.”
The challenges will look for innovation in the following three areas:
- Water: Diageo estimates that rainfall in Africa will decrease by up to 20% or more over the next 50 years, posing a significant threat to food security and sustainable development. The Diageo Sustainable Solutions initiative aims to monitor the soil water holding capacity on small farms to make them more productive. Among the possible solutions are using soil additives to help the ground retain more water, improving local weather forecasting models, and using probes to take readings from the field.
- Carbon: Carbon is a critical component of healthy soil – and a major contributor to climate change when it is released into the atmosphere. The initiative will work to improve the way soil carbon is measured, modeled, analyzed, and monitored to get a better read on the amount of carbon in the soil and support necessary improvements.
- Biodiversity: Biodiversity is critical to mitigating and adapting to climate change. The initiative will prioritize monitoring the amount of biodiversity on small farms to track changes over time. The work here might involve using camera “traps,” which are digital cameras connected to an infrared sensor that can capture animals and other “warm objects” moving through a given area.
The latest application round represents an important step forward for Diageo Sustainable Solutions, which launched in November 2020 to foster collaboration between Diageo and innovators on the next generation of sustainability technology. Current pilots underway from previous application rounds include a partnership with EXXERGY, Dassault Systemes, and Ardagh group to develop a coating to make glass thinner without losing its strength – a process that can reduce emissions.
“Our next Diageo Sustainable Solutions round will create action for innovators around the world to help save lives and livelihoods in the countries and communities that are most at risk,” Kirstie McIntyre, Diageo’s Global Sustainability Director, said in a statement.
The latest pilots will take place in East Africa. If successful, they will be rolled out across Diageo’s smallholder farmer network in Cameroon, Ghana, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Tanzania, Turkey, the Seychelles, South Africa, and Uganda.