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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

The role of agricultural innovations in addressing food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa

Over 700 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) are food insecure, accounting for more than 60% of the population. In SSA, the agricultural sector is a significant GDP contributor, and 70% of livelihoods rely on agriculture. Despite efforts to increase agricultural productivity, food insecurity in SSA has only worsened.

Agricultural innovations are part of the solution to addressing food insecurity. However, innovation uptake and impact have been low. This is partially due to unsuitable designs and weak engagement with key actors. Agricultural innovations have often not taken a holistic approach to address the factors contributing to food insecurity and the complementary systems needed for these innovations to succeed in SSA. These factors differ across SSA and include the environmental and political climate.

This study performs a systems analysis of considerations for agricultural innovations to address food insecurity in SSA successfully. A framework is developed to understand the essential factors, their interactions, and how they contribute to agricultural innovations that sustainably address food insecurity. The development of the preliminary framework is based on literature analysis and semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders in the agricultural sector in SSA. Common themes from the analysis include the nature of the impact of innovations on food security, the importance of stakeholder involvement, identification of enabling environment factors, barriers to innovation adoption or impact on food security, and interventions required to adopt innovations at scale. Following initial development, the framework was tested and refined using five case studies of agricultural innovations employed across SSA, varying in location and innovation type. The framework was then validated through final interviews with more key stakeholders. This three-step framework development approach ensured the final product was robust and based on a comprehensive analysis of stakeholder interaction and environmental factors. There was a necessary trade-off between framework simplicity and problem complexity.

Future work includes testing the framework against more case studies of innovations in SSA and validation interviews to strengthen the framework further, as the project's time constraints limited these. It is also suggested that the framework be translated into a simplified tool for use as a checklist in developing or refining an already-designed agricultural innovation to be employed in the context of SSA to address food insecurity.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.