Amira Bliss and Nneka Eze: Cassava Innovation Challenge

By Amira Bliss, Associate Director for Innovation, The Rockefeller Foundation &  Nneka Eze, Associate Partner and Lagos Office Direct, Dalberg and Co-leader, Dalberg’s Agriculture & Food Security Practice 

Anyone reading this has their own story to tell about food waste. One of the first lessons we are taught – wherever in the world we call home – is “don’t waste food.” And while we all have some sense of our own responsibility for solving this global problem, bigger challenges loom large. Chew on this: Cassava is a staple crop on three continents, including across sub-Saharan Africa. Yet nearly half of it spoils before it can be eaten or processed. We need bold new ideas, or more novel ways of applying the ones we already have, if we are to change this scenario. And change it we must.

That’s why on May 12, The Rockefeller Foundation (as part of its YieldWise Initiative), Dalberg and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) launched the Rockefeller Foundation Cassava Innovation Challenge, to stimulate game-changing ideas to tackle one of the primary drivers of cassava loss – short shelf life – in Nigeria. In recent years, innovation challenges focusing on some of the world’s most pressing issues have successfully introduced new ideas from around the world to address them.  Through The Rockefeller Foundation’s Cassava Innovation Challenge, the boldest and most promising ideas will be awarded up to $1 million in grants, and receive technical support from industry experts  to implement those ideas. The challenge seeks innovations that break through the problem of high spoilage rates once and for all.  We believe the solution could come from anywhere and we encourage anyone with an interest in food security who thinks they might be on to something to send us their idea.

The impact of such a global rally could be significant. In Nigeria alone, 30 million farmers grow cassava. For small scale farmers – who dominate cassava production – improved shelf-life would not only mean more stable or reliable income, but wider access to markets given a longer distance the cassava can travel. Cutting the wastage in cassava alone could result in a significant increase in food security and improved nutrition throughout the region. Further, unlocking the potential of industrial cassava will lead to growth in parallel industries where locally processed cassava flour, starches, and ethanol could serve as low-cost inputs in bread, snacks, and even animal feed.

Attempting to reduce the staggering amounts of food loss in cassava is ambitious. Indeed research institutes have spent decades working on preservation and post-harvest technologies, but they mostly focused on increasing yield from the crop by reducing pests and combatting diseases that turned the crop brown and inedible, and increasing nutrition. The International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), based in Nigeria, has successfully introduced drought-tolerant cassava varieties and technology to increase yields. Yet  the problem of high spoilage rates and limited shelf life still remains.

Which is exactly why we are excited to have launched this Challenge, in pursuit of ideas and solutions that could revolutionize both the cassava industry, the lives of smallholder farmers, and food security in Nigeria and beyond. For more information and the official rules, please visit  


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