Innovation is in our DNA. In all that we do, we look beyond existing sustainability solutions to find ways to make our work more effective. As part of our strategy for 2020, we’re working in four innovation areas where we want to increase our expertise to expand our impact.

Globally, we are facing grand, complex challenges with regards to sustainability and inclusivity. To address these, we need to implement smart and holistic solutions. We have to look beyond the commodity level to understand how landscape innovation can mitigate the negative effects of climate change. It is imperative to take gender inequality issues into account, not just because we value inclusivity, but because there is a clear business case for including women. And, in one of our most prestigious programmes, we are exploring how the use of data and digital tools can increase the scale of our interventions and give farmers more ownership. Last, but not least, we are working on making new types of financial models, such as impact investment, to accelerate sustainable production.

  • Climate and landscapes

    Implementing climate and landscape innovation

    Climate change is already hampering agricultural transformation. It affects crop and livestock production in several regions of the world. Deforestation and forest degradation due to agricultural expansion continues at alarming rates, leading to degradation of landscapes and rural poverty.


    In 2018 we expanded our climate and landscape innovation portfolio to work towards more resilient landscapes, resilient and productive farmers and resilient markets, and to halt landscape degradation. In addition to our existing landscape programmes across Asia, Africa and South America, we initiated the New South West Bangladesh Sustainable Landscape and the Ganga Landscape of India programmes. Both these programmes test various tools to support landscape-level planning. They also aim to improve governance, support stakeholders to achieve a common vision and work together towards resilient landscapes. In Colombia, Solidaridad facilitated the signing of a zero-deforestation national agreement for palm oil. The declaration contributes to deforestation-free and resilient landscapes, and was signed by the Colombian, UK and Norwegian governments, WWF, TNC, WRI, and Unilever, among others. Our Climate Position and Climate Policy was finalized and approved. More than 20 climate innovation projects were identified for testing tools and methods. This allows us to measure and report on the climate mitigation and adaptation impacts across Africa, Asia and South America. We developed a climate vulnerability assessment tool, currently being piloted as part of several projects, to improve project design and ensure that climate risks are addressed during the design process. It will also help to ensure that promoted interventions lead to improved farmer resilience in the face of climate change. In 2019 we will continue to address the major challenges to mainstream climate change adaptation, mitigation and resilience in landscape management in our project design. We will further develop our implementation teams’ capacities and skills, and work to improve evidence-based measurement and reporting of our climate and landscape level impacts.


    Bringing digital innovation to the world's smallholder farmers

    As investment in agri-tech gathers speed worldwide, Solidaridad has a key role to play in bringing innovation to the world's smallholder farmers. We are working to bridge the digital divide and make the most of new technologies to deliver better, smarter solutions to even more farmers. 


    Digital innovations can increasingly be deployed to help deliver finance and market access to farmers in tailored packages at scale. Solidaridad's commitment to making digital innovation a key component of its intervention strategy is beginning to show promising results across the world. We have worked on a total of 45 digital interventions worldwide, and developed 10 custom apps to help over 150,000 farmers manage their businesses and make decisions. Advances in technology create unique opportunities for applications in agriculture. Solidaridad wants to make use of these opportunities to improve the speed and scale of its programmes. In 2016, Solidaridad announced its intention to become a data-driven organization. Since then, Solidaridad has made important progress towards this goal by developing requisite tools and an organizational culture that acts on data. In Asia, tea farmers can self-assess using the tailor-made Trinitea app to help them progress towards market standards. The assessment provides a high degree of assurance to the farmer, buying factories and tea packers, as well as consumers on social, agronomical and environmental aspects of tea production. New apps are also being used in palm oil and soy programmes. In addition, Bangladesh’s Village Supermarkets, which provide new, direct pathways for smallholders to trade their goods, are entirely supported by tailor-made digital infrastructure. In South Africa, all of our projects have embraced digital solutions, such as remote sensing, the cattle grading app, Farming Solution, Business Solution and soil testing services. Among the successes, we are seeing young entrepreneurs being trained to set up soil analysis businesses using radar scanners as part of the Kvuno initiative, so that smallholders can adapt their fertilizer use for maximum efficiency. In South America, we have worked on a total of 14 digital interventions, using two apps developed in the region to foster the adoption of good agricultural practices. In our project in the Brazilian Amazon, field workers are using the Extension Solution app to plan and record their activities. They’re able to create automated work plans to share with cocoa farmers to help them increase their yields and reduce the need for deforestation. Oil palm farmers in Colombia tested out the Farming Solution app, where they can self-assess and receive work plans, news and training materials to work on the sustainability of their production. In West Africa, we’re currently profiling 50,000 farmers to build an analytics database for agricultural recommendations. We also translated the Farming Solution App into Twi and began testing it with local farmers to help them manage their cocoa crops. Meanwhile, in East Africa, the advancement of telecommunications infrastructure allowed us to pilot mobile payment systems, while testing the Extension Solution and Farming Solution apps with coffee farmers in Ethiopia. By bundling digitally-supported services around local trade networks, we can move beyond traditional development paradigms towards supporting new business models in the regions where we work. We are empowering farmers, entrepreneurs and traders to use digital services to drive their businesses sustainably and efficiently. Beyond the considerable technology being developed within Solidaridad, we are working to embed proprietary and partner tools to strengthen real, meaningful local connections in the field. Trades and services can now access those who are harder to reach in ways that were not previously possible. In the meantime, as smallholder farming becomes digitalized, we are hard at work behind the scenes to ensure that farm data is used ethically and fairly. We are only now, as a global society, beginning to truly grasp the power of data to reshape realities, from trading and production to social and economic processes. There is tremendous power in the data we can access at Solidaridad, and we are committed to ensuring that whatever value or intelligence are gleaned from farmers' data is reverted to their direct and tangible benefit. To that end, we are collecting and analyzing critical farm data from our projects, and combining it with information from satellites, markets and weather. In this way, Solidaridad will generate the insights and knowledge needed to push for systemic change in agriculture, predicting trends, understanding the drivers of climate-smart farming practices, or the adoption of specific seeds or fertilizers. We can work to drive more transparency in commodities trading, in local, regional, and international value chains, in ways that can further highlight how we can support farmers. Digital innovation has indeed become a key element of our work, across all levels, from farm facing, to the systems and products that can support inter-scalar cooperation, to our own internal processes. Together with our community of partners, we are designing the future of development now, for a more inclusive, prosperous and sustainable tomorrow for the smallholders of the world.


    Supporting small and medium-sized enterprises to strengthen regional service provision industries

    In 2018 we developed a professional pipeline management system managing our portfolio of opportunities. 


    Out of 59 opportunities sourced throughout the year, the majority were at an early stage of development. During the project phase (18 opportunities) the impact investment specialists analyze the potential of the business case on growth and impact. When positive, the team supports the entrepreneur in developing the business plan and the verification of assumptions by collecting and analyzing data (21 opportunities). Next, we develop the investment proposition and advise the entrepreneur on the ideal financial package (six opportunities). During these first three phases, we shortlist impact investors that match the profile of the opportunity, during the pitch and sales phase (13 opportunities), we introduce the entrepreneur to impact investors. At the end of 2018, Solidaridad had completed two deals. We support impact investment opportunities across our network. In 2018, the focus was on West Africa. Solidaridad has a strong and solid reputation designing projects based on market mechanisms and business cases. This is important as these types of projects allow us to source impact investment opportunities effectively. In 2018 we secured the continuation of the CORIP II (cocoa) and SWAPP II (palm oil) projects (together worth 34 million euros). Both projects aim to strengthen the service provision industry in the West Africa region by supporting SMEs getting into business. Our Central America team designed the Mesoamerican Landscape Accelerator, combining impact investments and landscape finance. The Asia team set up and invested in a market place for farmers, while our team in Europe started to create a crowd-sourcing platform focusing on investing in ‘small deal tickets’ between micro-lending and commercial finance. The majority of opportunities are in cocoa and palm oil. Coffee, dairy and fruits and vegetables follow closely behind. Although we do not have a preference, the majority of opportunities relate to cocoa and palm oil. In East Africa the team started to work with DOB Equity in the dairy sector in Tanzania. Our team in South America introduced an investor successfully to one of the largest coffee traders to provide input finance to coffee-producing farmers. In Southern Africa our impact investment team focused on smallholder lending and developed an IT application farmers (multiple commodities) can use to share economic and financial data in order to get better access to finance. In West Africa, the impact investment team developed a lending product for cocoa and palm oil producing farmers together with one of the leading cooperative banks.

  • Gender Inclusivity

    Giving visibility to gender equality and inclusive working throughout supply chains

    On 21 July 2018, for the first time ever, the Peruvian Government acknowledged the Pallaqueras (female gold miners) in an official decree. 


    Through the new regulation, the Pallaqueras’ role in the mining sector is finally visible. This grants them access to formal markets within certain production volumes, where they can sell their ore to refiners, and gold processing plants. Solidaridad West Africa, together with the Ghana Cocoa Board, launched the Women in Cocoa and Chocolate network. This network seeks to bring together women in the cocoa sector to actively engage in the national agenda of promoting a sustainable supply chain. Internally, Solidaridad Europe worked to integrate gender inclusivity deliverables into annual planning. At the same time, Solidaridad Southern Africa set up a gender inclusivity steering committee, creating a platform and synergy between programme and quality function teams. To further build staff capacity in Colombia, Solidaridad South America consulted internal and external stakeholders to develop an inclusive agricultural technical assistance manual with a gender focus. The manual was then shared publicly in Colombia and Paraguay. Solidaridad Asia introduced relevant indicators and milestones in monitoring and evaluation frameworks to track the results of gender inclusivity interventions. The key lessons learnt in gender inclusivity at both internal and programme level were: 1. importance of leadership support 2. need to focus on, and engage with, gender champions 3. working with different teams on gender focus, allowing them to learn on-the-job, empowers staff 4. at task-force level, team building is essential for good intercultural, long-distance cooperation.