Innovative Jordan: WFP’s innovation hub is accelerating Jordanian startups

By Amalee Nsour and Faris Atieh

There is no standard recipe for creating impactful innovation, but proximity is a crucial ingredient. In seeking to end global hunger, the World Food Programme (WFP) Innovation Accelerator matches humanitarian innovations with WFP’s field operations in over 80 countries. Startups can build, iterate and pivot their innovations within a specific country context and with actual end-users; the people whose needs are met by humanitarian assistance. While we source innovative solutions from all over the world through the innovation challenge, WFP Innovation Hubs in Kenya, Tanzania and Jordan help us tap into and stimulate the local innovation ecosystems.

The WFP Jordan Innovation Hub launched in February 2020 to nurture the growing number of innovations and entrepreneurs in Jordan whose solutions tackle local food security issues. It sits at the intersection of the local innovation ecosystem, the WFP Jordan Country Office, and the WFP Innovation Accelerator. This unique position allows the hub to support locally rooted innovations that have the potential to address the systemic food security issues facing the country, and to advance work towards Sustainable Development Goal 2: Zero Hunger.

In 2020, the WFP Jordan Innovation Hub launched a pilot with Decapolis to support smallholder farmers grow healthier and higher quality products. Um Omar, a leader of a women’s cooperative in Jordan, is one of the project participants. Photo: WFP/Mohammad Batah.

COVID-19 is intensifying hunger

The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified food insecurity. Refugees, migrant workers and low-income households are increasingly facing economic barriers in their access to food. Jordan is home to one of the largest refugee populations per capita globally, hosting over 700,000 refugees, many of whom qualify for WFP assistance. Around the country, WFP supports almost 10 percent of the population through its refugee and school feeding activities. In addition to population pressures, Jordan has one of the world’s scarcest water supplies, energy deficits and limited agricultural land, all of which restrict the local food production.

In May 2020, WFP, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that 32 percent of affected populations in Jordan did not have enough to eat due to movement restrictions and loss of incomes. Many households started to adopt harmful coping strategies to meet their needs.

Despite these challenges, Jordan hosts a vibrant startup and innovation ecosystem that is inspiring and fostering novel solutions for food security.

Participants in the WFP/Decapolis pilot project for smallholder farmers in Jordan receive training on best practices in farming which can improve the quality of their produce. Photo: WFP/Mohammad Batah.

Catering for the needs of innovators

The WFP Jordan Innovation Hub aims to strengthen the existing innovation ecosystem and support food security-specific innovations within the country. By working with different actors and linking them in the innovation ecosystem — from startups to accelerators and incubators as well as to the government — we can drive a systemic change. Ultimately, our goal is to provide the necessary resources, expertise, and networking for innovators in food security, however, like every new goal, this may be difficult.

To build a robust support environment for local entrepreneurs and startups, we are working with Hassad; Jordan’s first agritech accelerator. Hassad is bridging the sectoral gap for early-stage entrepreneurs by providing them with access to crucial expertise, mentorship and market connections in the food and agriculture sector. Startups range from water management solutions to supply chain innovations to smart farming. Mohammed Al Afranji, program manager of the Hassad accelerator notes, “The agriculture and food sectors in Jordan have been facing many challenges for a while, but COVID-19 has highlighted them even more. Building a supportive ecosystem for innovation, technology and knowledge-sharing paves the way towards food security, starting in Jordan and then expanding globally.”

Hassad provides a pipeline of relevant local innovations to the WFP Jordan Innovation Hub, which in turn offers expertise and mentoring to the startups aligned with WFP’s objectives. By combining public and private sector efforts, we can amplify the overall impact, going beyond what either organization could achieve alone in supporting innovation.

Empowering smallholder farmers

Our work at the WFP Jordan Innovation Hub emphasizes the importance of locally-led solutions. An example of this is Decapolis, a local startup which provides a blockchain-based platform to help smallholder farmers comply with food quality control standards. With support from the WFP Innovation Accelerator, Decapolis helps farmers produce better and safer products by training them in appropriate modern farming techniques, as well as food quality and safety regulations. Crucially, smallholder farmers can use the Decapolis platform to prove their products’ compliance with quality control standards, which allows them to generate better income and even to export their products.

“We are helping smallholder farmers in Jordan improve their businesses by applying advanced technology to enhance the safety and quality of the goods produced,” says Abedalrhman Habashneh, CEO of Decapolis. “We are supporting 100 smallholder farmers find new outlets for selling their products at premium prices.” The pilot focuses on farmers throughout Jordan and is evaluating the impact of the Decapolis system on the quality of their products and ultimately on their livelihoods.

Joining forces to move forward

As we look to 2021, our focus is on further evolving support to innovators from all backgrounds around Jordan and connecting them to the knowledge, networks and opportunities required to foster their innovations. This year, we plan to work directly with 10 promising startups and continue building ecosystem network contacts, particularly those involved in youth entrepreneurship. No one organization, startup, or entrepreneur can innovate successfully alone, but together, through collaboration and sharing, we have a better chance of reaching the common goal of eliminating food insecurity.

A farmer displays his crop of herbs, which will be marketed and sold to retailers with the support of Decapolis. Photo: WFP/Mohammad Batah.

The WFP Innovation Accelerator sources, supports and scales high-potential solutions to end hunger worldwide. We provide WFP staff, entrepreneurs, start-ups, companies and non-governmental organizations with access to funding, mentorship, hands-on support and WFP operations.

Find out more about us: wfp.org/enablers and innovation.wfp.org. Subscribe to our e-newsletter. Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn, and watch our videos on YouTube.

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