Ideas on the ground: Local solutions for global challenges

A conversation with BMZ Head of Division Sebastian Lesch on the Innovation Challenge programme of the new Agricultural Innovation Fund.

Ich bin ein Alternativtext

Sebastian Lesch

(c) Sebastian Lesch / BMZ

Since mid 2018 Sebastian Lesch has been head of the Agriculture Department of the BMZ, which is responsible for a wide range of topics from agricultural trade and global agricultural supply chains such as soya, palm oil, cocoa or coffee, for the Common European Agricultural Policy to concrete innovation in our project work with a wide range of partners worldwide. The unit includes the flagship project of the "Green Innovation Centres" as well as international agricultural research and agrobiodiversity. Prior to this, Mr Lesch was Head of German-Egyptian Development Cooperation in Cairo for four years, from 2010 to 2014 he was Press Officer of the BMZ and before that Country Director for Central Asia and the Southern Caucasus. He studied contemporary history, international politics and international law, is married and has three sons.


Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)


Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development



A world without hunger and with sufficient healthy food as well as climate-friendly agriculture can only be achieved if ideas are transformed into innovations and ultimately also applied. To promote innovation, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development has set up the Agricultural Innovation Fund. We wanted to learn more about it and decided to talk to Sebastian Lesch, Head of Division at the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).


‘The global agenda and national strategies are not the only areas with potential to make a big difference. The small but innovative ideas of people on the ground can make a decisive contribution to sustainable development. We have to find these ideas and support them so people can benefit from them and we can achieve our development goals’, said Lesch, who oversees the Agricultural Innovation Fund and has commissioned the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH to implement them.


This includes the Innovation Challenge - an ideas competition that was held at in March 2020. ’With the Innovation Challenge, we want to take a different approach to actively integrate people with innovative ideas from our partner countries in our developmental collaboration efforts, says Sebastian Lesch. He adds: ’We want to find the change agents and their ideas. In other words, people and projects with a pioneering spirit and the local familiarity to initiate urgently needed changes on the ground.’


’With the Innovation Challenge, we want to take a different approach to actively integrate people with innovative ideas from our partner countries in our developmental collaboration efforts.’


The Agricultural Innovation Fund was looking for innovations from small enterprises, start-ups and smallholder organisations from GIZ partner countries that have the potential to make agriculture more efficient and sustainable along the entire value chain. The overall objective is to contribute to the fight against hunger and malnutrition and thus to the achievement of the second sustainability goal of the United Nations until 2030.


Around 1,000 applications from 44 countries in Africa and Asia were received by mid-April. Head of Division Mr Lesch was pleased with the large number of responses, because ’it shows us that we are on the right track and that the competition is the right approach’.


’It is essential that women play an active role in shaping these future solutions.’


In terms of content, it addresses three key issues for agriculture: one is mechanisation. Sebastian Lesch says: ’Mechanisation does not only make cultivation more productive, but more importantly, it can promote the processing of food and add value to it on a local level. The same applies to digitalisation‘ – the second focus of the competition. ’Digitalisation offers a wide range of possibilities for modernising processes in agriculture, like online marketing of food or digital extension services.’ The third focus of the Innovation Challenge addresses the potential of renewable energies in agriculture. It includes the question of how access to energy can be increased and greenhouse emissions kept low despite increasing productivity. It is extremely important to us that measures against climate change are always considered and integrated in all our project activities‘, says Sebastian Lesch.


Twitterauszug GIZ
Social media posts, such as this GIZ contribution on Twitter, were the focus of the communication strategy of the Innovation Challenge; the aim was to target women in particular with the ideas com-petition.

Sebastian Lesch emphasised how important it is to specifically target women with the Innovation Challenge, because they play a central role in agriculture: ’With today's innovations, we are shaping our lives of tomorrow. It is essential that women play an active role in shaping these future solutions and contribute their views and needs. That is the only way for women to benefit from new technologies in the agricultural sector.’


In the coming weeks, 15 finalists will be selected for the final round of the Innovation Challenge. In addition to the added value in terms of development policy, the focus is on originality of the innovation, good feasibility and, of course, a practicable benefit. During a public online event in September, the finalists will have the chance to win support packages worth up to 50,000 Euros. The BMZ and the Agricultural Innovation Fund wish all participants good luck!


The conversation with Head of Division Sebastian Lesch was conducted online by Sarah-Kay Schotte (GIZ) on 30 April 2020.


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