Building Collaborative Partnerships in West Africa

Context Global Development
4 min readMay 17, 2021


Originally published July 2018.

Climate change, poverty, and hunger, habitat preservation — these are just some of the challenges facing the world today, and agriculture holds the key to unlocking their solutions. A creative, collaborative, and business-driven approach is necessary to tackle these challenges. Context Global Development is uniquely positioned to build critical partnerships and bring innovations to market.

Each year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funds grants and projects to give low-income people tools to lead healthy, productive lives and thus be helped to lift themselves out of poverty.

In 2017, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria, in collaboration with Sahel Consulting Agriculture & Nutrition, Ltd. of Lagos, Nigeria, the governments of Ghana and Nigeria, and local seed companies received a $12 million grant from the Gates Foundation to transform the formal yam seed system in Nigeria and Ghana to provide smallholder farmers with access to affordable, high-quality, improved yam seed.

Context Global Development (CGD) was selected to partner with Sahel to build collaborative partnerships and provide advisory expertise and organizational and financial analysis to IITA to ensure farmers gain power and agency. CGD is an independent, nonprofit organization founded in 2015 by Context Network, a global agricultural consulting firm established in 1986.

The five-year program is the second phase of the Yam Improvement for Income and Food Security in West Africa (YIIFSWA) program.

The new phase (YIIFSWA-II) is intended to boost certified seed yam production by optimizing and commercializing breakthroughs in yam seed production. The project uses temporary immersion bioreactors (TIBs) and aeroponics technologies for rapid multiplication of seed yams developed in the program’s first phase.

By making available a supply of disease-free, improved varieties to smallholder yam producers, YIIFSWA-II is expected to improve the livelihoods of at least 1.6 million people in Nigeria and Ghana who depend directly on the yam value chain. Those benefiting include seed and smallholder ware (edible) yam producers, processors, marketers, transporters, and consumers.

“YIIFSWA-II’s objective is to double the productivity of yams and thereby stimulate a sustainable increase in incomes for smallholder yam producers in Nigeria and Ghana,” says IITA YIIFSWA-II Project Leader Dr. Norbert Maroya. “Achieving this objective requires the participation of the entire yam value chain, including yam farmers and processors, commercial seed producers, institutional stakeholders, and other yam programs that will be encouraged to further support commercial seed producers.”

Project Benchmarks

To engage private sector companies in producing certified yam seed, CGD partnered with Sahel to conduct a survey on the landscape of seed companies in Nigeria. CGD also searched beyond traditional seed companies to engage technology-driven agricultural companies who were willing to undertake the task of establishing aeroponics systems.

Together with Sahel, CGD vetted the managerial backgrounds, experience, financial positions, and physical capabilities of 15 seed companies. Ultimately, three Nigerian companies were selected and presented to IITA for the YIIFSWA-II program. CGD assisted the selected companies in developing rigorous business plans and initiating construction of aeroponics systems. The companies are also working closely with government-based institutions to secure financing and buyers and establish memoradums of understanding for seed yam purchases.

CGD’s Project Lead Will Rogers says, “As a third-party agricultural development consultant, we bring commercial and development expertise to help with objective decisions needed to implement a grant such as YIIFSWA-II. Moreover, we share the grant’s vision.”

With its history of global agribusiness consulting, CGD can connect with the culture and needs of the private-sector parties who are central to maximizing societal impact in implementation of agricultural development programs around the world.

“CGD teams seamlessly embed as advisors, trainers, and managers into the core business operations of Gates Foundation grantees such as IITA. We harness our commercial and development expertise to maximize the value of agricultural resources,” says Context Network Principal Mark Nelson. “In doing so, we are able to catalyze public-private partnerships that result in meaningful and lasting change.”

Additional BMGF Projects

CGD has also received two significant multi-year Gates Foundation grants. As the lead grantee for one initiative — Realizing Agricultural Productivity Gains for Sorghum and Millet in the Sahel (SMS) — CGD is focusing on sorghum and millet in West Africa’s Sahel region. In another Gates Foundation project in Nigeria, CGD is a sub-grantee and is developing a rapid-multiplication, disease-free seed production system for cassava using semi-autotrophic hydroponic technology.

“Both grants have the potential to directly improve the lives of thousands of men, women, and children in key developing regions of Africa,” Nelson says. “This is just the beginning of what we feel will be many more opportunities to participate in transformative change for agricultural communities around the world. We’re grateful to be entrusted as an implementation partner to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers.”

The Context Network® is the world’s premier business management and strategy consulting firm providing services to agriculture, biotechnology, and food companies, and to government entities and NGOs. The organization helps each client achieve remarkable results and advance agriculture via customized business solutions. Major areas of expertise include: strategy development, opportunity analysis, R&D assessments, merger and acquisition support, product/portfolio management, regulatory compliance, industry benchmarking, competitive intelligence, and marketing intelligence/ research. Context is comprised of a core of professional executive consultants and is complemented by a global network of hundreds of industry and subject matter experts on-site worldwide.



Context Global Development

Context Global Development® (CGD) is a non-profit organization that leads agricultural and social impact programs worldwide.