A new way to reward innovation in African agriculture:

Proportional prizes for the adoption of new technologies

This page provides links to the research behind a novel approach to development assistance, to help African farmers raise their incomes and reduce malnutrition.  The new approach allows donors to reward innovators whose new technologies most successfully meet farmers’ needs. 

These proportional “prize rewards” would be cash payments, made to innovators after their technologies are adopted, like a royalty payment for non-market services.  Prize rewards would be strictly proportional to the extent of adoption and impact, using verifiable data from controlled experiments and farm surveys to document which new techniques work best in what areas.



In a nutshell…


The proposal is for a specific way to deliver cash payments to innovators, in direct proportion to the social benefits generated by farmers’ adoption of the techniques they helped to develop and disseminate.  These prize rewards would help innovators expand their activities, and also attract private investors and other donor funding to help to spread the most successful new technologies.


To earn these proportional royalties, innovators would submit data from controlled experiments and adoption surveys to a prize secretariat, which would audit the data and submit certified results to donors for disbursement against lines of credit allocated for this program.   Payment rates would depend on the available prize funds and the extent of measured gains in each time period. 


A pilot effort is among the 21 specific recommendations of the Chicago Initiative on Global Agricultural Development, that was launched here on February 25th, 2009.  The relative value of proportional prizes as opposed to other innovation incentives is discussed in detail by Kimberley Ann Elliott at the Center for Global Development’s page on Incentives for Agricultural Innovation.




Funding and implementation


Development of the initiative has been generously supported by grants from the Andrew S. Adelson Family Foundation and the International Food Policy Research Institute.  The approach has been endorsed by FARA, the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, and it builds on a decade of USAID-funded training workshops and case studies led by Prof. Masters and his colleagues in West Africa. 









The proposal is

detailed in a range

of publications for

various audiences:



·         a one-page summary, with links to source materials and contact information;

·         an IFPRI discussion paper entitled “Accelerating Innovation with Prize Rewards (December 2008) with detailed motivation for the new proportional-payment design;

·         an article in the Journal of Public Economics (forthcoming in 2010) comparing proportional payments to traditional winner-take-all prizes;

·         an earlier article in Journal of International Affairs (2005) providing detailed motivation for how and why prizes are needed to alleviate poverty and promote economic growth;

·         Other materials include:

-- the first article on prize rewards, from AgBioForum (2003)

-- a longer article published in International Journal of Biotechnology (2005);

-- some press coverage from ABC News   

-- a generic set of presentation slides (in PowerPoint) and as a handout (in PDF)

-- a fun example of using proportional prizes to keep golf players competitive

-- a serious proposal for a “health impact fund” using proportional prizes






Public presentations

on the initiative


























AfDB African Economic Conference (Addis) [slides]

IFPRI Conference on Agricultural Innovation (Addis) [slides]

Lisbon Workshops on Research and Policy (Lisbon, Portugal) [slides]

UN ESA Division for Sustainable Development (New York) [slides]

African Assoc. of Ag. Economists (Accra, Ghana)

Am. Agric. Econ. Assoc.  annual meetings (Portland, OR)

Jenny Lanjouw Memorial Conference (U.C. Berkeley)

 X Prize Foundation (Los Angeles, CA)

CropLife International Conference (Geneva, Switzerland)

International Food Policy Research Institute (Washington, DC)

Am. Agric. Econ. Assoc.  annual meetings (Providence, RI)

CropLife Annual Conference (Brussels, Belgium)

The World Bank (Washington, DC)

Woodrow Wilson Center (Washington, DC)

USAID (Washington, DC)

Columbia Univ. (establishment of advisory board) (New York, NY)

Columbia Univ. (Life Science Conference) (New York, NY)

ETH-Zurich (Zurich, Switzerland)

NC-1003 conference on agricultural research (St. Louis MO)

Columbia Univ. (Development Seminar) (New York, NY)

Am. Agric. Econ. Assoc. annual meetings (Montreal, Canada)

Intl. Conference on Agricultural Biotechnology (Ravello, Italy)

NC-1003 conference on agricultural research (Rutgers University, NJ)







Photo info:

(photos by Will Masters,
various years and locations)


From left to right:

  (1) a farm family in Burkina Faso, with

  (2) their field in microcatchments for soil and water conservation;

  (3) samples of traditional and improved seeds, and

  (4) marketing a bumper crop of maize and cotton.




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 last updated June 2010