CHALLENGE: How might we equip independent smallholder farmers in Indonesia with more effective farming practices that meet sustainable palm oil standards and reduce deforestation?  

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Indonesia is the largest producer of palm oil in the world. Palm oil is critical to the country’s economy and provides income for many people living in poverty, including independent smallholder farmers. But palm oil is also linked to rapid deforestation, the elimination of endangered species’ habitats, and catastrophic forest fires and toxic haze that recur each year.

Indonesia is now at a crossroads. On April 14, 2016, President Joko Widodo declared a temporary ban on new palm oil concessions. The announcement, which is anticipated to be formalized in a presidential decree, or moratorium, is part of the government’s efforts to protect the nation’s tropical forests and peatlands and increase production on existing palm oil lands.

SAWIT is a new initiative to put smallholder farmers at the center of sustainable palm oil solutions. There are about three million independent smallholder farmers in Indonesia, and they produce roughly 40 percent of Indonesia’s total palm oil crops. These farmers tend to use traditional land clearing and growing practices that are not efficient or sustainable. As a result, many smallholders clear and plant on more land. 
Now is the time to identify and foster breakthrough solutions. The Oil Palm Smallholders Union (SPKS), the Indonesia Business Council for Sustainable Development (IBCSD), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) invite you to submit your solutions for helping smallholder farmers produce sustainable palm oil. Palm oil is sustainably produced when production does not result in or contribute to the clearing of forest, planting on peatland, or use of fire for land clearing, while it ensures economic benefits for farming communities and the protection of community land rights.
SAWIT seeks innovative solutions on how to help independent small farmers increase productivity at every step of production – from preparing land for cultivation, to planting better seeds with the right inputs, to harvesting and transporting the palm fruit expeditiously to mills – all while meeting sustainable palm oil standards. Selected innovators will be invited to participate in an Innovation Marketplace, where they will receive mentoring from experts and have the opportunity to pitch ideas to potential investors or partners for expansion in Indonesia.


SAWIT is interested in products, technologies, services, processes, financial instruments and business models that align with at least one of the following criteria:

  • Access to quality inputs such as seeds, fertilizer, labor technology and extension services for improved and sustainable production
  • Access to up-to-date market and pricing information services
  • Access to finance for farmers who do not have formal banking services
  • Geographic mapping and demographic data that clarifies informal land ownership for farmers, and could lead to legal title and sustainability certifications
  • Ability to trace crops to specific plantations and assure buyers that smallholder crops were produced legally and without deforestation activities
  • A fast and cost-effective way to transport farmers’ palm fruit to mills in less than 24 hours

Innovations may vary in maturity from a tested prototype to a widely available solution, provided they have been successfully validated in the field. Responses from all countries and sources are welcome - we invite social enterprises, corporate intrapreneurs, non-profit organizations with strong program implementation capacity, academics and research institutions, students, farmers, community groups, individuals, venture capitalists and other groups to apply.  Innovators poised to scale up their solutions will benefit the most from SAWIT acceleration.

Benefits to Innovators

SAWIT will hold an Innovation Marketplace to facilitate conversations tailored for each applicant team with leaders in the palm oil industry, funders, and civil society, depending on the applicant’s focus area and needs. Innovators will not directly receive investments from SAWIT’s sponsors, but will have the opportunity to pitch their ideas to a range of potential funders and interested parties. The Innovation Marketplace is designed to generate opportunities, connections and insights targeted to each innovation’s unique needs and future growth.  Companies and investors may choose to follow up with innovators about possible investment during or following the Marketplace.  Up to ten innovators or teams (up to two innovators per team) will receive:

  • Access to a customized selection of experts, influencers, and stakeholders throughout the palm oil ecosystem, as well as related fields such as agriculture, finance, sustainable development, and telecommunications, who can help develop the innovations and implement them in the field.
  • Mentoring and technical assistance from experts to help innovators tailor their innovations for the Indonesian context and refine growth strategies, if needed.
  • Assistance with creating a concise and high-impact pitch presentation.
  • All-expense-paid participation in an Innovation Marketplace in Indonesia the week of 14 November 2016. In addition, innovators will receive up to two days of customized mentorship that week in Indonesia to refine their pitches in advance of the Innovation Marketplace. 
  • Networking opportunities with SAWIT partners and contacts, with the potential to secure commitments specific to applicant needs after the Innovation Marketplace.
  • A professional video of your innovation story, which will be featured on the SAWIT website.
  • Publicity via social media and website features for SAWIT finalists.
  • Media training as preparation for potential interviews at the Innovation Marketplace.
  • Feature on the Global Innovation Exchange for potential additional funding opportunities and visibility.

USAID may itself invest in, or “incubate,” select ideas following the Marketplace if, at its sole discretion, USAID determines that doing so could help bring an idea to a more marketable position. 

Evaluation Criteria

Evaluation Criteria

Innovations will first be judged on their alignment with the SAWIT Challenge – that is, their support for smallholder farmers and their communities and improved environmental stewardship (particularly halting deforestation and peatland conversion) within the palm oil industry. Only those innovations that qualify as aligned with the SAWIT Challenge will be scored.

A panel of experts will score each qualifying innovation based on the following criteria.  Based on the experts’ evaluation, up to 10 innovations will be selected for participation in the Marketplace.  

Technical Feasibility - 30%

  • The innovation has proven technically viability or has data from initial tests/prototypes that demonstrate the innovation is technically sound.
  • ​The innovation demonstrates how it fits into the larger landscape and ecosystem of stakeholders, policies, and infrastructure, and contributes to the production of sustainable palm oil.

Market Fit (demand, regional applicability, sustainability) - 20%

  • The market for the innovation or solution has been validated or demonstrated.
  • The innovation demonstrates compatibility with the Indonesian cultural, political, economic and environmental context.

Scalability (potential for scale) - 20%

  • The innovation’s history indicates the potential for widespread adoption.
  • The long-term path to scale is feasible, clear, and considers future infrastructure and financing needs.

Innovation (innovative, transformative potential) - 20%

  • The innovation is ground-breaking and has potential for system and industry-wide transformation.

Management Capability - 10%

  • The team has the right technical talent to produce and implement the innovation and to build a sustainable organization.