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29 October 2019

AB Sugar announces winning idea from the Innovate Irrigation Challenge

AB Sugar announces winning idea from the Innovate Irrigation Challenge
  • Pair of graduate civil engineers from Uganda are revealed as winners of AB Sugar’s Innovate Irrigation Challenge and are awarded with £10,000 for the accolade
  • Their idea was unanimously chosen by a panel of prestigious judges and focuses on a smart irrigation system that will provide real-time data to estate managers and small holder farmers to make informed decisions on water usage and irrigation scheduling
  • As a first step, the idea will be translated into a feasibility study to consider the potential impact


We are excited to announce that the winners of the Innovate Irrigation Challenge are two graduate civil engineers from Uganda – Samuel Mukisa and Yvonne Nalinnya. Both studied Civil Engineering at Makerere University and have a keen interest in irrigation in agriculture. Upon sharing the news that they had won, both were shocked and delighted having not expected to be chosen.

On announcing the winning idea, Katharine Teague, Head of Advocacy from AB Sugar said:

“We are delighted with the winning idea and the potential to introduce the concept following the results of the feasibility study. We are continually taking steps to conserve water in line with our 2030 sustainability commitments and are always looking at ways to work with those within our supply chain to do so. The winning idea provides us with the opportunity to work together with our growers to put this into practice.”

The decision to award Samuel and Yvonne as the winners was unanimous by our prestigious panel of judges; representing a diverse range of experience and knowledge across a multitude of industry sectors and geographies. Judges included: Jim McClelland (sustainable futurist, SustMeme), Virginia Newton-Lewis (WaterAid), Ian Bamford (University of Cambridge Centre for Industrial Sustainability), Bruce Lankford (University of East Anglia), Paul Fishpool and Peter Watson (AB Sugar) and Darran Boote and Matthew Trinder (Illovo Sugar Africa). The judges came together to review all the entries against a set criterion of relevance, feasibility, scalability, impact and measurability.

The winning idea

Samuel and Yvonne’s idea focused on developing a smart irrigation system that would account for water used in irrigation, detect water losses in the system, plan irrigation schedules, monitor growth of crops and determine the irrigation water requirement of the crop during different growth stages. It could be connected into current processes, managed from afar and integrated with new technologies available in remote locations; allowing estate managers and small holder farmers to understand, analyse and act on the information provided through the acquired data.

What stood out to the judges during the review stage was that the idea also prioritised the need for all parties to continually adapt behaviour around water usage given its status as a depleting resource across the globe, and to contribute action towards the fight against climate change. All data captured within the system would be available in real-time; while training needed for farmers and estate staff to build up capability of using such systems was also considered. Push notifications to users would enable action to take place as and when needed whilst ongoing water audits would monitor action taken against output provided.

Two of the judges commented on why the winning idea was chosen:

Jim McClelland, Sustainable Futurist, SustMeme comments: “It’s affordable, implementable at scale and would enable the all-important data points to be collated. When there is insufficient data, resource efficiency is lost - therefore this idea warranted being the winner due to its critical data collection and direct impact on enhanced performance.”

Ian Bamford, Commercial Director in Centre for Industrial Sustainability at University of Cambridge: “The need to encourage recurrent behaviour change from all those involved from the offset stood out; it’s about continuing to build trust with users. Overtime this will ensure a better chance of success when introducing other new technologies to meet the changing needs of the climate in less-developed countries or rural locations.”


Notes to editors:

About The Innovate Irrigation Challenge

The Innovate Irrigation Challenge was a pilot initiative launched in partnership with WaterAid and the Centre for Industrial Sustainability at the University of Cambridge, to help stimulate new ideas to solve the increasing threat posed by the depletion of water resources. It was a 48-hour online event held on 19 and 20 June 2019. During the Challenge over 90 individuals and teams registered, with 28 of those submitting an entry before the submission window closed on 20 June.

Following the event an expert panel of judges unanimously selected a winner, and conversations are now in progress to draw up a feasibility plan to understand the potential impact on water usage and to trial the idea in the field.

People who are interested in finding out more about The Innovate Irrigation Challenge can visit They can also join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #InnovateIrrigation.

About AB Sugar
The AB Sugar Group has its head office in the UK and comprises of six operating businesses in ten countries: AB Sugar China, Azucarera (Spain), British Sugar (United Kingdom), Germains Seed Technology (Europe/USA), Illovo Sugar Africa (Southern Africa) and Vivergo Fuels (United Kingdom).

In April 2018, AB Sugar was the first sugar company to launch its Group-wide commitments to improve sustainability. AB Sugar has committed to ensure 100% of plastic packaging throughout its supply chain is reusable, recyclable, biodegradable or compostable by 2030.  Over the same period, the company will work with its 25,000 partner growers to reduce end-to-end water and CO2 footprints by 30%. The 2030 commitments are part of AB Sugar’s broader ‘Global Mind, Local Champions’ sustainability framework, which is committed to consuming resources responsibly, building rural economies and creating thriving and healthy communities. Further information can be found here:

Since launching our industry-leading commitments in April 2018, we have shifted our focus to having impact across our end-to-end supply chain through cutting water use and carbon emissions. For many years we have continually invested in new technologies which are now working for us at the optimal rate, but we’ve been looking to take the next step on this journey with our partners. Irrigation is one area where working in partnership with all stakeholders is pivotal, to continually adapt behaviours and the winning idea connected to this in a practical way.

For further information on AB Sugar, please visit our website or follow us on @ABSugarplc.

About WaterAid
WaterAid is working to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. The international not-for-profit organisation works in 28 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalised people. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 26.4 million people with clean water and 26.3 million people with decent toilets. For more information, visit, follow @WaterAidUK or @WaterAidPress on Twitter, or find WaterAid UK on Facebook at

  • 785 million people in the world – one in ten – do not have clean water close to home.[1]
  • 2 billion people in the world – almost one in four – do not have a decent toilet of their own.[2]
  • Around 310,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That's around 800 children a day, or one child every two minutes.[3]
  • Every £1 invested in water and toilets returns an average of £4 in increased productivity.[4]
  • Just £15 can provide one person with clean water.[5]


About the Centre for Industrial Sustainability at the University of Cambridge
The Centre for Industrial Sustainability (CIS) is part of the Institute for Manufacturing at the University of Cambridge.

The development of more sustainable societies depends on industries better understanding how to respond to environmental, economic and social challenges and transform industrial behaviour. CIS works to develop knowledge and tools that accelerate the transition towards a sustainable industrial system. We help manufacturers profit from the opportunities of a sustainable future and have supported over 200 companies innovate to become more sustainable.

To find out more about CIS and the Institute for Manufacturing, please visit our website at and follow us on Twitter @IfMCambridge

[1] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines

[2] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines


[4] World Health organization (2012) Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage


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