the innovate
irrigation challenge


recognising the

need to take

further action


We can’t fight water scarcity alone:
this affects us all

Water is essential, agri-food businesses such as our own, understand the important role of this vital resource and we are determined to use it appropriately.  From growing the sugar beet and cane in fields, through to operational processes at our factories, water is essential.

We continue to return clean and potable water to rivers and reservoirs in Europe and in our Southern African operations we support the communities having access to clean and safe water.

Whilst we have come some way in reducing the use of this resource, there is always more we can do to reduce our environmental footprint, which is why we are excited to be launching 'The Innovate Irrigation Challenge’ to draw on ideas from across the globe.


we strive to be responsible stewards and users of all natural resources

Join your fellow innovators on our Facebook group >

submissions are now closed - we will continue to keep you updated on the Challenge

the prize

our partners

your judges




the prize

Your chance to make a difference. The winning prize will consist of:

1. recognition

The winning idea will be selected and recognised by our expert panel of judges, as well as promoted externally.

2. working together

The opportunity to potentially work with some of the organisations behind the Challenge to test the viability of the idea further.

3. payment

The winning idea will receive £10,000.

4. chance to visit 'on the ground'

If the winning idea is proved feasible, the opportunity to see the idea rolled out across one or more of our operations on the ground.

already registered?
log in here:


our partners

We are partnering with third party experts, such as WaterAid and the Centre for Industrial Sustainability at the University of Cambridge, who will play an integral role including selecting the winning ideas.

meet our judges

Our panel of judges represent a diverse range of experience and knowledge across different industry sectors and geographies, as well as delivering complex projects.

Virginia Newton-LewisIan BamfordPaul FishpoolBruce LankfordSteve EvansJim McCelland MAMatthew TrinderDarran Boote

Virginia Newton-Lewis

Senior Policy Analyst, Water Security at WaterAid

Virginia Newton-Lewis is the Senior Policy Analyst for Water Security in WaterAid’s Global Policy Team. Prior to joining WaterAid Virginia was a Water Policy Analyst at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations working on food security, irrigation modernisation and water resources.

Virginia has also worked on flood risk management, sewerage, and the environmental accounting of water resources. She holds a PhD from the School of International Development, University of East Anglia, an MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management from the University of Oxford and an MSci in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge.

Ian Bamford

Commercial Director in Centre for Industrial Sustainability at University of Cambridge

Ian has over 35 years of industry experience and has worked at a senior level in multinational companies such as Dell, Philips and Groupe Bull, as well as setting up and running small and mid-sized technology and consulting businesses in the USA and the UK. At Cambridge University, he was a Founding Director of the Centre for Industrial Sustainability and is instrumental in ensuring that leading edge research created can be effectively deployed to transform business performance to meet the sustainable needs of the future.

Paul Fishpool

Commercial Agriculture Manager, AB Sugar

Paul is an experienced agriculture manager with over 20 years’ experience in the sugar industry; and has spent his professional career working alongside and in support of sugar beet farmers. He has held a variety of roles from crop production, to agriculture operations and logistics management; and has worked in factories across the UK and in China. He has spent time studying how to maximise efficiency of the UK sugar beet supply chain and is a Nuffield Farming Scholar.

Bruce Lankford

Professor of Water and Irrigation Policy, School of International Development, University of East Anglia, UK

Bruce has over 35 years’ academic, practical and consultancy experience in agriculture, irrigation and water management, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa. He is a co-founder of the UEA Water Security Research Centre, and during his career has also worked for two major organisations – the Commonwealth Development Corporation and Hunting Technical Services Ltd (now DAI). His interests covers irrigation management; large-scale irrigation systems; the use of role-playing games in resource management; resource use efficiency; river basin management; and water allocation.

Steve Evans

Director of Research in Industrial Strategy at University of Cambridge

Steve has over 20 years of academic experience which includes working with leading industrial and academic institutions from around the globe and supervising over 120 PhD and MSc students at Cranfield University. His research seeks a deep understanding of how industry develop solutions that move us towards a sustainable future. He has led or co-led the first UK Engineering Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) projects in the fields of Concurrent Engineering, Co-development and Eco-design and is the Director of the new EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Industrial Sustainability; as well as the Director of the Centre of Industrial Sustainability at the IfM.

Jim McCelland MA

Sustainable Futurist & Founder of SustMeme

Jim is a sustainable futurist with extensive experience in media and events and is ranked among Top three media influencers in Sustainability worldwide. As a journalist and media commentator, he has had work featured in supplements for The Times and Sunday Times newspapers, specialising in sustainability matters and writing on topics ranging from ‘Smart Cities’ and ‘Business Risk’ to ‘Food & Agriculture’ plus the ‘Future of Water’. Also, the founder of the SustMeme publishing house and media brand, he has created content for the likes of Guardian Sustainable Business, Business Reporter (The Daily Telegraph), and many more titles as well as high street retailers and global clothing brands, utilities and real estate firms.

Matthew Trinder

Group Transport Excellence Manager, Illovo Sugar Africa

Matthew is an experienced logistics manager with over 12 years’ experience in the FMCG industry; and has spent his professional career working with multiple FMCG businesses to deliver world class customer service in a cost-effective manner. He has held a variety of roles from Route to Consumer specialist, market expansion and logistics management; and has worked in businesses across South Africa, Africa and the UK. He has spent time studying how the logistics supply chain can aid the sales offering to end customer so that it delivers competitive advantage and he is a Millennial Board Member of the Illovo Sugar Africa group. Personally, and professionally, he is passionate about sustainability and has worked on a number sustainable development initiative to lower the carbon footprint of industry and households.

Darran Boote

Group Agricultural Engineer, Illovo Sugar Africa

Darran has nearly 10 years’ experience within the African sugar cane industry in a range of agricultural engineering and research roles. His professional career started at the South African Sugarcane Research Institute (SASRI) focusing on energy use and carbon footprint of sugar cane production systems. During this time, he completed an MSc (Eng) in agricultural energy use. Other roles have included working for a consulting company specialising in sugar cane estate planning and design, as well as irrigation and pump station design. Since joining Illovo Sugar Africa, Darran’s focus is providing technical support to the Irrigation Services Team across all sites.



Challenge opens


Register your interest

19/06/19 (00:01 UK Time)

48 hours countdown to submit your ideas

20/06/19 (23:59 UK Time)

Idea submission closes

Early September

Winner announced


Got a question? Take a look at our questions below to the find the answer.

Entering the challenge
Q: Why have you chosen to call this ‘The Innovate Irrigation Challenge’? +

A: Reducing water usage is the first element we are tackling in this way to deliver on our 2030 commitments, which also includes reduction in use of plastics and C02 within our footprint. We are seeking bold and innovative ideas to help us, the wider community, and the industry as a whole.

Q: Why should I take part in this challenge? +

A: If you’ve got a transformative idea that could make a real and positive contribution to the Innovative Irrigation Challenge and to help reduce water usage then this challenge is for you.

If you were to win, there’s also a £10,000 prize up for grabs and the chance to work with AB Sugar and potentially our partners to implement the winning idea, if viable.

Q: What is the prize? +

A: The winning idea will receive £10,000 and the opportunity to potentially work with some of the organisations behind the Challenge to the test the viability of the idea further. As part of this, there may also be the chance to visit ‘on the ground’ if the winning idea is proved feasible and to see the idea rolled out across one or more of our operations.

Q. What do I have to do to enter? +

A: Register your interest at from the 28 May 2019. Once you’ve received your password you will have access to more details on the Challenge, including supporting information. All entries are to be submitted within a 48-hour window using the online entry form, starting from 00:01 on the 19 June and closing at 23:59 on the 20 June. Easy!

Q: Who can enter the challenge? +

A: The challenge is open to anyone over 18 years of age; from professionals, students or start-ups. We welcome any idea – large or small – to deliver on this goal.

Q. Can I enter the competition as a team? +

A: Yes.

Q. How many members can be involved in a team to enter? +

A: There is no minimum or maximum number of members each team can have, but only one complete entry per team can be submitted.

Q. Can I enter multiple times? +

A: You can enter as many times as you like as long as you have completed all the submission criteria and no entries are duplicated.

Q. Can I complete my submission in any language? +

A: All entries must be completed in English.

Q. Is the submissions deadline extendable? +

A: To ensure everyone has the same opportunity and timeframe, the submission period is not extendable.

Q. What are the key dates for this? +

A: You can register for this Challenge from the 28 May 2019. Once you’ve registered you will have access to more details on the Challenge, including supporting information. All entries are to be submitted within a 48-hour window using the online entry form, starting from 00:01 on the 19 June and closing at 23:59 GMT on the 20 June. Easy!

We’ll announce the winner by early September.

Q. What is the maximum file size that can be uploaded through the submission portal, as an attachment to accompany the form? +

A: Each entry including any accompanying material shall not exceed 100MB.

Q. Can I include videos to accompany my submission? +

A: Yes, but each entry, including any accompanying material, is not to exceed 100MB.

Q. Can I send additional materials that will complement my submission via email? +

A: No. All materials are to be submitted through the online entry process in the portal.

Q. If I have trouble completing my application, who should I contact? +

A: Please feel free to contact us at

Judging and announcing winners
Q. What is the criteria the submissions will be judged on? +

A:  All entries will be judged on their relevance, feasibility, scalability, impact and measurability.

Q. Is there a set of questions that need to be answered as part of the entry submission? +

A. There will be four questions posed as part of the submission process, these are: What is the overview of your idea? How would it work in practice? What would be the anticipated cost and barriers for implementation and has it been implemented elsewhere? What is the potential impact in reducing water losses? All questions will have a free text field of 500 words maximum. You are then free to provide any supporting documentation up to a total file size of 100MB. 

Q. Who will be judging the submissions? +

A: A panel of judges, including independent industry figures and representatives from our Challenge partners.

Q. If my idea does not get chosen, will I still receive feedback on my idea? +

A: We cannot guarantee feedback to every entry, but if you are shortlisted you will receive feedback and guidance.

Q. When and how will the winner be announced? +

A: We will notify the winner and shortlisted entries via the email address they provided at entry. We will also reveal them on our website, social media and via our partners, where applicable.

can’t find the answer you’re looking for?

Contact us at


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