Without innovation there would be no life on Earth, no human societies, nor markets for African tree crop commodities. Innovation solves problems and creates new ones. The recent COVID-19 experience has shown the relevance of innovation in many ways (Duguma et al 2021). Innovations by a tiny virus with characteristic spikes allowed it to cross the species barrier and infect humans, triggering many innovations in response, that range from changes in human behaviour that reduce the infection rates, the development of vaccines, a cottage industry of mouth caps and protective gear production and marketing, public investments to reduce the economic impact of the pandemic, new ways of virtual interactions and personal adjustments to appreciate life in the much smaller spaces that remain after travel restrictions. Innovations get a chance when the status quo has become problematic, and they spark further innovations in response, including further innovations in the virus that increase its infectiveness.Cause-effect pathways in innovation can be complex, however. Most of the innovations are,at the specific level, unpredictable – making clear that any sense of ‘Innovation Policy’ should focus on creating boundary conditions for welcoming innovations, but not even try to guide what the innovations as such entail.