06 December 2009

Innovation platforms and networks

Two growing and related trends in agricultural research and development are the notions of 'innovation systems'and 'value chains'. This coming week the relation between ICTs and value chains will be discussed online on the e-agriculture platform.

I recently interviewed some researchers attending an ILRI workshop about their research work on innovation systems:

In this video, Ranjitha Puskur shared some lessons coming out of the DFID-funded Fodder Innovation Project.

She briefly introduces the innovation systems approach that underpins the project: Essentially, the aim is to form and facilitate a network of different actors in a chain or continuum of knowledge production and its use, mobilizing all their various resources and capacities to address a problem.

She emphasizes that "getting a network of actors isn't an easy process, it takes time". Different organizations with different interests and motives have to be brought around the table to contribute and benefit. "It needs great facilitation skills and negotiating skills which are not very often core competences of researchers like us."

Beyond facilitation of this network formation, "we also see that linkages don't happen automatically" ... we need facilitating or broker organisations to create them.

Alan Duncan (see video) talked about a related IFAD-funded 'Fodder Adoption Project.'

The project helps multiple groups of stakeholders (the whole value chain) - farmers, private sector, dairy coops, the government - get together in 'innovation platforms' where they can develop joint actions that address livestock fodder problems.

Initially the project focused on technologies. As the process evolved, other issues came in, more actors joined the platforms, and the technologies - growing improved fodder - acted as a catalyst for people to come together to discuss a wide range of other issues (dairying, health, etc). Fodder proved to be a useful 'engine' for the group to identify a much wider range of issues to address - along the whole value chain.

He explains that this type of work facilitating stakeholder platforms is "not trivial." But it is essential: "Technology is only one small part of the equation and really a lot of it is about human interactions and how organizations behave."

ICRISAT's Andre Van Rooyen (see video) explains the 'innovation platform' approach he uses to engage with smallholder farmers in Southern Africa.

"Our hypothesis is that farmers will only invest in improved technologies when they are part of an effective marketing system."

"Innovation platforms allow us to bring in value chain players" that provide credible information and opportunities that are attractive for farmers to adopt.

He argues that there are many brilliant technologies available, but the challenge is to get these into the context of farmers so they can see and experience the real benefits.

Innovation systems provide the opportunity or platform to do this.

"Using this process, we can identify the real challenges, not our challenges as scientists, but what the farmers are struggling with."

See more postings on innovation systems

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