Saturday, 9 January 2010

Will a time of plenty for agricultural research help to feed the world?

6 January 2010. Hereafter follows a short summary of the latest issue of LINK - Learning, INnovation and Knowledge.

Much more than increased spending on agricultural research is required and that what is now needed is a prominent development investor that will champion the idea of research as an integrated part of a more broadly-conceived capacity for change.

A 2006 World Bank study of agricultural innovation processes and capacities concluded that:

Agricultural innovation is rarely driven by research and is usually opportunity-driven, with entrepreneurs (micro or corporate) responding to market opportunities and threats

  • Underpinning the capacity of these entrepreneurs to innovate is the network in which they are embedded and which they use as a way of accessing knowledge, information and technology — information about the changing state of the market, about new technology and about expertise to address opportunities and threats
  • Poorly-developed linkages among players with complementary information are the major constraints to innovation capacity and this is often related to long

A recent analysis by the International Food Policy Research Institute, IFPRI, of the circumstances under which agricultural research makes a difference, tacitly makes some broadly similar conclusions about the supporting (rather than leading) role of research in agricultural innovation.

How can partnerships and consortia arrangements be financed, since these are often transient and rarely legal entities? There certainly are things that can be invested in (see the September 2009 LINK LOOK, “Rethinking Investment in Agricultural Innovation”) and this includes things like sector coordinating bodies, farmers’ associations and other areas of institutional development that nurture networking and social capital formation. This is, however, a fragmented type of investment that has high administrative costs that are ill-suited to aid wholesalers.

RIU projects in Africa are experimenting with ways of strengthening innovation capacity by connecting up different pieces of the innovation systems in which they are working. The programme struggled initially to work out how to explore the research into use question. It is now starting to build evidence that suggests that rather than simply promoting researchproducts what is more valuable is linking the research process to activities led by entrepreneurs and other users of new ideas.

But while the contemporary views outlined above point to the need to view research as acomplementary tool to development activities, development practice still maintains firmadministrative and operational distinctions between the two. There are signs that some development investors can see that the problems of food security and coping with climate change require more than just research.

Reference: Will a time of plenty for agricultural research help to feed the world?

Multi-stakeholder processes for knowledge-based rural innovation
25 January 2010 - 30 April 2010
International Centre for development oriented Research in Agriculture - ICRA
This course is a professional capacity strengthening programme for enhancing performance in rural innovation.