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Developing innovation systems for African agriculture

This policy brief, published by the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) at the Future Agricultures Consortium, examines how an African 'green revolution' could be underpinned by the development of innovation systems rather than technology transfer.

While science and technology (S&T) is widely seen as key to advancing the continent's agricultural productivity, policymakers and institutions have largely focused specifically on delivering technology to farmers, rather than wider S&T initiatives. But inclusive agricultural development has been difficult to achieve through market-led approaches.

This brief draws from research to look at alternative innovation systems, how such systems can benefit the poor, and what changes are needed to realise sustainable agricultural development.

It highlights an alternative approach — Agricultural Innovation Systems (AIS) — which focuses on strengthening the capacity of smallholder farmers to innovate, and recognises the need for a continuous process of innovation.

'Enabling Rural Innovation', an initiative that promotes agricultural market access for poor and marginalised groups, particularly women, is one example of how a participatory approach has been used to create an entrepreneurial culture in poor economies and improve farmers' decision-making capacity. The initiative has revealed barriers to market access for women and the poor, and the need for stronger input from research and policy.

A different approach ('Zooming-in,  Zooming-out'), which focuses on communicating fresh ideas and educational tools about agricultural innovation, rather than supplying ready-made technology, shows that experiential learning can work, says the brief,  but requires more support from research centres.

The example of seed systems also shows that efforts to develop African agriculture rely on technology over innovation systems. Formal seed sources, such as gene banks and commercial companies, marginalise informal sources, like farmers saving and exchanging their own seed in local markets, for example. These informal sources are an opportunity to link formal system technology with local innovation systems.

The brief concludes that alternatives to market-led technology transfer can be developed, creating opportunities for small farmers — including women — to participate in innovation, research and farmer organisations. But to be successful, alternative innovation pathways require policy changes to promote better collaboration between stakeholders and a strengthened role for the public sector.

This policy brief was written by Kate Wellard Dyer for the Futures Agricultures Consortium.

Link to full policy brief from the Futures Agricultures Consortium