Agricultural research ‘must support local innovation’

Local innovation plays a key role in food security Copyright: Flickr/jasperwiet

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[KUALA LUMPUR] New approaches to agricultural research and development (R&D) that support local innovation are needed in order to tackle global poverty, say agriculture experts.

At a conference, Re-imagining Agricultural Research in Development Dialogue, held in Penang, Malaysia last month (29-31 January), experts from the agricultural sector convened to discuss how agricultural research could best be used to benefit the 870 million people still living on less than US$1.25 a day.

"The [conference] was motivated by the realization that agricultural research was not benefiting the poorest of the poor," Boru Douthwaite, Knowledge Sharing and Learning theme leader for the CGIAR Research Program on Aquatic Agricultural Systems (AAS), tells SciDev.Net.


  • Agricultural researchers are ‘outsiders providing solutions’, a conference hears
  • They must consider the role of local innovation in tackling food insecurity and poverty
  • Three factors to link research to poverty alleviation were outlined at the meeting

"Researchers are outsiders providing solutions. We need to become insiders and be part of the process," Douwaite says, adding that the poor are not amenable to ‘magic bullet’ technology-driven approaches.


Eve Crowley, deputy director of Gender, Equity and Rural Employment at the Food and Agriculture Organization, said at the conference that "there was a clear consensus that the approaches that yield the most lasting benefits [are those that] support producers’ own abilities to innovate locally and to develop or adapt their own solutions".

"So, much of the conference focused on how this process could be systematised, intentionally induced, successfully supported, and measured," she adds.

Patrick Dugan, acting director of the AAS programme and deputy director-general of the WorldFish Center, said that the main reason that some geographical areas are left behind is that in many complex farming systems "the available technologies are not adapted to the specific challenges that the farmers are facing". 

"This calls for much more participatory forms of technology development that can also help develop the conditions within which farmers pursue their own innovations," he says.

Most of these areas involve complex agricultural systems such as those found in drylands, humid tropics and aquatic systems — all of which have been largely bypassed by the green revolution, says Crowley.

At the conference, three factors were identified that were especially important for achieving sustainable impact in boosting food security.

The first is integrating the design and implementation of agricultural research with inputs from local communities and governments, to nurture conditions for sustained innovation and the spread of successful approaches.

Second is the need for agricultural researchers to develop substantive partnerships with communities, development agencies and other key stakeholders who will play a central role in achieving sustainability and spread of innovations to achieve impacts on poverty at scale.

And finally, the agricultural research community must be equipped with the skills to manage the different processes, projects and programmes required to deliver research effectively.

Dugan says that they would be acting on these ideas and "hope that other programmes and partners will take up the ideas as well".

He adds that they are envisaging introducing these ideas in places within Cambodia, the Philippines and Myanmar where there are large numbers of people living in poverty.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net’s South-East Asia & Pacific desk.