This policy brief, published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), presents an innovation systems approach for agricultural development.

The authors argue that sustainable agricultural development is essential to tackle emerging issues such as high food prices, climate change and demand for biofuels. Achieving this requires knowledge and innovation in technology, institutions, policies and organisations. Fostering innovation, in turn, means investing in agricultural science and technology, research and extension, education and training, and farmer organisations and other local institutions.

There is plenty of evidence to show that investing in agricultural research can reduce poverty and increase agricultural growth. But the conventional linear pipeline approach to agricultural research has serious limitations because it often ignores the private sector and indigenous knowledge.

More effective, the authors say, is an innovation systems approach based on building a network for creating new products and processes that involves a range of actors, including farmers, researchers, extension officers, policymakers, private companies, entrepreneurs and nongovernmental agencies.

Policymakers can encourage such an approach by investing in farmer-centred research and development — by providing incentives for the private sector and agroprocessing firms to undertake, or fund, agricultural and food research, for example. They should also establish innovative mechanisms to bring farmers and researchers together, provide education about and access to new and improved crop varieties — such as the New Rice for Africa — and provide new information and communication technologies.

Building capacity among all actors — from farmers to researchers and extension services, to policymakers themselves — is also crucial for stimulating knowledge and innovation. Prioritising government spending among these will depend on local conditions, political systems and availability of infrastructure.

Link to full policy brief from IFPRI

This policy brief was prepared by Kwadwo Asenso-Okyere, director of, and Kristin Davis, research fellow in IFPRI's Knowledge, Capacity, and Innovation Division.

Related topics