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Innovation systems: a testing process

Fodder scarcity is an age-old problem faced by many poor livestock keepers (WRENmedia)
Fodder scarcity is an age-old problem faced by many poor livestock keepers

It is a time of new opportunities as new technologies allow people to easily obtain new and more information, and local and global markets become more accessible. But coping with change is a complex process and it is unfortunate that a business-as-usual approach in agriculture and rural development often results in these opportunities being under-exploited. However, a pilot project in India and Nigeria is learning some interesting lessons from five very different sites about building capacity for change around the issue of fodder scarcity.

Fodder scarcity is an age-old problem and one which most livestock keepers face in developing countries, particularly during the dry season. For decades, researchers have developed a range of technologies to address the problem, including new varieties, fodder banks and alternative cropping patterns. However, despite the wealth of knowledge and technologies developed, little progress has been made in resolving the issue.

More than just fodder

The approach taken by the Fodder Innovation Project* is to look beyond the issue of fodder, and to focus on the broader context of the livestock system in these five pilot areas. For example in Ibadan, Nigeria, a goat marketing system has been established to provide incentives for farmers to invest in fodder. In Puducherry, India, milk price policy has become the main issue, although the project started by developing small-scale fodder enterprises.

"By taking this wider focus," says Andy Hall, researcher at the UN University (UNU-MERIT), "the issue of fodder scarcity is not just about technologies but about the collective capacity of a network of individuals and organisations to use different types of information to bring about change." Hall believes there is no blueprint for this type of approach and, within this particular project, it is the role of UNU-MERIT to determine the processes that facilitate the development of networks in the five locations.

The case for innovation champions

Facilitating the networking of different actors brings in different expertise to help tackle a problem (WRENmedia)
Facilitating the networking of different actors brings in different expertise to help tackle a problem

The research is still in its early stages but developments during 2008 demonstrate that supporting local champions, who can build interest in an initiative, appears to be working. In Bilwara, Rajasthan, for example, it was found that holding meetings with different stakeholders did not result in the development of a satisfactory programme of work to resolve fodder scarcity. Instead, Foundation for Ecological Security, a local NGO, has helped support the establishment of animal health camps, drawing in various agencies offering different expertise.

The animal health camps are not a new initiative, but it is the first time that different departments, including animal health and extension officers, have worked together. Building on this success, farmers are now demanding access to other services, including human health advice and access to new fodder grasses for rehabilitating degraded land.

In the Bilwara area, as at all the project sites, there is a variety of bodies, including government organisations, research institutions, dairy co-operatives and other private sector players, who have either a mandate to improve farmers' livelihoods or, in the case of private dairies, need to help farmers as part of their business model. These interests are often overlapping and the value of the champion is to facilitate the networking of these actors so that farmers have access to technology, expertise and markets, which allows them to innovate and prosper.

A dynamic approach

Hall emphasises that it is vital that the network is dynamic and responsive to changing circumstances. The approach is not about working with a fixed set of players but should be capable of responding to the needs and challenges that emerge. Responding to the unexpected is also essential.

Recognising a business opportunity, a women's self-help group has started to grow Napier grass for fodder (WRENmedia)
Recognising a business opportunity, a women's self-help group has started to grow Napier grass for fodder

In Puducherry, for instance, some of the most interesting fodder developments are occurring outside the project's defined area. In one case, a women's self-help group of landless farmers has rented land from the local council to grow Napier grass to sell within their village. Recognising a business opportunity, the women approached the local veterinary college, which is leading the fodder innovation project in the area, to get advice and access to fodder planting material. The challenge for the veterinary college is to know what can be learned from these unexpected outcomes and for the project to be flexible enough to integrate such lessons and redirect its support towards these promising pathways of innovation.

Taking an innovations systems approach is undoubtedly complex and each scenario presents a unique set of problems, as well as a unique group of players that need to be brought together in order to achieve a greater sum than their separate parts. Although there is no specific model that can be applied, if stakeholders are encouraged to look beyond the target problem, to focus not on technology but on capacity then, concludes Hall, achieving effective agricultural development is more likely.

*The Fodder Innovation Project is a collaborative venture between the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and UNU-MERIT, and is funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID)

Date published: May 2009


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This is an excellent article, thank you very much for it. (posted by: )


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