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Innovation platforms - the right path to technology adoption?

IPTAs promote problem solving (© FAO/Riccardo Gangale)
IPTAs promote problem solving
© FAO/Riccardo Gangale

Innovation platforms for technology adoption (IPTA) aim to promote problem solving by a wide range of stakeholders, including researchers, farmers, extension workers and NGOs, policymakers, equipment manufacturers, traders and processers. The intention is for the platform to agree on and work towards a common goal that, typically, will lead to greater productivity and income for smallholder farmers. In recent years, the formation of IPTAs, in order to extend new technologies to large numbers of farmers has been widely adopted in agricultural development.

The Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), which hosted the recent Africa Agriculture Science Week in Accra, Ghana, has strongly backed the IPTA model. However, concerns have been raised about whether IPTAs are in danger of becoming a formulaic development response that ignores the realities of competition between different stakeholders in a platform, or the varying characteristics of commodities and value chains. New Agriculturist gave participants at Africa Agriculture Science Week an opportunity to share their views:

What is the key strength of the IPTA model?

It is an opportunity for all stakeholders in a particular value chain interested in a particular issue to come together and see how their work can support the people who need the research, with everybody taking ownership and responsibility for the outcome.
Sonali Bisht, Institute of Himalayan Environmental Research and Education (INHERE), Uttarakhand, India

The fact that the end users of an innovation are involved every step of the way in the development of the technology, which makes innovation adoption much easier.
Adewale Adekunle, Director of Partnerships and Strategic Alliances, FARA

IPTAs aim to achieve greater productivity and income for smallholder farmers (© FAO/Riccardo Gangale)
IPTAs aim to achieve greater productivity and income for smallholder farmers
© FAO/Riccardo Gangale

IITA has been using the IPTA model for some time now. We see our innovations are more easily adopted by farmers whose yields and profit have been increasing as a result.
Chrysantus Akem, Coordinator, Support for Agricultural Research for Development of Strategic Crops in Africa (SARD-SC) project, IITA

We carry out a lot of research, mostly based on market surveys or feasibility studies, to find out what is needed and technologies are then developed to meet that need. But the best approach is the one where we include the stakeholders or end users of the research in an IPTA and find out what they need before embarking on the project.
Gloria Elemo, Director General, Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi, Nigeria

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Achieving success

Technology uptake becomes much easier if the platform is truly innovative and users are part of the innovation from the outset, linked with specialised research organisations.
Jimmy Smith, Director General, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

Involving all the different stakeholders from the beginning is vital. Often the people constituting an IPTA think of the private sector too late, or they do not think about the regulatory aspect, which is state or government laws. These are very important aspects to consider before you even set up the innovation platform.
Victor Kommerell, Programme Manager, WHEAT Crop Research Programme, CIMMYT

IPTAs are supposed to be organised around shared interests. Once there is shared interest - not one stakeholder driving the agenda, but all stakeholders working in collaboration with each other - there will be success.
Judith Francis, Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA)

Successful IPTAs are organised around shared interests (© FAO/Christena Dowsett)
Successful IPTAs are organised around shared interests
© FAO/Christena Dowsett

The most important thing is the development of trust between the different actors that come together on the platform. That is a hard thing to establish and is also a hard thing to maintain, because if one of the parties messes up and things fall apart, getting all the partners together again to work in trust becomes very difficult.
Johannes Roseboom, Senior Innovation Policy Consultant, The Netherlands

Coming together in the spirit of equality is key. If the researchers do not see themselves as superiors, farmers do not see themselves as inferior, government and NGOs all see each other as equal - they must have that mindset.
Sonali Bisht, INHELE

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Things to avoid

Using IPTA just for dissemination of research results must be avoided because everyone can learn and improve on the innovation. Just giving out the results may lead to failure. Everyone on the platform should always find out from the others if there is anything that could be done in a better way.
Victor Kommerell

Actors with resources tend to be more active than resource poor farmers. In some societies, women are not even allowed to speak when men speak. These are cultural issues and you just have to find a way to get around that, even if it means setting up another IPTA just for women or the smallholder farmers.
Johannes Roseboom

The assumption that consensus between stakeholders is possible and desirable is likely to gloss over differences and invite formulaic development responses. The focus on achieving consensus may act to inhibit radical or disruptive innovation in existing value chains and/or the development of innovative new value chains.
Toni Darbas (CSIRO) and Jim Sumberg (FAC) (from Future Agricultures Blog, August 7, 2013)

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What role for researchers?

In an IPTA, farmers and researchers work towards a common goal (© FAO/Riccardo Gangale)
In an IPTA, farmers and researchers work towards a common goal
© FAO/Riccardo Gangale

Two things are important - education and experience. Researchers need to remember that farmers may not have the education but they have the experience. Both of these are equally important to development, and they can learn from each other.
Sonali Bisht, INHERE

The institution that is behind the technology is responsible for getting everybody involved. There should be a facilitator who should ensure there is no dictatorship. He must ensure research is done to benefit the stakeholders. It is also the responsibility of the end-users; they should demand their rights.
Haile Abebe, Director of Rural Economy and Agriculture, Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP)

There should be a facilitator to bring the different groups together, so as to develop a common goal, to develop a common vision of what to achieve, identify the problems and tackle them.
Johannes Roseboom

In as much as farmers are required to make demands, it should also be balanced with what is available from the supply side - the researchers. Sometimes the people in the field up with ideas, but it is the researchers who know what would work. There is no point in throwing up research questions that will not work. So there should be a balance.
Nnaemeka Anyanwu, Lecturer of Animal Science and Technology at the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, Nigeria

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Government input

There must be partnership, constant networking and the state/government policies driving the IPTA. The state government should have a stake; the federal government should also have a stake. The main driver of the innovation platform should be the state or federal government. They help in mobilising the resources and the support that is needed, whether it is access to credit or input.
Abdul S. Oroh, Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Edo State, Nigeria

You need inputs coming from government, because if there is lack of affordable credit, IPTAs cannot achieve much. Also infrastructural support is needed; there should be people in the platform that can go to the appropriate government ministry and lobby for that.
Johannes Roseboom

Government support may be needed to ensure farmers can access credit, inputs and infrastructure (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
Government support may be needed to ensure farmers can access credit, inputs and infrastructure
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

The government must ensure that there is ethical distribution of public funds to pursue research for the needs of various stakeholders, and that they are not using public funds to underwrite research for large farms.
Jimmy Smith, ILRI

You have to make an awareness campaign to the politicians. If you do everything and politicians are not aware, it amounts to nothing. They must be informed of the importance of the platform. The most important thing therefore is to have advocacy for these platforms through the media.
Ahmed Elmekass, Coordinator of African Union Semi-Arid Food Grains Research and Development (SAFGRAD)

Date published: September 2013


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