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Points of view: Agricultural innovation

Much of the agricultural research and extension over recent decades has failed to noticeably improve poor people's livelihoods, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. But even without the support of research and extension services, farmers can and do adapt to changes in their environment. Many farmers are natural innovators, some more than others. The key is to recognise these innovations and to integrate them into agricultural research and development.

University staff learn from an innovative farmer (Chris Reij, Prolinnova)
University staff learn from an innovative farmer
Chris Reij, Prolinnova

An increasing number of researchers are keen to work with farmers, rather than providing top-down solutions, but this is not always easy. How can local innovation processes be enhanced and scaled up? How can scientists best support these processes? These were questions also posed at the Innovation Africa Symposium held in Kampala, Uganda in late November 2006. This edition of New Agriculturist provides a brief overview of a selection of participants' viewpoints on agricultural innovation systems and how they should be developed and enhanced, so as to increase the impact of formal agricultural research.

Innovation: process or product?

Innovation is a process, it is not a product. And innovation can be sourced from different directions. There is farmers' innovation, but scientific research organisations can also be a source of knowledge that can be transformed into innovation, when it is passes through social intervention processes.
Amanuel Assefa, Agri Service Ethiopia

Unless technology and knowledge is transformed into products and processes which are eventually used by the end users, then it never becomes an innovation.
Ponniah Anandajayasekeram, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Ethiopia

Innovation is people finding a novel way to realise their potential. Innovation is a healthy response in people who are looking to improve their lives and change their goals with unchanged means.
Niels Raling, Wageningen University, The Netherlands

For innovation to benefit more people, you have to go through collective action. For poor people, especially women, the only way you can get them to innovate is through groups, through associations. So collective action is very, very powerful for innovation and it is a really critical ingredient for innovation and development for our communities in Africa.
Pascal Sanginga, International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Uganda

Recognising farmer input

The attitude that we have given to the farmers is we know it all, we are going to tell them what to do. I think we need to change our attitudes to learn from the farmers and then help them as we work with them so that they can really understand that they have the wealth of knowledge. Because many times we do not recognise and give them the attribution that they deserve.
Ronald Lutalo, Prolinnova Co-ordinator, Uganda

Innovation is such a strong idea of really valuing what farmers are doing and how they adapt to the environment. I think it will become more and more an issue because the environment is changing so rapidly. So if we do not take that on board, and look carefully at what farmers are doing to adapt to new situations, I think we will be out of business very soon.
Ann Degrande, World Agroforestry Centre, Cameroon

In most countries in Africa, the emphasis has almost completely been that innovation is the new technology. It is modern farming which comes from the research centre and is passed through extension to the farmers and the farmers innovate in the sense that they adopt this technology coming from outside.

We are trying to emphasise that actually most innovations that are happening in agricultural societies in Africa, and probably anywhere else in the world, are local innovations; it is the ideas, the adaptations that farmers are developing themselves. What the researchers are doing is only one small input into that system of innovation at the local level.
Ann Waters-Bayer, ETC EcoCulture, The Netherlands

The role of research

If researchers want to work with farmers, what we need to do at the beginning is to un-learn. Do not go to the farmers and think that because you have your degrees and you have your diplomas, that you know everything. You have to un-learn and learn from them what practices they have, and then try to prove and quantify what farmers are saying.
Riziki Shemdoe, University College of Lands and Architectural Studies (UCLAS), Tanzania

I think it is important for us as researchers to critically analyse the new knowledge that is coming in and consistently ask the question 'What is new in it?' 'How can it add value to what I am doing?'. If you think along that line, it becomes much more meaningful and easily adaptable.
Ponniah Anandajayasekeram, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Ethiopia

It is important to recognise and particularly to stimulate that spirit of innovating, particularly amongst smallholder farmers by acknowledging what they are doing, by up scaling it, by sharing it with others.
Munyaradzi Saruchera, Biowatch, South Africa

Many people think they are providers of knowledge, and farmers are legitimate receivers of technology, and ignorant poor who need help. But if they just realise that farmers are also innovators, then it would be possible to consider the local innovations as entry point for the research, and work together with them. That is what we call participatory innovation development.
Amanuel Assefa, Agri-Service Ethiopia

A holistic process

The whole notion of innovation has become a much wider concept which includes multi-stakeholder processes. This involves finding a solution to a shared problem that we formulate and negotiate together.
Niels Raling, Wageningen University, The Netherlands

It is important to bring the various stakeholders together, to bring the policymakers, the politicians, the legislators, the administrators and the budget controllers on board. They must understand the concepts, the theories, the methods involved within this new era of research and development. If we bring them together to the same table, they can understand, they can appreciate the merits of this new approach. For this approach to be institutionalised, it must be planted and it must be nurtured, and then we see its results.
Alex Lwakuba, Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industries and Fisheries (MAAIF), Uganda

We traditionally think of using knowledge in very hierarchical terms. Knowledge comes from universities or research institutions and trickles down to the user of the knowledge. But the whole point about innovation systems is that it is holistic, you cannot think of it in sectoral terms. Therefore institutions, both in the organisational sense and in the 'rules and norms sense', have got to change radically if they are going to contribute maximally to innovation systems and development.
Norman Clark, African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS), Kenya

Enhancing innovation

We need to drive local innovations towards agribusiness, market development, towards building local economies and having impact on a regional, or even a national level. Otherwise promotion of innovation systems becomes a means merely for food security, and I think there is potential for it to do a lot more.
Rowena Joemat, Agricultural Research Council, South Africa

I think the biggest challenge now is to develop research that will respond to the call for equity and inclusion of marginalised groups and link it to policy. We have interesting possibilities right now because in theory our Government is listening to the least favourite groups. But I think they still lack enough tools, and we as researchers should be able to provide enough tools or find tools to make this path easier.
Vivian Polar, PROINPA Foundation, Bolivia

Empowerment is the solution to agricultural development. When farmers are empowered it means they have learnt how to see the scope of their problems, to identify where they can be helped best and then make specific demands. Unless they are empowered, they will only ask you for what they think you have.
Pascal Kaumbutho, Kenya Network for Dissemination of Agricultural Technologies (KENDAT), Kenya

How do we make sure that everybody benefits? We need to realise that not all farmers can participate in a group because of cost, because of time and so on. And you cannot expect that everybody would benefit from innovations. I guess our role as development agents, as researchers, is to make sure that the poor, the poorest of the poor, are also included, as they tend to be excluded from innovation, from research.
Pascal Sanginga, International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Uganda

Date published: January 2007


Have your say

I do agree with the views of agricultural research needs. St... (posted by: Dr. R. Shashi Kumar)


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