Agricultural innovation often requires coordinated efforts across a wide range of actors, from farmers to input suppliers, from traders to transporters, from extension agents to researchers. Innovation Platforms (IPs) aim to provide space for collaboration by creating a new forum where all stakeholders can interact to collectively focus on solving problems related to their innovation goals. Such efforts can result in win-win situations and also avoid prescriptive, top-down development efforts that may unintentionally overlook farmers’ actual constraints. For example, IPs may help input suppliers gain a better understanding of farmers’ preferences regarding the size of packages of seed and fertilizer, which in turn results in both increased demand for their products and increased production for farmers.[read more=”Read more” less=”Read less”]
IPs are a central feature of the Integrated Agricultural Research for Development (IAR4D) approach used by CGIAR centers across sub-Saharan Africa (Lynam et al., 2010). For this reason some refer to IPs as “Research for Development Platforms”. A researcher or extensionist typically takes the role of “innovation broker” to catalyze interactions among stakeholders by articulating the demand for innovation, strengthening and broadening the composition of the network, and managing conflicts (Klerkx et al., 2012). For example, in Mozambique, the international research centers ICRISAT and ILRI set up IPs to improve the commercialization of small-scale livestock production. Producers, transporters and processors all agreed that uncontrolled theft of animals was a key constraint. These actors then worked with the government to set up a system for branding and registering animals (Filipe, 2008). Innovation Platforms are often set up as an interactive hierarchy between local, district and national levels (Nederlof et al., 2011).
The goal of IPs is generally to “enhance communication and innovation capacity among mutually dependent actors, by improving interactions, coordination, and coherence among all actors to facilitate learning and contribute to production and use of knowledge.” (Pali and Swaans, 2013, p.2-3). This approach to agricultural technology development offers an alternative to the one-way linear transfer of information from researchers to farmers via extension that has largely failed to result in innovations that effectively address farmers’ concerns (Buhler et al., 2002). Instead IPs can help researchers get valuable feedback from the end-users of the products and recommendations they develop. IPs aim to be “equitable, dynamic spaces designed to bring heterogeneous actors together to exchange knowledge and take action to solve a common problem.” (Cadilhon, 2013, p.2). [/read]
- Innovation Platforms were born from the agricultural innovation systems perspective (Klerkx et al., 2012), which recognizes that innovation is as much about the organization of factor and product markets as it is about technological development. For example, the best technical solution given high input prices and low credit availability may not be as desirable as what could be accomplished through a systems approach that addresses limitations in the input supply chain and rural credit markets.
- In theory the goal from this perspective is not the development of “co-evolved technologies” but “increased capacity to learn and innovate” (Klerkx et al., 2012, p. 461), which is critical in a changing and uncertain context (political, economic, climatic, etc).
- One crucial concern is how farmers participate in these platforms. While farmers may be represented through cooperatives, NGOs or even extension, the effectiveness of that representation depends on both the personal characteristics of the representatives as well as the relationship between the representing body and the farmers. Without effective farmer representation IPs are simply a new name for top-down coordination of research for development with a special emphasis on including the private sector.
- In order for IPs to be effective they need motivate the participation of stakeholders with only partially overlapping interests. While this can generally be done for well-integrated value chains, it can be particularly difficult for interventions aiming to improve complex farming systems.
Learning Lab Resources:
The Africa RISING project in Malawi carries out innovation platforms as part of its participatory technology development efforts. The focus is on linking results from farmers’ participatory experiments with a broader network of extension and development actors.
Critical issues for reflection when designing and implementing research for development in innovation platforms. By: Boogaard, B.K., Schut, M., Klerkx, L., Leeuwis, C., Duncan, A.J. and Cullen, B. 2013. Wageningen, The Netherlands: Wageningen University and Research Centre.
Buhler, W., Morse, S., Arthur, E., Bolton, S., Mann, J., 2002. Science Agriculture and Research: A Compromised Participation, 1st edition. Routledge, London ; Sterling, VA.
Cadilhon, J. 2013. A conceptual framework to evaluate the impact of innovation platforms on agrifood value chains development. Paper prepared for the 138th EAAE Seminar on Pro-poor Innovations in Food Supply Chains, Ghent Belgium. Retrieved from: http://cgspace.cgiar.org/bitstream/handle/10568/33710/ImpactAssessment-InnovationPlatforms.pdf?sequence=4
Filipe, M. 2010. The case of Innovation Platforms in Mozambique. International Livestock Research Institute, Maputo, Mozambique. Available from: https://cgspace.cgiar.org/handle/10568/1787. [read more=”Read more” less=”Read less”]
Klerkx, L., vanMierlo, B. Leeuwis, C. 2012. Evolution of systems approaches to agricultural innovation: concepts, analysis and interventions. In: Dornhofer, I., Gibbon, D. and Dedieu, B. (Eds) Farming Systems Research in the 21st Century. Springer, New York.
Lynam, J. Harmsen, K., Sachdeva, P. 2010. Report of the second external review of the sub-Saharan Africa Challenge Program (SSA-CP). CGIAR
Pali, P. and Swaans, K. 2013. Guidelines for innovation platforms: Facilitation, monitoring and evaluation. ILRI Manual 8. Nairobi, Kenya: ILRI
Nederlof, S. Wongtschowski, M., van der Lee, F. 2011. Putting heads together: Agricultural innovation platforms in practice. Bulletin 396, KIT Publishers. [/read]
Challenges addressed: Contested Agronomy; Moving Beyond Silver Bullets; Poor Access to Organic and Inorganic Inputs.
Tags: Agricultural Economics, Agronomy, Development, Extension, Geography, Sociology