Africa / Agriculture / Innovation Systems / Knowledge and Information / Livestock / Livestock Systems / Markets / Research / Southern Africa / Value Chains

Innovation platforms for market development and technology uptake in Southern Africa

At the ILRI-hosted ‘AgKnowledge Africa‘ share fair and the 5th All Africa conference on animal agriculture, Andre van Rooyen shared ICRISAT experiences with ‘innovation platforms’ for market development and technology uptake in Southern Africa.

Such ‘innovation platforms’ – spaces which allow individuals and organizations to come together to address issues of mutual concern and interest – have become popular as a way to engage diverse stakeholders in agricultural research for development.

As a start, van Rooyen posed a question: ‘Why don’t farmers adopt improved technologies?’ He answered by suggesting a reason – that researchers tend to work only with farmers, when in fact they should look at the entire value chain that farmers are a part of.

For many years, according to van Rooyen, “we have been working at the level of the farmer; giving more attention to the whole value chain is more likely to give us success.”

The problem however is that some of these value chains – goats in Zimbabwe for example – are very inefficient: “how much money actually trickles back to the pockets of the farmers through these value chains” – he asked?

It is important to ensure that the rest of the value chain – and the markets – does not abuse the farmer and his products?

One chosen approach of the project was therefore to invest in an ‘innovation platform’ – as a tool to stimulate dialogue between value chain players – allowing them to collectively identify challenges and find opportunities to improve production and marketing.

“Just because people buy and sell from each other, does not mean they talk to one another”

According to van Rooyen: the innovation platform “gets the players together to help untangle the nexus of what technologies farmers really need to get their products to the markets, and to get money in their pockets.”

His presentation and a related brochure outline the structure of such an innovation platform and the approach followed by ICRISAT in supporting it.

Some key aspects:

Each and every actor in the innovation platform “must know what they will get out of the system” not what they will put in. “There are no philanthropists here”, he said! An innovation platfrom is where the real players test and evaluate what the systems need.

“We feed the innovation platforms with carefully collected external information” – from research and from other actors along the value chain. While products (should) flow along the value chain, and each actor adds some value, van Rooyen noticed that they don’t talk to, or listen to, each other enough.

The key role of the innovation platform: “We make people talk to one another.” It ensures that “the right people are sharing the right types of info with each other.” It helps us provide provide the real evidence for different actors to understand the real issues and make the decisions.

“Having a platform on the ground with all the role players” helped us generate real clout and external funding for a range of different interventions.

According to van Rooyen, these platforms improve productivity by linking real technologies with what the markets and the farmers need, improving markets and information flows, and engaging policy influencers and and identifying policy bottlenecks.

The approach has some disadvantages:

First, ‘we’ – the researchers – don’t decide the agenda. If done right, the “system controls you” and takes you away, perhaps, from your own agenda. [such approaches frequently seem to focus on different issues than originally expected, see this post on how multi-stakeholder platforms help extend fodder options for livestock in Ethiopia.]

Second, such facilitating processes are time consuming, and have high transaction costs [see also this video interview with Alan Duncan].

Third, the solutions emerging from the platforms are often simple and not demanding much research. For researchers seeking more complex issues to address, this can be a disappointment.


For more on innovation platforms and related approaches, see:

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