Africa / Innovation Systems

Agricultural innovation systems in Africa: reflections on an international workshop

From 25-31 May, Nairobi was host to a ‘Week on Agricultural Innovation in Africa.’ Here ILRI’s Jo Cadilhon reflects on the International workshop on agricultural innovation systems in Africa held as part of the week. The meeting was co-organized by FARA, ILRI, CCAFS, KARI, JOLISAA, the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture, Wageningen University, Prolinnova, the World Bank, Australian Aid and CIRAD.

The first lesson I have learned from my participation in this meeting: we are not alone! Since I’ve joined ILRI nine months ago, I have been hearing a somewhat defensive discourse from colleagues involved in innovation platforms. The refrain goes something like this: ILRI has been at the forefront of promoting the use of innovation platforms to integrate complex social systems into agricultural research for development; if ILRI stops working on innovation platforms, it is a science beacon that will be extinguished. However, judging by the more than 150 participants working on innovation systems in Africa whom I roughly counted on Thursday at the workshop and by the impressive list of co-organizers above, I would say that ILRI should relax about no longer being at the forefront of innovation systems research. Rather, we should try to champion our specific use of innovation platforms as a tool to foster agricultural innovation systems and keep being recognized as one of many key institutions working in developing countries on this now somewhat mainstream topic.

The second lesson I take out of this workshop: where are the champions? I just mentioned the word ‘champion’ in the previous paragraph. It is a missing stakeholder the participants of the workshop seem to have kept searching for throughout the event. If innovation systems are to flourish on their own without assistance from a donor, a support organization or research, if they are to start sharing relevant innovations to other communities who might find those useful, how can we nurture champions from within existing innovation systems to move into the driving seat and to take hold of the loudspeaker? Coorganizer Laurens Klerkx of the Knowledge, Technology and Innovation group of Wageningen University shared with me some recent findings on how to orchestrate the rise of innovation champions.

I found myself in several sessions with Cara Raboanarielina, a social scientist at AfricaRice. In the last session on take-away messages, she shared with me that she had still not identified a robust set of methods and tools to evaluate the impact of innovation systems. She was particularly disappointed because that was what she was really expecting out of her participation in this workshop. I confess that I am a relative newcomer to the field of innovation systems in developing countries. Peter Ballantyne introduced me to the audience of the ILRI talk show on innovations platforms held last Friday morning as a ‘student of innovation platforms’. Nonetheless I hope to make a small contribution to this endeavour precisely through my study of the impacts of innovation platforms using a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods. I hope to share interesting results on the first field-tests of this method this coming autumn.

In the meantime, if you are still puzzled and wondering what an innovation platform is, visit the ILRI innovation platform wiki.

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