Knowledge for Development

Feature articles

Bio-economy and green growth: Integrating farmers’ knowledge for a public goods-oriented approach

The bio-economy and green growth have been on the international policy agenda for several years. Two main views prevail concerning the ‘bio-economy’ – an industrial perspective, and the other a public goods perspective – each promoting different futures for agricultural systems and farmers’ roles; some address both perspectives.


An Innovation Platform Approach for Up-scaling Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (Xanthomonas campestris p.v. musacearum) Control Technologies in Western Kenya

The Innovation Platform (InP) has become an attractive approach for supporting agricultural development. An InP is generally established to foster interaction amongst a wide range of stakeholders including producers, researchers, development practitioners and policy-makers, around a shared interest. The stakeholders interact to jointly identify problems and opportunities, seek and apply solutions and learn to stimulate continuous innovation. However, establishment and management are complicated given the multiplicity of actors with diverse objectives and expectations. This article describes how an InP in western Kenya contributed to increased control of banana Xanthomonas wilt (BXW). Several demonstrations were set up to show farmers how the control technologies worked.  After couple of months, they told their neighbours about it and this helped in the scaling up of the programme. To enhance access to knowledge and information on BXW control best practices and technologies, additional InPs were formed and used to reach over 6,000 banana farmers.


Sustainable Intensification and Conservation Agriculture

Amir Kassam in his lead article argues that the no-till farming system involving soil cover and crop diversification, known as Conservation Agriculture (CA), is fundamentally changing farming practices and management of the land resource base, the landscape and the environment. As a proponent of this approach, Kassam notes that CA enhances ecosystem services and resilience, and offers additional economic and environmental benefits that are difficult or impossible to mobilize with conventional tillage agriculture. In his view, CA fits within the sustainable intensification paradigm which when defined in its broadest sense, encompasses production and ecological dimensions, the biological products produced and utilized by consumers and with minimum food waste, as well as the human and economic dimensions of socio-cultural aspirations, organizations and social equity and economic growth.According to Kassam, CA is not intensification in the classical sense of greater use of inputs but rather the intensification of knowledge, skills and management practices and the complementary judicious use of other inputs. He sees the new challenge for science and policy in the 21st Century as being able to produce more from less and with minimum damage and to rehabilitate degraded and or abandoned lands while conserving and optimizing the use of the remaining water and biodiversity resources. CA is now being practiced on 125 million hectares (about 9% of cropland) across all continents, and approximately 50% lies in the developing countries, including in African countries, namely Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Kassam believes that CA can contribute to the goal of sustainable intensification, but more research and extension effort is needed to inform policy formulation and development strategies. 


Innovation: applying knowledge in development

By Calestous Juma and Yee-Cheong Lee  Co-chairs of the UN Millennium Project's Task Force on Science, Technology and Innovation   In this new lead article, Prof. Calestous Juma, Harvard University and Prof. Yee-Cheong Lee, UNESCO, reflect on the progress made since the UN Millennium Project's Task Force report on science, technology and innovation (ST&I) was published. In 2005, the Task Force released the report Innovation: applying knowledge in development. It outlined a number of ways in which ST&I could be used to realize the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The authors claim that the report has played a key catalytic role in raising global awareness of the importance of ST&I in development.   Prior to this, ST&I for economic development was considered to be relevant only to industrialized countries, and often discouraged in developing countries, neither was it a priority for the UN, as it was identified as 'Target 18 of Goal 8 - the very last target of the very last goal'. However, much has changed and the innovation systems approach, which included infrastructure, more advanced technical training and entrepreneurship was presented as a framework for thought and action. While the concept of ST&I for development has gained momentum, the authors are of the view that much more still needs to be done by developing countries to ensure that ST&I achieves greater impact on alleviating hunger, poverty, illiteracy and ill health, political and social upheavals. 


Stimulating innovation in urban agriculture

Urban farming systems are in constant development as urban farmers adapt their existing practices or come up with new ones, yet are rarely given formal support for their innovations. This issue of looks at how urban farmers can be supported in their efforts to improve their livelihoods. The issue is a collaborative effort of the RUAF, the Prolinnova (Promoting Local Innovation) network and Urban Harvest, an initiative of CGIAR and draws on experiences of urban farming from around the world. Some articles merely promote innovations, while others discuss ways to stimulate the innovation capacity of the farmers themselves. Titles include the following: Promoting Local Innovation in Rural Agriculture: experience and lessons for urban settings ; Innovative Wastewater Recycling in an Indian Village: linking the rural with the urban ; Innovations in Greenhouse Rainwater Harvesting system in Beijing, China ; Cleaning, Greening and Feeding Cities: Local initiatives in recycling waste in Kampala, Uganda ; Urban Agriculture in Msunduzi Municipality, South Africa ; Innovations in Producer-Market Linkages: Urban field schools and organic markets in Lima ; Urban Agriculture as Social Justice Change Agent and Economic Engine ; Innovations in Urban Livestock Keeping in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.Author: R. van Veenhuizen (ed.), RUAF Urban Agriculture Magazine No. 19, 2008


How to get innovation system work in agriculture and rural development? Reflection on methodological issues

Following paradigm shifts in 1980s that resulted from relentless efforts made by a few informed social scientists in the early 20th century, some lead international organizations, NGOs, and national research and extension organizations came to pronounce innovation system in agriculture and rural development. These are, in fact, results of decades of intellectual dialogues among scientists in general and social scientists in particular as to what methodological routes should be followed in pursuit of science and science for development. The majors taken in this regard received increasing importance with the realization that more than fifty years of development assistance, especially in the developing world, did not adequately curve down poverty and its multiple consequences, notably, environmental degradation. In spite of encouraging efforts underway the world over by different agencies to promote what is named as a sustainable development through people’s participation, achievements made so far seems to be far below the extent of responses required to cope up with multi-faceted challenges at hand. Moreover, there are still conceptual and methodological gaps that are adversely affecting the common intentions geared towards making a difference in poverty alleviation and reducing environmental degradation, among others. There is still substantial adherence to technology transfer while the intention is innovation system. For some, even using the term innovation seems to be a major shift in their approach. In my view, one of the major gaps in this respect is lack of shared understanding of methodological issues by scientists and development practitioners, both from social and natural sciences streams. This paper, therefore, attempts to shed some light on these issues and propose ways to get innovation system approach work better in agriculture and rural development.Author: T. Beshah (Post doctoral scientist at ILRI, India), Conference paper APPRI 2008 International Workshop, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, October 2008


Enhancing innovation between scientific and indigenous knowledge: pioneer NGOs in India

Until recently, little attention has been paid to local innovation capacity as well as management practices and institutions developed by communities and other local actors based on their traditional knowledge. This paper doesn't focus on the results of scientific research into innovation systems, but rather on how local communities, in a network of supportive partnerships, draw knowledge for others, combine it with their own knowledge and then innovate in their local practices. Innovation, as discussed in this article, is the capacity of local stakeholders to play an active role in innovative knowledge creation in order to enhance local health practices and further environmental conservation. In this article, the innovative processes through which this capacity is created and reinforced will be defined as a process of "ethnomedicine capacity". The case study analyzed highlights examples of innovation systems in a developmental context. They demonstrate that networks comprised of several actors from different levels can synergistically forge linkages between local knowledge and formal sciences and generate positive and negative impacts. The positive impact is the revitalization of perceived traditions while the negative impacts pertain to the transformation of these traditions into health commodities controlled by new elites, due to unequal power relations.Authors: M.-C. Torri & J. Laplante, Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine October 2009, 5:29


Rethinking investment in agricultural innovation - Link September 2009 news bulletin

The balance of debates about innovation systems ideas in agricultural and rural development seems to have shifted from conceptualisation and historical analysis to planning and practice. National and international development agencies are now grappling with the need to rethink their investments in line with this new perspective. In this month’s LINK LOOK, Andy Hall, Jeroen Dijkman and Rasheed Sulaiman suggest ten priority topics where rethinking is needed and where there seems to be enough experience to provide advice.


Innovation Systems in Agriculture and Rural Development

Much has been written on innovation systems (IS), especially in industrialized economies, and recently in developing countries contexts (Muchie et al., 2003; Hall 2005; Spielman et al., 2006; World Bank 2007). However, with few exceptions (e.g., Hall 2005; Hall et al., 2007; World Bank 2007), literature on IS does not adequately explain how system thinking enhances innovation or how IS can be initiated and facilitated. Another gap is the fact that “innovation” itself is promoted rather than its embeddedness within a system that in turn operates within certain institutional and policy contexts. Even though there is consensus on the importance of innovation for economic development, the systemic mechanism through which it can be enhanced is not given equal attention. These and other grey areas limit the promotion of the concept of IS, and in a worst case raises suspicion on its value addition for research and development.


Promoting Agricultural Innovation Systems Approach: The Way Forward

Investments in knowledge systems have featured consistently in most strategies to promote sustainable agricultural development at the national level. The World Bank alone has invested more than 2.5 billion USD into agricultural R&D and advisory services over the past 20 years. Many of these investments have resulted in very high returns and pro-poor growth. We have also been fairly successful in strengthening research systems and increasing available knowledge but they have not necessarily resulted in greater use of knowledge and innovation (Rajalahti et al. 2005). Farmer productivity is still often constrained by lack of appropriate technology or access to technology, inputs, services and credit, and by farmers’ inability to bear risks. In addition, farmers’ information and skills gap constrains the adoption of available technologies and management practices or reduces their technical efficiency when adopted (WDR 2008). To address these challenges, we have gradually shifted from strengthening research systems and knowledge transfer towards building innovation capacity, enhancing use of knowledge and creating social and economic change.


Innovation Systems for Smallholder Farming

Today, innovation is often defined as the development, adaptation or imitation and the subsequent adoption of technologies or the application of knowledge that is new within a specific context. It is seen as an interactive process, in which enterprises, in continuous interaction with each other and supported by institutions and organizations innovate and bring new products, processes and services into social and economic use. Taking this perspective, there is a need for changing our general perception of smallholder farmers who are often described as a poor, ignorant, illiterate persons, resistant to change and unwilling to adopt new ideas and technologies. Whereas in reality, they are resilient and enterprising – risk takers, who have context specific knowledge of their environment and are willing to adopt new ideas, knowledge and technology, especially if they respond to their specific needs and add value to their circumstances. Read more… Paper presented at the 2nd European Forum on Sustainable Development, Berlin, Germany, 18-21 June 2007.


African Union summit & rural innovation

The African Union’s Science and Technology consolidated Plan of Action’ responds to the inadequate attention that has been given to these topics. It seeks to address the low and declining public expenditure on research and development (R&D) in most African countries, and the weak links between industry and science and technology institutions. The Plan of Action notes that in Africa the bond between science and society is still weak, and that there are serious ‘disconnects’ between what researchers are doing and the development aspirations of communities. Often the public does not have ownership of, or direct infl uence on scientific and technological developments, and researchers are also not well connected with policy makers. The results have been a weak scientific culture, and constituencies that neither demand nor promote scientific and technological development. Read further in: Knowledge for Development, November 2006 / Vol. III


A Critique of Innovation Systems Perspectives on Agricultural Research in Developing Countries

Innovation systems perspectives on agricultural research and technological change are quickly becoming popular for studying how society generates, disseminates, and utilizes knowledge. Taken together, the innovation systems framework demonstrates the importance of studying innovation as a process: knowledge is accumulated and applied by heterogeneous agents in complex interactions that are conditioned by social and economic institutions. Such analyses of developing?country agriculture are acutely needed. Download PDF


Science, technology and innovation in ACP agricultural and rural development

Science and technology have long been recognized as the catalysts for industrialization and, when linked with innovation, as the key to achieving social and economic development and global competitiveness. However, while developed countries continue to invest pproximately 3% of GDP in enhancing their scientific and technological capabilities, investments in research and development in developing countries, whether from public, private or international sources, are estimated at less than 1% of GDP. New strategies focusing on science, technology and innovation (ST&I) and the adoption of both 'traditional' and 'modern' approaches to creating, sharing and building knowledge systems, are needed to help developing countries improve their national and regional ST&I systems and revitalize their economies.


Building Policy Competence and Learning in Systems of Innovation

National systems of innovation (NSI) places innovation at the centre of economic activity. The kernel of the NSI approach is the nature of its elements (firms, institutions and other organizations), their interaction as well as their interdependence. The firm is often the locus of innovation but it carries out innovation in cooperation with other organizations such as the universities, standard setting agencies, research institutes, financing organizations. However, systemic cohesion may not emerge automatically and considerable time is required for institutions to tae root. This suggests policy action in nurturing and upgrading sectors into learning entities.


Analysing the National Systems of Innovation in ACP Countries

At the beginning of the year, CTA initiated collaboration with the United Nations University/Institute of Technologies (UNU/INTECH) to develop a methodological framework for analysing the national agricultural science, technology and innovation system (ASTI) in ACP countries, train six ACP professionals to apply the methodology and provide technical backstopping. CTA then sponsored the conduct of six ASTI studies in the Cameroon, Jamaica, Kenya, Papua New Guinea, Senegal, South Africa with a view to providing information on sub-sectors within the national systems which could support more informed decision making. The professionals and their related institutions have begun submitting their draft reports and the results are generating interest and excitement based on the feedback from the three interim reports that were presented at the Kenya regional meeting. The final reports will be presented to the Advisory Committee in November and published on the Knowledge for Development website in January 2005.


Farmer innovation in Africa

Farmer Innovation in Africa: A Source of Inspiration for Agricultural Development (2001) summarizes the findings of two regional programmes in Africa that supported farmer innovators and their innovations in eight countries representing a wide range of agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe. In these programmes, a farmer was considered an innovator if he or she tried out something that was new in the village without having been asked to do so by outsiders. This means that farmers who tested new crop varieties or other technologies on their fields at the request of researchers were not innovators. It also implied that an innovation in one region may have been a common practice elsewhere. The two programmes identified about 1000 farmer innovators and concluded that innovation is a fairly common phenomenon in regions where there is high population pressure on available natural resources. This is not surprising as farmers have to adapt to changes in rainfall, soils, demographics and markets, for example, in order to survive. Farmers with their ?backs against the wall? have no choice: innovate to improve their livelihoods, continue to live in poverty or leave the land and settle elsewhere.