Wale Adekunle, a professor of agronomy, and currently, director of partnerships and strategic alliances, Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), speaks with OLUYINKA ALAWODE on how the concept of Innovation Platform can help farmers, scientists and other stakeholders achieve greater impact in productivity. Excerpts:
This is a concept that we coined during the period I was working at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). This was when I was in pursuit of ways to help farmers achieve greater productivity in their farms. We started from working as sole scientists who deliver the products of their research to extension workers in a linear and sequential version, to working with farmers and extension officers through the farming systems approach. This approach helped us in getting the input of farmers into research works.
Later, when it was clear that we needed more partnerships, I started to work on multi-stakeholder approaches and this led us to the development of Innovation Platform as a framework that brings together all possible partners who have roles to play in the development of technologies and their use for the derivation of socio-economic benefits.
An Innovation Platform is basically a physical forum but could be strengthened virtually, that is, all the stakeholders connect with one another through ICT. Usually, it brings players from along the value chain and beyond to include farmers, researchers, extension agents, input dealers (seeds, fertilisers, agrochemicals, agric mechanisation and agric lending and insurance) transporters, standards organisations, policy makers and end marketers.
Innovation Platform engages researchers in an integrated version to cover seven thematic areas, which include productivity, natural resource management, markets, policy, product development, nutrition and gender that are the basic areas that can lead to agricultural transformation in a country like ours.
The platform could be either for operations or strategic purposes. Strategic platforms are always at higher levels while operational platforms are always at the grassroots, where the operations are taking place. But the operational platform is always a mirror of the strategic platform.
Partnerships on the Innovation Platform is based not only on the need to generate technologies but also to solve both institutional and infrastructure constraints that may hinder the adoption of the technology, when it is developed or presented to the users.
Types of innovation platforms
We have quite a number of platforms in existence today. Through the proof of concept research, which FARA led within the sub-Saharan African Challenge Programme, we established 36 innovation platforms across Nigeria, Niger, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. But today, we have a lot more through the work of other partners including the CGIAR, research institutes in different countries, private sector working in certain countries, and even NGOs both locally and internationally.
Innovation platforms are now used everywhere. Partners on the platforms come together to discuss the challenges and opportunities within a particular system or commodity chain, prioritise them and systematically address them for the benefit of all players who have been recruited to serve different essential function.
Innovation platforms have been used by farmers’ organisations to promote impact in terms of yield and incomes. Researchers have used it to promote stakeholder contribution to research agenda and also to promote potential of adoption. Private sector in both the input and output markets have also used it to increase their profit margin.
Through the innovation platforms, farmers have been able to get greater access to information related to the production, processing and marketing of their commodities, greater access to technologies, increased yield and greater access to both input and output markets all leading to increased yield and incomes for greater food security and poverty reduction. Inputs dealers and output marketers derive additional benefits in terms of profit. As for extension agents and researchers, they derive satisfaction that their technologies are being adopted. Policy makers are happy they are reaching farmers.
Innovation platforms can help increase food production and farmers incomes. They also help in job creation as they promote the performance of agribusiness players.
They can be applied in other sectors, indeed the concept is an innovation systems approach which was borrowed from the industrial sector. Factories hardly produce commodities without stakeholder involvement.
Based on the challenges we were given by the Science Council of the CGIAR, we have been able to prove that this approach works better than conventional approaches in increasing yields, increasing incomes, reducing poverty and improving economic development. It is an approach that can be used for agricultural transformation.
I bagged a bachelor of agric from the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) and I did PhD in agronomy at the University of Ibadan. I worked for about 20 years at IITA and I have been working at FARA for about six years.
Original article can be found here