Agricultural research organisations’ role in the emergence of agricultural innovation systems
This paper by CIMMYT argues that successful agricultural interventions require social shifts, not just technological. Traditionally, agricultural research organizations measured impact by the number of technologies developed, with less attention given to whether or not these technologies were adopted by farmers and the impact they had in communities. However, poor farmers seldom benefit from new agricultural technologies. So today organizations must clearly demonstrate impact in farmers’ fields. In response, research and extension approaches based on agricultural innovation systems are popular. An agricultural innovation system is a web of dynamic interactions among researchers, input suppliers, extension agents, farmers, traders, and processors engaged in the creation, diffusion, adaptation, and use of knowledge relevant to agricultural production and marketing. This shift represents a new focus on innovation as a social process, as opposed to a research-driven process of technology transfer. Despite growing interest worldwide in agricultural innovation systems, little is known about the most effective ways to operationalise these systems, especially within short and medium timeframes. The study claims that external input is often needed to generate an agricultural innovation system, and that network brokers – actors like NGOs and others, who catalyze collective action by enhancing farmers’ access to information and technical assistance – play a crucial role. Based on an analysis of the Sustainable Modernization of Traditional Agriculture (MasAgro) initiative in Mexico, this viewpoint suggests that such organisations are more often suitable network brokers when the objective is the development and scaling out of a technology by itself. When the objectives are multi-faceted and include extension and education, other actors are better placed to be the network broker.