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JOint Learning about Innovation Systems in African Agriculture

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Innovation in African agriculture

An EU team studied innovation in African agriculture, concluding that the subject is complex. Technology and market access factors affect different groups, and innovation generally cannot be planned but it can be nurtured through engagement.

Climate Change and Environment

Innovation generally, and particularly in agriculture, has been increasingly recognised as a policy priority. Yet, conventional approaches to nurturing innovation have often proven ineffective, and for African agriculture the policy direction and practical implementation are both unfocused. The EU-funded 'Joint learning about innovation systems in African agriculture' (JOLISAA) project explored these issues with a view to advancing certain improvements. The goal was to assess how smallholders' creative resources could be utilised, strengthened and linked in order to increase African food security and reduce poverty. The six objectives further included: analysing cases of African agricultural innovation, strengthening exchange and disseminating the results. The 7-member consortium involved 1 partner each from Benin, Kenya and South Africa, and ran for 18 months to July 2013. Project partners first combined assessments of 56 cases of African experiences of agricultural innovation at 3 locations. Thirteen cases were selected for further assessment via interviews and discussion. The team also considered context and mechanisms required for an enabling approach. Findings indicated multiple triggers and drivers of innovation. For external stakeholders, key triggers included the likelihood of a technological solution combined with funding availability. For local people, access to markets was important. Research showed that markets were highly variable and difficult to access for poor people. Also, innovation usually evolved from a technological entry point to a more organised or institutional form. The study recognised the difficulty of knowing when to intervene, and the difficulty of sustaining the innovation arising from externally initiated projects. JOLISAA determined that innovation, rather than resulting from a planned top-down approach, is a continuously evolving mix of small steps. Therefore, the most effective approaches were found to be flexible and open ended, and to engage long term with local stakeholders. The research showed that stakeholders take charge of the process as a result. The project established general principles affecting African agricultural innovation. Based on the findings, the project recommended effective means of encouraging the process and engaging with stakeholders.


Innovation, African agriculture, agriculture, market access, innovation systems

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