CoSAI at AGRF: Providing insights into effective instruments for innovation investment

K Dekeyser

Appropriate approaches and instruments for financing innovation are needed to engage farmers and agricultural workers in innovation processes including conception, design, and implementation, if we want to improve their livelihoods, feed the globe’s growing population, and achieve environmental and climate outcomes. This was the major takeaway from CoSAI and the Institute for Natural Resources’ (INR) side event at the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) 2021 Summit on the 6th of September (watch the event here). CoSAI Commissioners and agricultural experts came together to discuss CoSAI’s new study: the Approaches and Instruments Study. AIS is looking at approaches and instruments that both stimulate and support innovation investment in agriculture and resolve interlocking constraints to uptake at scale.

The discussion was chaired by CoSAI Commissioner Dr Irene Annor-Frempong and the study’s Principal Investigator from INR, Dr Brigid Letty. Dr Letty presented an overview of the conception of the study, outlining the 14 instruments being examined, including innovation platforms and hubs, results-based contracts, incubators, and prizes, awards, and grants. She highlighted how the investment environment including the sector, scale, and objective of investments, as well as the financial and non-financial instruments employed, influence innovation development, and consequently the impacts required to achieve sustainable agricultural intensification (SAI). Contributing to this, the side event experts stressed the importance of placing farmers and agricultural workers at the centre of the innovation environment and instruments. If we want to achieve inclusive social and equity objectives and improve the lives of the poorest, farmers must be central to the process.

The experts and Commissioners discussed how farmers and end-users are key drivers of innovation, and thus, they should be involved in the process of creation. Dr Madiodio Niasse, a fellow CoSAI Commissioner noted:

In many cases farmers are considered as mere recipients of innovation products, but the reality is that farmers themselves are primarily innovators.

There was unanimous agreement that having an innovation development process that does not involve, benefit, nor provide ownership for farmers means innovation uptake and scaling will be either challenging or impossible. When we see ownership by farmers and agricultural workers, instruments have greater impact and longevity – staying relevant beyond the life of projects and pilots.

Other major talking points included the innovation environment, and the need for innovation to be evidence-based. The panel discussed how innovations must be situated in enabling environments - those that include the right legislative and regulatory conditions, in addition to conditions that induce capacity building and knowledge transfer. They noted that even if a new technology or ‘gadget’ is revolutionary, if it is not situated within the right environment, it has potential to fail through lack of adoption. Further, the panel discussed how evidence-based innovations, driven from data and results, allow an understanding of both the demographics and the position of all actors within the value chain and how innovation instruments can involve and affect them (either proportionally or disproportionally in terms of risks and benefits). Having this understanding is both important for the success of the instrument and can also provide the basis of equity; if we understand the benefits of innovations and how they interact with each value chain actor, we can share them equitably. This highlights a challenge within the investment area: the distribution of benefits.

Mr Ishmael Sunga, an expert panellist highlighted that the distribution of benefits along the value chain is a key challenge for the sustainable impact of innovation. He noted that even if innovation invokes increased economic productivity, tangible social and environmental impacts will not be achieved if the rewards of this innovation are not evenly distributed throughout the value chain. Innovations may increase productivity, though if these benefits are only felt by the actors towards the processing and consumption end of the value chain, we will not achieve social and equity outcomes for improving livelihoods of farmers and agricultural workers. Mr Sunga remarked:

The question is, what is it that impinges on the welfare of the farmers? And we all know that a lot of it is about fairness and equity in the distribution of risk and reward in the entire value chain. [Currently], innovation… is not talking about balancing the power relations, and that is a fundamental problem. You can increase efficiency and productivity all you want, but if the pipeline is blocked and it delivers poorly to you [as a farmer or agricultural worker], it’s not going to be very helpful.

The event findings and discussion drove home the importance of farmer-centred instruments for stimulating and supporting innovation in agriculture. Dr Letty and her team of experts will incorporate these messages into the study findings. After the study’s release in October, the findings will be used to support investors and innovation managers to utilise the most effective instruments to best achieve the triple bottom line objectives of SAI.

On the 6th of September 2021, CoSAI and INR held a side event at the AGRF 2021 Summit. Our speakers included Dr Brigid Letty, an agricultural development specialist from the Natural Resources Institute (INR), South Africa,  Dr Joshua Zake, the Executive Director of Environmental Alert, Uganda, Dr Karen Munoko, an agribusiness and gender expert at the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), Dr Madiodio Niasse, CoSAI Commissioner and former Director of the Secretariat of the International Land Coalition (ILC), Mr Ishmael Sunga, the CEO of the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU), and Mr Geoffrey Okidi, from the Agriculture Business Initiative (aBi), Uganda.  Dr Irene Annor-Frempong, former FARA Director of Science and Innovation and CoSAI Commissioner, chaired the event.