CoSAI-APAARI dialogue highlights a new tool for supporting NARS to include environmental and social objectives in their work

Photo from: GIZ, accessed at

On April 12, 2022, APAARI and CoSAI hosted a dialogue with the National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) institutions of the Asia-Pacific. The dialogue: Applying the Principles for Innovation in Sustainable Agri-Food Systems to enhance the impact of innovations (watch the recording) focussed on the Principles, their importance and benefit, and the role of NARS actors in utilizing them.

Previous CoSAI evidence identified national governments as the most significant global investor in innovation for future food systems. In line with this finding, Dr Ravi Khetarpal, APAARI’s Executive Secretary, emphasized that “as NARS are the key players in innovation investment, APAARI aims to encourage and support NARS championing the Principles in the region as a way to enhance the significant investment that is already occurring”.

During the event, Scarlett Crawford (CoSAI Secretariat) outlined the key rationale behind the Principles and the benefits for actors who adopt them. She explained why the Principles are not a small set of metrics or indicators, touching on the difficulty in developing indicators that can cover various types of innovation (e.g. policy versus technology), and the difficulty in isolating the causality between innovation and outcomes. She outlined that the Principles can add value for organizations because they are a concrete tool for helping and guiding organizations in including and considering more environmental and social objectives in their work. 

The eight Principles focus on innovation processes and outcomes. They are a tool that guides organizations in including often neglected environmental and social objectives in their work, including those around food and nutrition security. The Principles seek to promote systems thinking and build transparency, which is critical for being able to steer investments in future food systems. When adopted, The Principles help organizations stay ahead of the innovation curve – keeping up with best practice and concretely demonstrating how the innovation is contributing to equitable, sustainable agri-food systems. 

Actors who already used the Principles shared their experiences during the dialogue. Dr Norah Omot from APAARI highlighted how the Principles enabled her to amend current planning and implementation processes in her projects in Papua New Guinea while providing a fruitful basis for internal and external discussions to ensure effective project progress. Dr Omot also emphasised the usefulness of the Step-by-Step Guide that supports the implementation of the Principles. After reaping some of the first benefits, Dr Ormat is keen to create more awareness of the Principles, encouraging testing and providing feedback throughout the Asia-Pacific region. 

Dr Miyuki Iiyama from JIRCAS, Japan, outlined that the Principles are a tool that can guide effective project formulation and that they are useful in helping organizations to consider the unintended consequences of their innovations. She noted that many organizations would have their own protocols, though stressed that the Principles are not there to replace these systems, though to sit beside and reinforce them. 

From the Department of Agriculture, Thailand, Dr Margaret Yoovatana noted that the Principles can be an important tool in a theoretical sense, though raised concerns about their practicality. She raised concerns about how the Principles interact with impact assessments. Scarlett Crawford from CoSAI clarified that the Principles encourage impact evaluations and ensure that these can be appropriately undertaken – thanks to the clear identification and definition of objectives. Dr Yoovatana also called for the need for capacity building and the need for the capacity of, particularly young researchers, to uptake and adopt these Principles for getting more effective innovation. 

Dr Ernesto Brown from the Philippines highlighted that PCCAARD are still learning how to use the Principles and how they can strengthen their organization and the outcomes they want to achieve. Having tested the Principles in one project, PCCAARD believe these would definitely guide them to have more sustainable agri-food outcomes. 

To assist with the implementation of the Principles, Jonathan Wirths (CoSAI Secretariat) gave an overview of how to implement the Principles in organizations’ work. He went through the simple steps for applying the Principles and the scoring template, and highlighted the different supporting and guidance materials that supplement the Principles. 

Dr Khetarpal concluded the dialogue by outlining how APAARI will be working actively with national partners to support the implementation of the Principles and other elements of CoSAI for the benefit of the region. The event was a promising start to encourage NARS actors to adopt the Principles in the Asia-Pacific region. APAARI and CoSAI will continue their collaboration to enable knowledge sharing and capacity building around the Principles.


Participants at the CoSAI–APAARI dialogue.