How can all this collective action have regional and global impact?

Photo: Rajarshi Mitra

During the 8th Tropical Agricultural Platform (TAP) Partners Assembly, on November 22, 2021, a special dialogue turned attention to Regional insights and challenges in investment in innovation for sustainable agriculture intensification. Building on a range of regional engagements with the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI), the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and FONTAGRO, the participants in the dialogue:

  • shared perspectives and challenges
  • linked common and uncommon themes
  • identified cross-regional learning
  • linked their regional approaches into the TAP Workplan 2022-2025 and the Global Forum on Agricultural Research and Innovation (GFAR) areas of collective action.

The dialogue highlighted the need to:

  • reduce the lag time between research outputs and innovation implementation
  • increase the systematic capacities of the innovation environment to produce impact
  • increase and improve investments in innovation
  • work within an innovation funding ecosystem, not through individual platforms.

The dialogue showed that the three regions of Asia-Pacific, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean have different structures and ways of working. There are, nevertheless, clear and common needs that bind them together. These include the need for collaboration and collective action, the need for more and better funding, the need to take research into the field, the need to build capacity, and the need to strengthen the innovation environment.

The regional participants identified that cross-cultural learning and building on each region’s experiences, as well as mobilizing resources collectively to garner more funding, could be beneficial. Cross-regional partnerships are key and facilitate progress for the effective use of innovation in future agri-food systems.

Key regional messages

Martina Spisiakova, Knowledge Management Coordinator from APAARI, highlighted the Asia-Pacific region’s need to spark a paradigm shift – going beyond profitability to see innovation as a process that tackles technology alongside innovative policy, finance and institutional capacity development. She stressed that improving non-technical capacity building, for example by addressing the limited government funding for extension services, could drive change. Ms Spisiakova spoke of pathways to successful innovation at scale, such as leadership, trust-building, the ability to target end-users, and bundling of different innovation instruments that will also support the region in building an innovation environment conducive to impact.

Speaking from an African perspective, Dr Yemi Akinbamijo, FARA’s Executive Secretary, echoed similar messages regarding building systemic capacities. Dr Akinbamijo noted that these capacities must be built from the grassroots to facilitate agricultural transformation and sustained inclusive growth. Funding is undeniably important, he acknowledged, but when countries lack the basic capacities to optimize that funding or deploy science, that becomes the most limiting factor in systemic evolution – bringing capacity to the forefront of Africa’s challenges. He noted the importance of regional approaches in fragmented regions such as Africa, where 55 countries with varying cultures, priorities and needs can sometimes pose a challenge. Despite the difficulty of catering to multiple countries, regional approaches are crucial as they can achieve economies of scale, build coherence and collective action, reduce duplication, and facilitate spill-over effects, providing faster pathways for learning and success.

Ms Eugenia Saini, Executive Secretary of FONTAGRO, highlighted that cooperation needs coordination to achieve common goals in Latin America and the Caribbean. She noted that regional organizations need to involve farmers and farmers’ organizations as much as possible because without their inclusion delivery of innovations will not be successful. She went on to say that national research institutions are pivotal in achieving these goals as they are key actors in getting close to the farmers and their needs. She further noted that FONTAGRO works as an innovation ecosystem, not simply a set of individual platforms. Its multistakeholder platforms accelerate innovation processes as they represent and combine both public and private organizations’ approaches to funding innovation. The speed at which R&D priorities change, the vast demands of research, the lack of supportive policies and finance in the innovation realm, and the need for knowledge management and communication of research results were drawn out as challenges for the region.

An effective global umbrella for regional impact

Global platforms like GFAR and TAP are helping regional organizations support the needs of their regions and overcome hurdles to enhancing agricultural innovation. Dr Hildegard Lingnau from GFAR noted that they are committed to helping the regions address their needs while focusing on agriculture for development. GFAR is focusing on small-scale farmers and targeting minority groups, including women, indigenous peoples and youth. Dr Lingnau highlighted digital agriculture and its capacity to advance transformative learning. Finally, advocacy – for better and more investment and research, but also for policies, institutions and the enabling environment – was highlighted as part of GFAR’s mandate. Interregional exchange through quarterly GFAR talks and GFAR’s upcoming partnership strategy guiding members on how to fundraise are elements of GFAR’s strategy in making their aims a reality.

Wrapping up, Mr Selvaraju Ramasamy from TAP reiterated that business as usual is not enough. Asia-Pacific, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean must focus on capacity building underpinned by partnerships. Finally, research must be multidimensional, going beyond productivity to look at the environmental and social aspects of agriculture within the regions.