Participants at the workshop on ‘Agri-food systems innovation: Reframing the conversation’. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT
07
Jul

Dialogues on how transformational innovation can help the agri-food system meet SDGs

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Participants at the workshop on ‘Agri-food systems innovation: Reframing the conversation’. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

Participants at the workshop on ‘Agri-food systems innovation: Reframing the conversation’. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

A workshop designed to engage key stakeholders in dialogues on how transformational innovation can help the agri-food system meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other challenges was held at ICRISAT recently. This is the third workshop in an ongoing series.

The purpose of the workshop on ‘Agri-food systems innovation: Reframing the conversation’ was not to arrive at answers to how agri-food systems innovation should proceed, but rather to discuss how core elements of the agri-food system are locking it into incremental and radical innovation rather than opening up transformational innovation opportunities. In other words, how can the meta-narrative on agri-food system innovation be changed so that new pathways of action, research, and policy can be opened up to advance a transformation agenda?

To achieve this, workshop delegates explored the following topics:

  1. Core elements required for transformational agri-food systems innovation, in response to the global development agenda articulated in transformation terms (the SDGs), and the increasingly common feature and realistic possibility in the development context of the 21st century;
  2. Key findings, lessons and central propositions from case studies that explored how innovation leads to impact at different scales;
  3. Possible adjustments in funding modalities that could more effectively incentivize and enable research institutions to work in ways that contribute to transformational change; and
  4. Engaging in the dialogue process with stakeholders or gatekeepers (e.g. missing actors) and gathering additional evidence.

The workshop posed as many questions as it offered answers. The overarching questions are what is transformational change, what does it look like, and for whom?  Throughout the workshop, delegates raised a number of recurring themes for consideration. These were:

  • Open up conversations e. find language and terms so that more people can understand;
  • Build capabilities for change;
  • Use learnings to adapt and respond to changes in the system. Monitoring Evaluation and Learning plays a critical role;
  • Examine how investment horizons can influence transformational innovation
  • Consider the role of partnerships and networks and a broader group of stakeholders (especially the private sector and civil society); and
  • Think of institutional change along with technological change for transformation.

Taking into consideration these key messages and themes, along with activities initiated from previous workshops and the available resources within the CGIAR Independent Science & Partnership Council (ISPC) / Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) partnership, the following actions have been proposed as priorities following the workshop:

  1. New empirical evidence
  • A study on the different types of investment in innovation. This study will explore the effectiveness of different investment modalities in supporting the different modes of innovation (incremental, radical and transformational). Examples of these funding modalities are challenge funds, agribusiness incubators, levy-funded research, and crowdsourcing, to name a few.
  • A study on the roles of different actors (e.g. public and private sector) in supporting the long-term agenda of transformational innovation.
  • A study on the evaluation lock-in, including but not limited to a landscape of the different actors and their roles, and an assessment of monitoring and learning tools in supporting the different modes of innovation (incremental, radical and transformational).
  1. Ongoing dialogues with the community of interest, including the
  • ISPC Council meeting in September 2018;
  • CIAT@50 meeting in November 2017; and
  • FAO Global Symposium of Agriculture Innovation in February 2018.
  1. Consolidation of current case studies.
  2. Continued development of the agri-food systems innovation common narrative.

Dr Peter Carberry, Deputy Director General-Research, ICRISAT, concluded the workshop sharing that the workshop had spurred new ideas that he plans to implement at ICRISAT. He spoke of strengthening ICRISAT’s role as a leading broker of scale-out programs in Asia and Africa. “To demonstrate quality research resulting from these close-to-development activities, ICRISAT needs to undertake cross-program analysis of the available large datasets, extract higher-level learnings and publish such in quality journals,” he said. He followed this by challenging workshop delegates to think about what they can do.

The workshop hosted by ICRISAT was held from 27-29 June in Hyderabad, India.

See videos:

Dr Nighisty Ghezae, Director, The International Foundation for Science (IFS), Sweden
Dr Andy Hall, Senior Principal Researcher, CSIRO, Australia
This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal

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