Changing the System?

Development Policy23 Jun 2009Jim Woodhill

Getting on-line proved not possible yesterday – a big part of the world is still off the digital highway! I’m looking forward to today, 9 PhD students from Ghana, Benin and Mali will present their initial ideas about what they will be working on over the coming 4 years. More about these presentations later.

This morning, to clear my head and reflect on yesterdays key messages I took a quick run along the beach hear at Elmina on the Cape Coast in Ghana. I marvelled at the skill of the fishing boat builders and was reminded of the reality that many people still don’t have basic sanitation facilities. Against the lack of such basic needs, does talk of innovation system makes sense or is it just academics being academic? Consider a few facts:

  • Half of Africa’s 700 million population live on less than $1 a day.
  • Despite 50 trillion in aid being spent over 50 years, average incomes have dropped by 11% since 1960.
  • Crop yields in Africa have essentially remained unchanged despite all the efforts of agricultural science and extension
  • In 1990 1/5 of Africa’s population was in poverty today it has risen to 1/3
  • Overseas development assistance is $116 billion per year meanwhile agricultural subsidies in Europe, Japan and the USA run at $1billion per day.

The situation in Africa is often compared with the green revolution in Asia and the dramatic drop in poverty that has occurred there. Why can’t or doesn’t this happen in Africa? What is needed for an agricultural revolution in Africa? These are the questions at the heart of the COS-SIS programme.

Building on the success of the COS1, COS-SIS is clearly a well embedded partnership between the Netherlands and West African agricultural institutions. So much so that the Vice President of Ghana was to give the keynote opening address. As it turned out a washed out bridge left him stranded up-country and unable to attend. In her opening address the Netherlands Ambassador to Ghana stressed her enthusiasm for the Programme. Mrs Remmelzwaal saw that the multi-stakeholder learning process, being promoted by COS, as being a unique form of capacity development critical to dealing with many of the challenges of meeting the Millennium Development Goals.

Overall the first day was about setting the scene for the more detailed discussion that will follow during the week. Presentations were given on COS1, the objectives of COS(2)-SIS a local cotton farmer shared his perspective, we heard about the IAASTD report and the innovation systems approach of FARA and the expectations of DGIS in funding the Programme. I also gave my international perspective on innovation systems.

The day ended with small groups raising questions they had about innovation systems. And here the fun started. There are clearly many different and conflicting perspectives about innovation systems that will have to sorted out during the week. More on that in the next blogs.

By the end of the day there was a big question on my mind. Is COS-SIS trying to improve things for farmers within the existing market and policy system or is it trying to radically change the system? This is perhaps a critical question for many organisations working on various forms of value chain development. Certainly by helping farmers to be better organised, more productive and linking them with markets there are benefits to be had. But how big are these benefits and how many will benefit? Is all the current focus on value chain development simply ‘picking the low hanging fruits’ and not really dealing with the structural issues. At what scale does COS-SIS need to be looking – local, national or global – if it is going to engage with the structural constraints to agricultural development?