Who knows best?

Food Security21 Jun 2009Jim Woodhill

For the first day of the Conference, I have been invited to give an international perspective on innovation systems. As I head upstairs to pack my bags many ideas are racing around in my mind, not yet in a very ordered way. There is so much to say, yet so much has already been said. For more than 20 years the debates have raged about how to overcome rural poverty. Is it essentially about getting the right technology into use? Or is it more complicated? Who knows best, the farmer, the scientist, the policy maker? In the end is it markets, businesses and entrepreneurship that will drive change? While the debates continue 800 million people remain hungry and poor. And, the problems are compounding with, for example, the effects of climate change and biofuels will create a whole new set of challenges (see the article by Roling on the IAASTD report in the Broker).

The 2008 World Bank Development Report on ‘Agriculture for Development’ put agriculture back on the development agenda and its importance was underscored by the recent rapid rise in food prices. Major efforts are now being made by groups such as AGRA, the Gates Foundation and the Cooperative Group on Agricultural Research (CGIAR) along with the regular cast of donors to rethink agricultural development.

But still, what are the answers? I ponder. Is it time to get down to earth with very practical solutions, or, fundamentally, are we not tackling the right political and economic issues? It is such questions that will be on the table over the coming week. They will be explored by bringing different perspectives to bear on at practical examples from West Africa – Oil Palm and Food security; changes in livestock systems; water and cotton.

The Convergence of Science Programme is about the nexus between technological and institutional innovation. The later is very much my interest, see my article in the Broker. As the week unfolds I will share my thoughts on the middle ground between science, politics and markets and what an innovation systems approach might mean for more effectively tackling rural poverty and food insecurity. I hope to bring you a set of challenging ideas and perspectives from those attending the conference.

The partners in the programme, called Convergence of Sciences: Strengthening agricultural innovation systems in Benin, Ghana and Mali’ (CoS-SIS), are: Université d’Abomey à Calavi (UAC) in Benin, University of Ghana (UoG) at Legon in Ghana, the Institut Polytechnique Rural/Institut de Formation et de la Récherche Appliquée (IPR/IFRA) at Katibougou in Mali, Wageningen University Research Centre, the Royal Tropical Institute, Agriterra. The Programme is supported by the Directorate General of International Cooperation (DGIS) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.