Image from a series of ‘practice briefs’ to help guide agricultural research practitioners to support and implement innovation platforms (image credit: ILRI/Beniyam Seyoum and Tewodros Girma).
This post was contributed by ILRI staff Deborah Wyburn, Iddo Dror, Jo Cadilhon and Peter Ballantyne
Multi-stakeholder or innovation platforms are increasingly seen as a promising vehicle for agricultural innovation and development. In the field of agricultural research for development (AR4D), such platforms are an important element of a commitment to more intentional, structured and long-term engagement among stakeholders in the agricultural sector.
The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) has been increasingly involved in innovation platforms in recent years, directly through several projects (such as Africa RISING) and through its role as a core program partner of the CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humidtropics. Building on work of the Nile Basin Development Challenge in Ethiopia, the Africa RISING program (Africa Research in Sustainable Intensification for the Next Generation) in Ethiopia has set up strategic innovation platforms at the district (woreda) level, operational innovation platforms at the neighbourhood (kebele) level and farmer-based innovation clusters throughout Ethiopia. R4D platforms are also being established in Tanzania and Mali together with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and other partners.
In India and Tanzania, ILRI helped coordinate platforms as part of a MilkIT project, which has increased milk production and provided employment for women in remote parts of the country. Innovation platforms were also central to a smallholder goat project (imGoats) in India and Mozambique.
In addition to trialing innovation platforms in field projects, and sharing lessons learned from these trials to operationalize the concept of innovation platforms, ILRI’s Policy, Trade and Value Chains research program has partnered with ILRI’s Capacity Development Unit to host six graduate fellows who have worked sequentially to develop, field-test, adapt and validate a model to monitor and evaluate innovation platforms using mixed quantitative and qualitative research methods. Developed in 2013 and first tested on the Volta2 project innovation platforms in Ghana and Burkina Faso, the model was further tested in 2014 on MilkIT platforms in India and Tanzania and trialed again in the Tanzania Dairy Development Forum and the Nicaragua Learning Alliance.
In 2013, as part of its work for the CGIAR Humidtropics and Challenge Program on Water and Food programs, ILRI published twelve Innovation Platform Practice Briefs to help guide agricultural research practitioners who seek to support and implement innovation platforms. The topics of these dozen briefs range from the fundamentals of ‘Developing Innovation Capacity through Innovation Platforms’ through ‘Power Dynamics and Representation in Innovation Platforms’ to ‘Monitoring Innovation Platforms’. Providing a rich array of case study examples, the practice briefs have subsequently been translated into Hindi, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Thai to facilitate their use by local practitioners in India, China, Vietnam and Thailand.
In the same year, Wageningen University and Research Centre (WUR) and ILRI published a Humidtropics paper reviewing critical issues for reflection when designing and implementing research for development in innovation platforms.
In May 2014, ILRI, WUR and IITA held a Humidtropics Workshop on Understanding, Facilitating and Monitoring Agricultural Innovation Processes. The 4-day workshop helped participants gain an understanding of complex agricultural problems and how innovative solutions to these problems can be found through establishment of stakeholder partnerships. Practical issues relevant to innovation platforms were considered and opportunities were provided to share and learn from the experiences of others. Participants were able to walk through the Rapid Appraisal of Agricultural Innovation Systems (RAAIS) analysis and planning process and to consider a range of approaches for learning through reflexive monitoring of platforms.
The Humidtropics Innovation Platform Case Study Competition continued the quest to decipher the DNA of innovation platforms, bringing together many stakeholders and actors in the agriculture sector of developing countries to produce case studies featuring the most innovative ideas, best practices, actionable knowledge and successful strategies emerging from mature innovation platforms in the developing world’s agricultural systems research landscape.
The themes investigated in the case study competition included: how innovation platforms have (1) facilitated agricultural systems trade-offs to help farmers maximize production and yield, (2) optimized simultaneous work on multiple commodities, (3) scaled up beneficial agricultural interventions and (4) identified challenges and dynamics leading to platform failures.
The competition culminated in a 4-day writeshop at ILRI’s Nairobi headquarters in February 2015. Case studies produced during the writeshop, now being edited, will be included in an illustrated volume published by Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group) towards the end of 2015.
The Humidtropics Tools for System Analysis (TOSA) portal features tools contributed by ILRI and its partners and used by facilitators of innovation platforms. Such tools include FEAST (Feed Assessment Tool) developed by ILRI and CIAT, Site Selection Guidance for Humidtropics from ILRI, and EXTRAPOLATE (EX-ante Tool for RAnking POLicy AlTErnatives) from ILRI and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Some of the TOSA tools and the case studies developed as part of the Innovation Platform Case Study Competition will be used in a blended learning program on innovation platforms being developed by ILRI’s Capacity Development Unit and scheduled for trial in the Mekong Delta in the third quarter of 2015. This course will offer lessons in how innovation platforms can generate innovative, cost-effective and sustainable agricultural transformations in resource-constrained developing-country settings. This cost-effective, time-efficient training program is designed for use by organizations interested in using innovation platforms to address complex agricultural problems.
Download reports on innovation platforms produced by ILRI.