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Technology and Innovation - Background Resources

Governing Technologies

Research is critical to the future of agricultural development in Africa. But what sort of research and for whom? In the past, inappropriate framings of problems and solutions have combined with limited field capacity and poorly functioning innovation systems. This has meant that the diverse livelihood pathways and agricultural technology demands of poor agriculturalists and pastoralists in Africa have often not been served by current arrangements for agricultural innovation. With the current policy debate about agricultural research and technology development so couched in "rational" technical and economic terms, there has been little scope to debate the wider social and political ramifications of new ways of organising, funding and governing agricultural research and development.

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Science and Technology as a Focus of Policy Attention

Science and technology (S and T) in agriculture are once again a focus for policy attention. Many argue that a way out of the current productivity bind – particularly in Africa – is to invest in technology development. The Green Revolution in Asia in the 1960s and 70s is often referred to as a model, with the need to invest in (re)building scientific capacity, particularly in Africa. Thus the Commission for Africa argued for up to $3 billion over a decade earmarked investment particularly in building regional ‘centres of excellence’ across the continent. Similarly, the Millennium Project’s reports both on S and T and on hunger both agreed that technological advances were key to meeting MDG goals. A joint UK-Canada report on science and technology has also recommended that significant donor funds for Africa are pushed towards technology development and building capacity of African science institutions. African organisations, such as NEPAD and the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa also argue for a revitalisation of African R and D capacity in agriculture. Meanwhile, the UK’s Department for International Development is busy preparing a new science and innovation strategy in parallel with new announcements for investing significant research funds in ‘ecoregional’ hubs for agricultural research, again focusing on Africa.

Such policy activity is unprecedented. Not since the hey-day of the 1970s when technological change was seen to be the core driver of developmental advances has S and T policy seen such a profile. While many assessments have shown the positive returns to investment in agricultural research, the causal relationships and the contexts for positive impacts are not always clear. An assessment of CGIAR investments and their livelihood impacts showed just how complex these relationships are. Reviews of the CGIAR system as a whole following its 30 year anniversary have equally shown some significant advances, but also some slow or limited wins.

While the argument that S and T is essential to turning African agriculture around has been largely won, exactly what this should involve remains a subject of much debate. In the context of the country work of the Future Agricultures consortium, the teams will be asking what works well where and why? Should new funds be invested in regional centres of technical excellence, attracting diaspora expertise back to the continent? Should new funds be pumped into the international research system, with the CGIAR centres expected to come up with big impact spill-over technologies? Or should money be spent on rebuilding the crumbling research and extension infrastructure and personnel base at a national level? Or are there other options, outside the conventional institutional routes, that bring in alternative expertise – and particularly farmers’ own innovation experience – into revitalised innovation systems that cut across public/state, private/corporate and community/farmer led processes? With the funds being promised – most recently at the 2nd African Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology in Dakar - the debate is now on.

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Further Reading

Governing Technologies

'Governing Technology Development: Challenges for Agricultural Research in Africa', I. Scoones, IDS Bulletin, Vol 36, No 2, 2005

'The Family Farm in a Globalizing World: The Role of Crop Science in Alleviating Poverty', M. Lipton, 2020 IFPRI Policy Brief 74, 2005

'Key Challenges for Technology Development and Agricultural Research in Africa', M. Jones, IDS Bulletin, Vol 36, No 2, 2005

Human and Social Capital in the Diffusion of Low External Input Agriculture, ODI, Rural Policy and Governance Group website

'Does Low External Input Agriculture Reach the Poor?', ID21 Research Highlight

Science and Technology as a Focus of Policy Attention

Making Science and Technology Work for the Poor. A speech by Ian Scoones at a Brighton festival event, Brighton, UK, May 2006.

'Science Capacity 'Imperative' for Africa's Development', David Dickson, SciDevNet, March 2005

UN Millennium Project Task Force Reports

'Partnerships for Building Science and Technology Capacity in Africa: Canadian and UK Experience', Joanna Chataway, James Smith and David Wield, Paper prepared for the Africa–Canada–UK Exploration: Building Science and Technology Capacity with African Partners, 30 January – 1 February 2005, Canada House, London

The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD)

Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa

DFID Current Research

'Research Returns Redux: A Meta-Analysis of the Returns to Agricultural R&D', Julian M. Alston, Michele C. Marra, Philip G. Pardey, and T. J. Wyatt, EPTD Discussion Paper No. 38, 1998, Washington DC: IFPRI

IFPRI Papers on Impact of Agricultural Research on Poverty

'The CGIAR at 31:An Independent Meta-Evaluation of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research', Carl K. Eicher and Mandivamba Rukuni, The World Bank Operations Evaluation Department, 2003

'Policies to Strengthen the Capacity of Agricultural Innovation Systems in Developing Countries', Project Coordinator: Dr Andy Hall, United Nations University

2nd African Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology, SciDevNet Report

Agriculture is a key pathway out of poverty