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Science, Technology and Innovation

Technology - seeds, breeds, fertility inputs, disease control measures, water management - is clearly key to getting agriculture moving. But the impacts of extensive investment in technology development and transfer in Africa and in some parts of Asia have been patchy. With new technology options coming on-stream (e.g. biotechnologies or various sorts) and important new players in the private sector in particular, there are new challenges for the governance of technology in the agriculture sector. The old research and development extension arrangements of 20-30 years ago are not appropriate, but what is? We want to ask a number of questions:

  • How can agricultural technology be made to work for the poor? What are the implications for technology choice and priority setting mechanisms?
  • How are technology trajectories linked to processes of agrarian/livelihood change in different settings?
  • What should be the roles of public and private sectors (both international and national) in technology development?
  • How is access to technology options constrained? What alternatives exist?
  • How should national/regional innovation systems look to deliver inputs for small farmers?

Rethinking farm systems

farm system drawing

How do we understand farming systems? The terms that researchers use affect how we see farming and agriculture in relation to the wider world.

In a new blog post, Jim Sumberg, Stephen Whitfield and Ken Giller suggest a new way of thinking about how farms connect to each other and to the non-rural economy.

Blog: A new way of bringing ‘farms’ and ‘systems’ together

Technology: more than mobiles

mobile phoneElectronic devices allow farmers in Africa to access and share information as never before. But the role of ‘technology’ in agriculture is about more than just sharing practices through mobile phones. Institutions, social change and politics play a part. In a new blog post, Jim Sumberg calls for a renewed recognition of these wider factors in debates about technology and technical change.


Arguing about agronomy

conagA new article in Outlook on Agriculture looks at how agronomy has been affected by social change since the 1970s. The science of agronomy informs crucial decisions on development. It is often seen as a practical, problem-solving field, but like other areas of study is affected by politics and power. The authors call for more attention to the contestations around new agronomic knowledge and technology.


'African Farmer': an online game about small-scale farming in Africa

'African Farmer' is a computer game which puts players directly into a farming community, exploring the challenges and choices of agriculture in Africa.


The game is being developed by the Future Agricultures Consortium as an educational tool for students and professionals. It is due to be launched early in 2014. To be notified when the game becomes available, sign up to the mailing list.

The game's website (in development) is at


The problem with 'value chains' and innovation

chain'Value chains’ have become an important part of thinking on agricultural development in Africa. As part of this approach, ‘innovation platforms’ are meant to bring people together to co-ordinate action.

In a new blog post, Jim Sumberg and Toni Darbas outline some problems with the way these ideas are applied, and suggest that critical, realistic and context-sensitive approaches are needed.

Afrocapitalism and GM: blurred philanthropy?

gm2In an article for openDemocracy, Sally Brooks examines the promise of Afrocapitalism and new forms of philanthropy involving public private partnerships for development in Africa.

Brooks compares the development of Golden Rice in the 1990s and 2000s, the more recent project on Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the recent efforts of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition to attract large investments from agri-businesses in Africa.


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Further Reading