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Agricultural Innovation Systems (AIS) in MAIZE

What are Agricultural Innovation Systems?

An agricultural innovation system is about people, the knowledge, technology, infrastructure and cultures they have created or learned, who they work with, and what new ideas they are experimenting with.

The approach represents a major change in the way that the production of knowledge is viewed, and thus supported. It shifts attention away from research and the supply of science and technology, towards the whole process of innovation, in which research is only one element.

This new perspective on the role of research in development can also be discerned in CRP MAIZE. An increasing number of MAIZE projects have started to make use of so-called “Innovation Platforms” (IPs) to organize interaction with different stakeholders in the Innovation System. Innovation Platforms have become commonly used tools, but their use differs from project to project. In practice, however, operationalizing multi-stakeholder innovation platforms is challenging. They are expensive, take time to establish, and Platform members’ interest tends to decline quickly. Often the main topics of interest for the Platform diverge from what is expected by MAIZE project implementers.

In an attempt to better integrate Agricultural Innovation Systems approaches in its projects, MAIZE engaged the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT) in 2012, initially to take stock of the MAIZE projects that use innovation platforms to strengthen multi-stakeholder collaboration. KIT has looked at how stakeholder collaboration is organized in these projects, and provided suggestions on how and where that could be improved. The review built on project documentation, interviews with project managers, field visits, and focused on the interactions between scientists and other stakeholders in the Innovation System, addressing questions such as:

  • To what extent are farmers, traders, NGOs, etc., involved in decision making about the focus of research?
  • How do different stakeholders use the information generated by the research project?
  • What mechanisms exist in the projects to integrate stakeholders’ experiences, findings and priorities into (new) research?

It was found that whereas many MAIZE projects work with Innovation Platforms, these platforms are foremost regarded as scaling-out mechanisms for newly developed technologies. Innovation Platforms’ other potential functions, such as channeling feedback to research, or helping in research agenda setting, are often underutilized. In addition, a strong focus on (establishing) Innovation Platforms has limited researchers’ engagement with other stakeholder interaction mechanisms that have potential to reach impact at scale.

The results of the stock-taking were used to select a number of pilot projects in which MAIZE and KIT will continue to collaborate. In specific project sites of the Sustainable Intensification of Maize-Legume cropping systems for food security in Eastern and Southern Africa (SIMLESA), Sustainable Intensification of Maize-Legume Systems Eastern Province of Zambia (SIMLEZA), and Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) projects, CIMMYT and KIT will work together with researchers and other partners to:

  1. Strengthen multi-stakeholder interaction mechanisms
  2. Analyze and try out organizational models for MAIZE projects that build on an innovation systems perspective