This paper was prepared to present at the Farmer First Revisited: 20
Years On conference at IDS, University of Sussex, UK, December 2007. Its
focus is the challenge of strengthening agricultural innovation systems.
The paper prefaces this discussion by reflecting on an apparent paradox.
While agricultural innovation has never been better studied and
understood, many of our ideas about innovation have failed to
fundamentally change the institutional and policy setting of public and
private investment intended to promote innovation for development. The
paper asks "students of innovation" why a virtual spiral of innovation
practice and policy learning hasn't emerged. The paper then locates the
current interest in innovation systems in the evolving and contested
approaches to agricultural development, noting that this is
characterised by a long history of false dichotomies. The contingencies
of the emerging agricultural scenario will demand the more networked
modes of collective intelligence and innovation that are embodied in the
innovation systems concept. The paper argues, however, that the
innovation systems idea should be view as a metaphor for innovation
diversity, rather than another competing innovation narrative. The way
forward, it is suggested, is to create a united front of different
collective intelligence-based innovation narratives to kick-start the
virtuous spiral of innovation practice and policy learning. This is
needed to strengthen agricultural innovation systems and so achieve
developmental goals. The paper argues that it is the responsibly of all
us "students of innovation" to argue for this space for diversity to
flourish and to help consolidate and promote what is known about
agricultural innovation. If we aren't more successful in stimulating
institutional and policy change we will still be debating these issues
20 years hence.
Key words: Agricultural innovation systems; institutional and policy change; space for diversity; innovation narratives; collective intelligence; self-reflection.
UNU-MERIT Working Papers ISSN 1871-9872