Partnerships, Platforms and Policies: Strengthening Farmer Capacity to Harness Technological Innovation for Agricultural Commercialisation
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Innovation capacity presupposes capacity to harness science, technology and innovation (STI) for agricultural commercialisation. Agricultural commercialisation requires an enabling policy environment on STI issues such as impact of climate change, nutrition, improved seed and inputs, emerging technologies, infrastructure, research and extension, and financing. These issues are consistent with the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA) 2024 (African Union Commission undated). This paper uses three STI revolution storylines (case studies on rice, information and communications technology (ICT) and cocoa) to highlight the enabling factors that make STI a vehicle for agricultural commercialisation. The case of rice commercialisation in Ethiopia followed a more green revolution-type storyline, with expected better yield-enhancing technologies, in which research and development (R&D) – especially seed sector development – has played an important role. The ICT and agricultural commercialisation storyline in Zambia followed application of an ICT and mobile platform, which has been seen as an innovative way to transform agribusiness in Africa. The cocoa commercialisation storyline in Ghana shows impressive growth as its supply has responded to policy reforms, allowing a larger share of world cocoa prices to be passed on to producers. The paper draws the following conclusions: Human capital and education of women and girls is important – especially youth, who innovate and represent the future of agriculture in Africa. STISA-2024 recognises the need to train young men and women in technology systems beyond the traditional use of mobile phones in agriculture to make it more resilient to climate change; Producers’ organisations facilitate their members’ access to research, technologies, knowledge, markets, financial services and policymaking influence. The case of cocoa in Ghana shows that cocoa farmers are increasingly being facilitated to organise in groups as a prerequisite for certification and for accessing technical, business and credit services; Market mechanisms for farmers can provide strong incentives for innovation. The case of ICT and agricultural commercialisation in Zambia is enabling market access for farmers through a mobile platform. This has been seen as an innovative way to transform agribusiness because it can offer a wide range of solutions for smallholder agricultural commercialisation in Africa; Networks and linkages (e.g. partnerships, innovation platforms) can provide a space for information sharing, negotiation, planning and action in an innovation system. This is exemplified by a well-networked Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), which implements government programmes for farmers and other actors in the cocoa value chain; An enabling environment for innovation should involve representative producers’ organisations in policymaking to take into account the needs of farmers. Again, cocoa supply in Ghana has shown impressive growth in response to proproducer policy reforms. Further, the paper identifies key areas for future research: How is STI enabling commercialisation of agricultural value chains to have positive impacts on rural poverty, women’s and girls’ empowerment, and food and nutrition security? What are the specific contributions of the different domains of innovation capacity in promoting agricultural commercialisation? What is the role of STI in promoting non-farm rural economies and rural–urban linkages? What attention should be given to youth in agriculture?