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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on November 24th, 2008
by Pincas Jawetz (pj@sustainabilitank.info)

“INNOVATION AFRICA”

The volume (405 pages) was edited by Pascal C.Sanginga, Ann Walter-Bayer, Susan Kaaria, Jemimah Njuki, and Chesha Wetlasinha.

Earthscan, is a publishing house for a sustainable future, based in Dunstan House, 14a St. Cross st., London EC1N 8XA, UK – with a branch at 22883 Quicksilver Derive, Sterling, VA, USA.

www.earthscan.co.uk

The project, meeting and book, were sponsored jointly by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation under the roof of the “Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). The goal is tp promote African agricultural development through capacity-building, research and pilot testing of interventions.

At the Kampala meeting participated 140 practitioners and the best 24 articles appear in the 5 parts of this volume.

The conclusions led to five observations,   and I will mention here just the fifth – that says that real innovation emerges by encouraging creativity, and that is not achieved by over-engineering a multiple level of bureaucracy that poses the risk of stifling real discovery. So, it is better to create enabling conditions and incentive structures that encourage information exchange, cooperation and policy changes that unleash bottom-up or lateral innovation.

The first article is of 26 pages on “Conceptual and Methodological Developments in Innovation,” presented by Niels Roeling.

I found interesting his use of “innovation” as a noun – denoting a technology or even a product i.e. hybrid maize. Then he talks about the “diffusion curve” of introducing this innovation for gain by the users. That was the way the subject was taught in the American Mid-West. Eventually he mentions that his thinking was affected by the observation from Landcare in Australia, that “erosion, salination, desiccation and other environmental problems” resulted from the introduction of European farming practices to a continent to which they were not suited. Thus we reach out to grassroots innovation in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the book presents many ways of organizing this sort of development of agricultural knowledge and information systems.

The book ends up presenting many conceptual and methodological developments in promoting innovation by showcasing on-the-ground experiences in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda, Malawi, South Africa, Nigeria.

The volume mentions the changes in global agriculture, the use of biofuels, the increase in meat consumption, droughts and extreme weather caused by climate change, and the resulting increase in the price of food, and asks if those events will make African smallholders competitive in African urban markets. The author is nevertheless not over optimistic. It is the global “treadmill” that prevents African farmers from contributing to global food security and African countries from gaining food sovereignty. The imports of food haveinterfered with the marketting of the local produce beyond the subsistence level.

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