A vivid discussion on how sustainable agricultural innovations could be spread to the farmers.
Photo: © K.-M. Lüth

GIZ Experts’ Talk on agricultural innovation in practice

In a GIZ experts’ talk, development experts discussed the meaning of agricultural innovation as an approach to sustainable and productive agriculture.

“Im Süden was Neues? – Landwirtschaftliche Innovation in der Praxis” (News from the South – agricultural innovation in practice) was the topic of an experts’ talk held by Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) in Eschborn, Germany, on the 23rd July  that was attended by development specialists from, among others, Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), KfW-Entwicklungsbank, Switzerland’s Department for Development and Co-operation (DEZA), the German Agricultural Society (DLG), GIZ and external experts. The event was aimed at finding examples demonstrating precisely how innovation potential can be supported. With the aid of presentations and examples relating to theory and practice, experience gathered so far was described and discussed. 

The meeting of experts also referred to the German Federal Government’s initiative “A World without Hunger”. In this context, ways of enabling a better acceptance and application of sustainable innovation promoting development in the agricultural and food sector were addressed. At the same time, the experts’ talk served the purpose of discussing views on how the ten so-called agricultural centres (as yet a working title) planned by the BMZ could be effectively supported in various countries. 

Following the opening of the event by Stephan Krall, GIZ, the participants listened to three impulse presentations.

Frederik Oberthuer, GIZ, presented a sheep-breeding project from Ethiopia in which breeding performance of sheep belonging to the farmers’ groups participating in the programme could be significantly improved with a selection process among the breeding rams. Thus the project helped Ethiopian farmers switching from growing crops to animal husbandry to earn a better income. But Oberthuer also reported that these breeding animals, which have a good sales value, were sold now and then if cash was needed, so that they were then no longer available for the actual breeding programme. 

Anja Christinck, of the German Institute for Tropical and Subtropical Agriculture (DITSL), presented the results of a project on the identification and dissemination of local innovations. Users who had already gained positive experience with these innovations were chosen, and they were assigned a consulting role to make these innovations accessible to other users as well.

Bianca Rohrbach, GIZ, addressed the support of demand-oriented innovation in the agriculture and food industry sector in her comprehensive presentation. Rohrbach introduced relevant partner organisations, stakeholders and structures and explained what GIZ regarded as important mechanisms to promote demand-oriented innovations with a focus on agriculture and the food industry.

In the initial discussion round aimed at answering comprehension questions, it was first established that often, the results of the initiatives and projects presented could not be secured with the target groups. The reasons for this that the participants mentioned were that as a rule, the duration of the projects and scientific activities was too short to gain reliable results. The reasons referred to for the short running periods were the administrative provisions for project planning and science funding made on the part of the donors. 

In the subsequent debate, many of the experts taking part referred to the value chains for marketable fruit as an important instrument to promote innovation down to the level of farmers and agricultural producers. The structures of value chains appeared to be particularly conducive to promoting innovation because the integration of the farmers and smallholders appeared to be secured via the production process and its quality demands. Implementing instruments promoting innovation and the acceptance of innovations among agricultural producers who were far away from markets and value chains was much more difficult since they could not benefit from contract farming and the agricultural extension services involved. 

Another area that the discussion focused on was issues relating to the identification of innovations, their assessment regarding their usefulness in various scenarios and framework conditions, as well as how innovations could be disseminated and find acceptance among farmers. Here, the focus was on structures promising the greatest success with disseminating innovations. After some rather discouraging experiences in the past involving various government and private agricultural extension institutions and training and upgrading programmes, this type of spreading innovations was less forward-looking. Here, experts believed, new dissemination tools needed to be developed.  

In this context, the participants in the debate stressed that when setting up the agricultural centres, it was important to simultaneously integrate them in existing structures, and that a qualification of all tools in parallel (e.g. for training, upgrading and consulting) was very important in reaching out to the farms. 

Again and again, the discussion ultimately came back to the farmers and the agricultural producers. The participants agreed largely that the acceptance capacity regarding innovations and their implementation was often limited. An early and comprehensive integration of the farms in the process of e.g. introducing new production methods, technologies and management methods with the aim of a self-determined decision appears to be of eminent importance regarding a sustainable adoption of innovations. Here, there is still a lot to discuss. And much conceptual creativeness is certainly required to convince farmers who are far away from markets that it is worthwhile to apply promising innovations. By and by, the participants in the meeting also agreed on this aspect.

Karl-Martin Lüth, DLG, Frankfurt