Assessing impact of grassroots innovation in agriculture: project funded by UNU-MERIT & IDRC

In 2010, UNU-Merit (a research and training centre of United Nations University (UNU) and Maastricht University (UM), based in southeast Netherlands), with support from Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), circulated a call for proposals for the development of case studies of innovation processes in Mozambique, Rwanda and South Africa. The purpose of the initiative was to build the capacity of the project teams regarding innovation processes and the use of indicators for tracking and measuring innovation processes.

The Institute of Natural Resources (INR), in partnership with the Farmer Support Group (FSG), the outreach arm of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, submitted a proposal to explore cases of grassroots innovation associated with the Prolinnova network.  The programme has been led by Fred Gault with support from other experts in the field of innovation indicators, Martin Bell, Watu Wamae, Michael Kahn and Mammo Muchie.

The case study that was developed by the INR/FSG team focused on two cases of joint experimentation that were undertaken in the village of Potshini in KwaZulu-Natal.  One case involved joint research into an alternative method of growing potatoes, while the other involved the investigation of a new crop (cherry peppers) and marketing approach by a group of farmers. Both initiatives were supported by field workers from FSG.

The UNU-Merit project has built capacity by facilitating two workshops in Pretoria. The first was held in September 2010 at the Institute for Economic Research on Innovation at Tshwane University of Technology and the other was held in February 2011 at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS). A draft chapter that explains the two cases in terms of current innovation systems thinking and explores indicators for tracking the impact of such innovation processes was drafted in preparation for the latest workshop. The chapter attempts to provide sufficient evidence to show the benefit of supporting farmer-led joint innovation processes as a way of improving rural livelihoods. The revised version will be completed by mid July 2011, together with the other three cases, and will then be available for those interested in learning more about innovation indicators or grassroots agricultural innovation .

Prepared by: Brigid Letty, Programme Coordinator for Prolinnova-South Africa (

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