On 29–31 January 2013, the CGIAR Research Programme on Aquatic Agricultural Systems (AAS) held a dialogue on “Re-imagining Agricultural Research in Development”. It invited about 45 researchers, practitioners and policymakers in agricultural research and development (ARD) for the 3-day dialogue at the WorldFish centre in Penang, Malaysia. Ann Waters-Bayer, ETC Foundation, a member of the Prolinnova International Support Team, took part on behalf of the Prolinnova network.
It was largely an open-space event, with no presentations other than a very short introduction, explaining that AAS scientists are trying to “draw on international wisdom to shape (their) own thinking”. The starting point was recognition that ARD approaches used by the CGIAR in the past did not deliver on the objective of alleviating poverty. Through constructing a timeline on ARD to examine its evolution and its impact on poverty alleviation over the past decades and through engaging in debate on the challenge for ARD to have impact at scale, the participants distilled key questions and then discussed them in more depth in smaller groups. Initially, the discussions were very wide-ranging, including both formal and informal (endogenous) ARD inside and outside the CGIAR. They were narrowed down on the third day to looking at how AAS could go about research in a different way so as to have impact on development.
The terminology of “Agricultural Research in Development” (ARinD) was deliberately chosen to bring in the perspective of doing research in a context of constant change, where others actors and drivers are “doing development” and where research has to find its most effective role within this process. It needs to engage in co-generation of knowledge in the context of practice. Successful ARinD would lead to well-functioning innovation systems that are responsive to the changing set of demands and needs of society and that can adapt to change.
The importance of partnerships for vibrant innovation systems were emphasised, and also how this demands change in behaviour, mindset and culture in the CGIAR and other research institutions. It was recognised that, in the past and to a large degree still today, ARD partnerships have been unbalanced because the CGIAR centres retained power and control over the funds.
The dialogue raised more questions than it found answers, but it is a necessary first step to recognise key questions. These were related to: i) how researchers can recognise existing innovation processes and the demands for research that these raise and then have the flexibility to align the research programmes to these demands, ii) how to conduct ARinD as a continuous joint learning and adaptation process; and iii) how to be aware of and deal with inequities – particularly in power – within innovation partnerships.
The meeting provided a good opportunity to reinforce networking links with several people involved in ARD, to share information about Prolinnova, to gain a better understanding of what AAS is trying to do and to recognise potentials for collaboration. Ann will discuss this further at the AAS Program Leadership Team meeting in June 2013 in Penang.
A news item on the dialogue, entitled “Agricultural research must support local innovation”, was brought out by SciDev.Net (www.scidev.net/en/agriculture-and-environment/news/agricultural-research…). Some quotes from this:
· Boru Douthwaite, WorldFish: “Researchers are outsiders providing solutions. We need to become insiders and be part of the process.”
· Eve Crowley, FAO: “There was a clear consensus that the approaches that yield the most lasting benefits [are those that] support producers’ own abilities to innovate locally and to develop or adapt their own solutions.”