The 10th Partners Assembly of the Tropical Agriculture Platform (TAP) that took place from 21 to 23 November 2023 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, gathered its partners from all over the world to share knowledge and learn from each other’s experiences focused on the theme of strengthening capacities to innovate towards agri-food system transformation.
In addition to the Partner Assembly, the meeting also provided a platform to discuss technical aspects of the capacity development of agricultural innovation system (AIS) to promote innovation at all levels. The first day was dedicated to the introductory keynote presentations, TAP governance and endorsement of decisions, learning about different partners’ approaches and activities for strengthening the capacity for AIS, as well as discussions about the expanding role of TAP at regional and global levels.
The next days of the Assembly focused on technical sessions organized around the three major areas of work of TAP 2022–2025 Action Plan, which are: strengthening innovation capacities at the country level; roles of Regional Research and Extension Organizations (RREOs) in promoting TAP tools and strengthening AIS; and promoting policy advocacy and investments in AIS at all levels.
The Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI) actively participated particularly through three substantive sessions.
In Technical Session 1 on ‘Strengthening Capacities of Agricultural Innovation Systems (AIS): Approaches, Common Framework, Tools and Methods for scaling-up’, APAARI presented its efforts to operationalize the TAP Common Framework based on its experiences and lessons. The “blending of technical and functional capacities” is currently implemented through the Asia Pesticide Residue Mitigation Project; Southern Africa Biopesticides Project; Bangladesh Phytosanitary and Biopesticide Development Project (USDA); and Piloting One Health in Asia to Manage Aflatoxin.
APAARI’s key strategies for the integration of the TAP Common Framework into these projects include:
- Project co-design: Discussions with technical and functional teams (e.g. technical experts, partners, and KM team) during the co-design stage of each project.
- Orientation sessions: Learning about the TAP Common Framework (AIS thinking, the three dimensions, importance of developing functional capacities along the technical) conducted in the first three months of the start of each project.
- Surveys: Identification of what and whose functional capacities need to be developed in the context of the project and with what envisioned outcomes conducted in the first six months of each project.
- Strategy development: Knowledge management, capacity development, and communication strategies – how can the development of functional capacities and system thinking best support the overall project objectives to ensure impact – conducted in the first year of each project.
- Activity co-design: Joint development of agenda, flow, and facilitation plan discussed and agreed on for each planned technical event.
- Implementation: Developing practical skills to better manage technical and institutional innovations is integrated into each technical training.
- Post-activity support: Mentoring provided and Knowledge-Attitude-Practice (KAP) surveys conducted even after the activity/project completion.
The types of functional capacities that APAARI focuses on includes collaboration; network building/peer-to-peer support; cross-sectoral coordination; multi-actor engagement; collective reflection; communication; navigation of complexity; management of technical and institutional innovation; use of trans-disciplinary approaches (gender-transformative, social, environmental); facilitation; knowledge management (documentation of the change process); and adaptive leadership. This is why ensuring that both technical and functional capacities are always developed in a balanced way.
Based on its experience, APAARI presented its lessons learned in terms of three areas, including co-design of each technical training with the technical team; training facilitation; and post-training support.
In Technical Session 2 and its group work on diving into case studies and concrete experiences, APAARI shared its views and experiences in food and agriculture research and innovation strategies. It presented the key continental-level agri-food research and innovation strategy in Asia-Pacific region based on FAO Asia-Pacific Science and Innovation Forum for further investments in science, technology and innovation in agriculture; CGIAR’s Research and Innovation Strategy; and APAARI’s new Strategy Plan 2024-2033.
APAARI’s current Strategic Plan has embeded the strengthening of the agri-food research and innovation system (AFRIS) to work collectively with stakeholders to bring about sustainable agri-food transformation in Asia and the Pacific. Through this process, APAARI has learned that the beneficiary members were very receptive, and assisted in the development of case studies and success stories. However, certain countries were not always convinced and wanted to focus only on developing technical capacities. Hence, APAARI’s work on promoting the TAP Common Framework continues to be in the centre of its new Strategic Plan 2024-2033.
In Technical Session 3 on AIS for sustainable intensification in Asia-Pacific, APAARI presented the key outcomes of its work with the Commission on Sustainable Agricultural Intensification (COSAI). Through the partnership APAARI facilitated four important dialogues on AIS for sustainable agricultural intensification in Asia-Pacific.
Five key areas came out very strongly as the dialogue outcomes show various strategic aspects that can be promoted through the TAP Common Framework, particularly developing functional capacities and introducing policy changes to achieve innovation at a scale:
Paradigm shift that goes beyond profitability: The focus on technology innovation has not been able to make an impact, so the perception of innovation needs to change to seeing it as a process to develop an innovative environment that also tackles innovative policies, finance, and institutional capacity development. Part of the shift includes the need to be able to ensure equity and sustainability of the future food system that is evidence based, not just evidence coming from research, which is extremely important, but also to include testimonials from farmers that can influence change at the local level. Furthermore, bringing the AIS perspective into the national agricultural research system (NARS), advisory services, and education sector, would support the change of mindsets and creation of a culture of innovation that builds sustainable future food systems.
Small-scale farmers at the centre of the paradigm shift: Addressing the various issues of the future food systems needs to place small-scale farmers to be in the centre of this paradigm shift. This requires looking beyond innovative technologies and more at what it takes to bring investment at scale in agriculture, considering small-scale farmers, who really need these innovations. Partnerships need to be facilitated in a way to build on those that already exist, rather than building new ones, and develop multi-actor partnerships that can collectively create an enabling environment that tackles the difficulties and complexities of institutions and political incentives.
Smarter investments: The current spending on innovation requires an increase and re-orientation towards more explicitly targeted sustainability outcomes and functional capacity development for innovation. High quality up to date data on capacity investment and agricultural innovation needs to be collected and used. Though a lot of it already exists, there is a need to generate more relevant data to convince policy and decision makers that investment in innovation can be profitable, as well as responsive to the social and green agenda. Furthermore, evidence needs to be generated on how countries are progressing in their investments in innovation that include social objectives, and tracking this progress over time.
The “How” of innovation: Functional capacities can drive institutional change in innovation at scale. The experiences and success stories identified by APAARI are proving that functional capacity development to collaborate, navigate complexity by building and nurturing partnerships, but also building trust and integrating various decision-support instruments can drive innovation at scale. e.g. by promoting ‘out-of-the box’ thinking and cross-pollination within public agencies to foster a culture that encourages and rewards different ways of thinking to reach innovative solutions and accelerate agricultural innovation. The development community needs to do much more to help countries facilitate innovation processes through capacity development. The development of women’s skills in extension services, and R&D programmes, particularly as facilitators of change, is an important part of this process.
Development of new business models: The development of new business models is needed to build on partnerships and capacity for innovation, and support the key innovation processes. However, they need to move away from the narrow focus on productivity enhancement to a broader focus on development of low-carbon social inclusiveness and climate. Such models need to become an integral part of any investment decision to address the complexities and challenges of our future food systems. They also need to be equitable and adaptable to deliver impact within the environmental boundaries of a net zero economy.
Through all its contribution to the TAP’s Partners’ Assembly, APAARI has demonstrated to the TAP partners that it continues to be committed to advance its work on the integration of the Common Framework for AIS in Asia-Pacific. The development of functional capacities and the promotion of the AIS thinking has been integrated at all three dimensions – individual, organizational and enabling environment. This has enabled to APAARI and its partners to involve key stakeholders, including policy and decision makers, in the capacity development process right from the beginning of the project. This successful model that APAARI has pioneered will also be the basis of the Association’s new Strategic Plan 2024-2033.