A Systems Approach for More Effective and Inclusive Agricultural Innovation for Sustainable Transformation

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Our Call to Action: A Fresh Perspective

According to the UN Global Stocktake Report 2023, we are not on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The report highlights that current food systems perpetuate inequalities and fail to tackle rising food insecurity. To address the world’s multiple crises, including climate and food crises, as well as escalating conflicts over politics and natural resources, there is a pressing need for effective innovations and urgent action at scale. These efforts should aim to contribute to improved and more sustainable outcomes for both people and the planet, achieved through equitable and resilient agricultural innovation systems. Agricultural Research for Development (A4RD) has a key role to play in providing evidence-based and end-user driven solutions for positive social outcomes in low and middle income countries.

Within AR4D there is an imperative for a fresh perspective—one that prioritizes inclusivity and scalable innovations from the very outset of problem identification and ideation. An outcome-based approach that prioritizes socially vulnerable populations, such as women, is vital to actually making progress on the largely social nature of many of the SDGs. Traditional and even dynamic approaches to innovation systems inadvertently obscure the pivotal roles played by decision-makers at every stage. Decision-makers within AR4D wield significant influence over our perception of challenges, our strategies to address them, and, consequently, the innovations that emerge and who ultimately benefits. While more innovation systems take into account the interconnected nature of innovations and acknowledge the complexity, diversity, and nonlinearity of innovation processes as shaped by multiple social, institutional, environmental, and economic complexities; there is less attention to the positionality of AR4D actors operationalizing these systems within AR4D work. Thus, whether AR4D actors correctly identify challenge-solution sets hinge on processes that precede many of our current representations of agricultural innovation systems and lack of reflexivity in our AR4D work. As noted, systemic innovation “concerns how people engage in a process to support systemic thinking and action” and can be considered ‘a game-changer’ for sustainability. Thus, we aim in this blog, and our accompanying five research commentaries, to present how AR4D actors can be more effective in their work — sustainably innovating for the world’s vulnerable populations — through a self-reflective, systems approach.

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