Cross-scalar interactions in innovation processes in agricultural social-ecological systems

Innovations in agriculture are processes of knowledge creation, technological development and diffusion operating across various scales in the agricultural system. As pathways of agricultural development, innovations can lead to improved livelihood productivity, farmer well-being and environmental sustainability. Most agricultural development programs have focused on agricultural innovation and diffusion through a top-down ‘linear´ process where key agricultural innovations are funded through external funders through foreign aid, developed by specialists or researchers, distributed by agricultural extension services and adopted by producers. Such innovations are often ill-suited to the ecological, economic and cultural contexts within which such innovations were promoted. Alternate conceptualizations of agricultural innovation focus on a dynamic view of the process of innovation which arises from the actions and interactions of agents at different scales (international, national, sub-national), inclusiveness (who is in, who is out) and density of interactions and knowledge flows (between and outside agents). Within such non-linear, dynamic mechanisms of innovation,  various actors in the agricultural system form a local ‘innovation platforms’ to enable bottom-up or endogenous development of innovation. Here, farmers take on the role of central actors operating within social-ecological change through social learning and information flows.

In this project, we develop an empirically-driven agent-based model, Ag-Innovation, to (i) expand the conceptualization of innovations as a complex adaptive process operating across scales within social-ecological systems (ii) explore and compare the effects of two alternate mechanisms of innovation development and diffusion (exogenous, linear and endogenous, non-linear) on emergent properties of food and income distribution among farmers (iii) assess the range of conditions under which these two alternate mechanisms would be effective in improving farmer resilience under the context of a changing environment.  The model explores the role of social learning and knowledge sharing within the actors in an agricultural innovation system in influencing farmer well-being and resilience. The paper serves as a thinking-tool to assess the effectiveness of exogenous foreign-aid driven innovation development juxtaposed with social innovations driven by endogenous actors and collective action.

Case description: The project analyses a case study of agricultural innovations in Mali, West Africa

People: Udita Sanga, Maja Schlüter.

Keywords: Innovations, Social-Ecological Systems, Agriculture

Methods: Agent-based modelling

Model: Ag-Innovation Model