Innovation systems in agriculture: Managing stakeholder interaction for learning and innovation in the 21st century
Using science and technology to advance smallholder agriculture is a priority for international development, but effective ways of doing this are contentious. South Asia has witnessed increased food grain production since the mid-twentieth century, but with serious environmental and social consequences. While innovation and growth is desirable, the contemporary knowledge economy is polarized as a result of an increasing divergence between the public and private as well as formal and informal modes of knowledge production, exchange, regulation and application. This study investigates stakeholder interaction for learning and innovation in high-value agriculture in the Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh, India, and subsistence agriculture in the Chitwan district of Nepal. A mixed methods research approach involving two case studies and a survey is used to examine the patterns of interaction among public and private stakeholders relevant to mango, a high-value commodity in India, and rice, a crucial subsistence crop in Nepal. A convergence model of social innovation and entrepreneurship has been developed and used in the analysis of divergences in reality and knowledge of stakeholder groups in the two specific cases. The case studies revealed that the public research focuses on technological innovations, such as breeding crop varieties and developing sea shipment protocols for mangoes, while other public organizations are preoccupied with quality regulations, infrastructure and subsidies. The for-profit private sector, albeit small and informal, is active in produce markets of high-value agriculture and input markets of subsistence agriculture, often in isolation from the public as well as civil society organizations. Multivariate analysis of the survey data confirmed that habits and practices of working in isolation limit human ingenuity to innovate because the more stakeholders interact, the better they perceive their work environments, and vice versa. Learning and innovation is particularly challenging in difficult environments, where absence of market and/or non-market incentives limit interaction across traditional boundaries, and in such context positive deviants can facilitate stakeholder interaction by challenging the 'status quo'. The key contributions of this research to the emergent literature on innovation studies in agriculture include the crucial role of individual actors in the innovation systems approach and the relevance of this approach to subsistence agriculture in South Asia.