By Cecilia Schubert
“What is innovation in the context of agriculture?” This asked moderator Lindiwe Sibanda the audience members at a Rio +20 side event on innovations and uptake of best practices for sustainable agriculture. She concluded that innovation is not necessarily new invention, but rather the ability to conduct existing activities in a manner that incorporates the three pillars of sustainability: social development, economic development and environmental protection. The three pillars can guide agricultural policy makers and farmers to develop a complete picture of the sustainability challenge as it pertains to agriculture.
The side event invited speakers to talk about innovative examples from their home countries that could be implemented elsewhere. Panelists represented Canada, Brazil, Kenya and India. At the moment the agricultural sector needs to scale-up innovations and promote uptake of best practices among farmers. As speaker Clyde Graham of the Canadian Fertiliser Institute, pointed out during the session, farmers need to change the way they do their business by incorporating sustainable techniques in their farming practices, to enhance production and help preserve the environment. That is the core issue at the moment. However behavior change is difficult - in any context.
“Farmer’s can’t afford not to apply fertilisers”
In Canada, the Canadian Fertiliser Institute together with partners is promoting an agricultural system of four R’s: using the right rate with the right resources at the right time and place. This structure ensures that farmers apply the right amount of fertilizers, or other inputs, at the right season in the right place, i.e. not too close to watersheds which might contaminate them, and where crops can access the nutrients most effectively.
This system has proven to be successful in Canada, and according to Mr.Graham, it can be implemented in other countries. An audience member questioned this position, saying that in an African context a farmer can’t afford fertilizers, which breaks down the 4R system at its initial phase. Mr Graham replied that the African farmer couldn’t afford not to include fertilizers, since otherwise soil is depleted and future food security is jeopardized.
Putting the farmer at the center of knowledge sharing
Extension services are activities that allow farmers to access and share new technologies and best practices. In India, the government has set up a structure for agricultural extension services, said Rajeev Chauhan from Farming First, but the public and private sector are still facing many challenges implementing the services. “There is a shortfall between the best of intentions and what is actually realized,” he told the audience. The private sector in particular, with its profit-driven system, is proving a challenging partner. He remarked, “where profits can’t be assured, it is less likely to get a company involved”. Private companies are also working with individual farmers, so social capital, such as institutions, relationships, and norms that shape the quality and quantity of a society's social interactions, is not built which can be seen as crucial in building networks and successfully share knowledge. “Knowledge sharing should utilize various agents and intermediaries who interact with farmers and other stakeholders in the innovation system” Rajeev concluded. Only after putting the farmer at the center of knowledge sharing can a system of extension services become successful.
“Farmers don’t have an obligation to provide food”
In her concluding remarks, Lindiwe Sibanda, CEO of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), pointed out that farmers don’t have an obligation to produce food, but without food there can’t be sustainable development. Farmers deserve equal opportunities compared to other people working with non-agricultural activities, and a decent standard of living, and agriculture must become more lucrative and attractive in order to attract the next generation of farmers . The success of agriculture can be viewed as depending on continuity and the transfer of knowledge to the youth, making inclusion of the young generation even more important.
Another step needed to ensure a development towards sustainable agriculture is to ring in all the key partnerships, Lindiwe emphasized. For example, partnerships and networks among Brazilian cotton-producers in semi-arid areas in the country have proven to be the key for its success in increasing incomes. “Governments can’t do it alone, farmers have a role to play and organizations are key”, she concluded, “especially in feeding the pipeline with the youths who wants to participate”.
The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is covering the Rio+20 Conference live between 12 - 22 June. Read the latest stories related to agriculture and food security from the conference. To get the latest updates follow both CCAFS on Facebook and Twitter and Agriculture Day Facebook and Twitter. Join the conversation about agriculture and food security during at Rio+20 using #Rio4ag on Twitter.
Cecliia Schubert is a communications assistant at the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).