Guest blog written by Botir Dosov
Innovation in family farming can do much to contribute to food security, rural poverty reduction and environmental sustainability. That was the message from the 39th Session of the European Commission on Agriculture (ECA), held in Budapest, Hungary on 22-23 September 2015.
Small-sized family farms should not be considered an obstacle to development, according to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, which spearheaded the United Nations International Year of Family Farming in 2014. On the contrary, household farming plays an important role in achieving food security for the poor, reducing rural poverty and scaling up sustainable practices. For this reason, promoting innovation in family farming is becoming a global priority. Family farmers play a critical role in ensuring food security, employment and income generation, and in so doing, contributing to national economies.
So, how can we make this happen?
Innovations in family farming will depend on input from a wide range of actors; this is particularly so in the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus (CAC). Governments need to create and promote relevant policies and institutional changes to support this sector. Those changes should family farms to better link with market opportunities, and motivate producers to react to the needs of family farmers, and the opportunities presented by this type of agriculture.
A further solution would be to strengthen the links between research and extension sectors. A shift from a research-driven approach and technology transfer to new models, in which family farmers are motivated to participate in the generation, sharing and use of knowledge would be a positive action.
By encouraging cross-cutting interactions between various actors involved in innovations and fostering the sharing of knowledge, opportunities and resources we would expect a more dynamic and efficient business system for generating better incomes and livelihoods.
What’s standing in the way?
Unfortunately, inadequate linkages among farmers, especially women farmers, the public sector, the private sector, policy-makers, extension staff and academia are a common problem in the CAC countries. Many farmers in the region encounter difficulties in accessing advanced knowledge and information on agricultural technologies and emerging markets. That deprives them of innovation-based opportunities to improve their productivity, profitability and livelihoods.
This challenge was highlighted in recent regional online discussions on the role of Agricultural Innovation Systems (AIS) in Central Asia and Caucasus countries and China towards more sustainable food security and nutrition (FSN). The discussion underscored the lack of coordination between different AIS actors and sectors across countries. Linkages among key stakeholders – such as the public and private sector, or academic and civil societies – within the national agricultural research system in CAC countries and China are very weak. The result is often poor planning, poor resource and labour distribution, fragmentation and duplication of interventions in the agriculture sector. In addition, poor linkages constrain the application of innovative approaches to improve food security and livelihoods. Connections between agricultural education, research and rural advisory services also remain weak.
The way forward
Participants at the recent online discussions made the following recommendations to strengthen agricultural innovation in CAC countries:
- Building human and institutional capacity of the actors in agricultural innovation systems (AIS) to boost relevant agricultural knowledge, as well as developing technologies and their application;
- Enhancing linkages between research, education, and extension through interactive, dynamic and flexible processes, along with better contact between institutions;
- Establishing an agricultural innovation institution, to serve as a platform of knowledge formation and technology transfer, where different AIS actors can benefit from knowledge sharing, coordination and innovation;
- Improving access to finance, in order to obtain adequate funding for improvement of material and technical capacities;
- Marketing products and services provided by agricultural research, education and extension institutions, which helps to attract both public and private investors;
- Empowering women and youth in agricultural innovations should be considered part of the development agenda.
The role of public and private sectors, research and extension institutions are indispensable in fostering agricultural innovation. And with that, the participation of women and young people in innovations in family farming is critical, given the key role that they play in household livelihoods and in the socio-economic and cultural environment as a whole.
By Botir Dosov, Innovation Platform Facilitator, CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems in Central Asia; and Regional focal point, Central Asia and the Caucasus Forum for Rural Advisory Services (CAC-FRAS)