What is the future of agricultural research and innovation in Africa? That was the question on all our minds as participants in the training workshop on co-elaborative foresight on the futures of agricultural research and innovations, organized by FARA and GFAR.
The training, which took place at the FARA Secretariat in Accra, Ghana on 12th to 16th February 2018, brought together a vibrant group of young and mid-career agriculture professionals who are very accomplished in their respective fields. This training was going to enable us to become the core group of the Africa Foresight Academy, so team work was very important. From the very first session on Monday morning, I could tell that this was going to be a great group to engage with.
The training workshop focused on the foresight method, which involves participatory prospective analysis of the driving forces that are shaping agricultural research and innovation. The aim was to identify plausible future scenarios that could arise from interactions between these forces for the agricultural research and innovation system in Africa. The training on the foresight method was conducted by Oluwabunmi Ajilore, who is the Foresight Adviser at the GFAR Secretariat, and Ruth Aine.
We began the training by defining the system and establishing some rules that would guide us throughout the participatory prospective analysis. We resolved that we would focus on the future of agricultural research and innovation in Sub Saharan Africa up to 2035 and the different stakeholders involved in shaping those futures.
Once we had done that, it was time to identify the driving forces or forces of change and define them in the context of agricultural research and innovation. We grouped the forces into five different categories: social, technological, environmental, economic and political and policy forces.
Brainstorming on the driving forces and their definitions took the better part of the first day due to the vibrant discussion in the room. By the end of the day, we had a list of 51 different forces of change that have the capacity to transform the system of agricultural research and innovation in Africa. These included forces such as literacy, availability and access to technology, land tenure, farmers’ rights, access to markets and stakeholder relations.
The next step was to fill out the influence/dependence matrix as a way to measure mutual influences. This would help us identify the direct and indirect influences of the driving forces on one another for the next step of the foresight method. This was probably the most time consuming step, as it took almost two days. However, it was by no means tedious as you could always count on this group of participants to have a lively debate on whether one force influences the other directly or indirectly.
By the end of the two days, we were able to identify the forces that had a direct influence on the highest number of other forces. These six forces, namely: regulations, access to technology, information knowledge management, literacy, available technology and technical capacity would drive agriculture research and innovation in Africa for the next decade and half or so.
Armed with our six key driving forces, we began to explore the possible future states of these forces. This involved coming up with about four or so mutually exclusive future states for each key driving force. To do this, we had to ask ourselves what the future would look like if: the status quo remained; if there was positive change; if there was negative change; and if the entire system ruptured or was disrupted by an emerging force?
These possible future states would come in handy when it was time to build scenarios on the future of agricultural research and innovation in Africa, our end goal. But first, we had to combine all the different scenarios and identify those that were incompatible with each other. For example, a system with no regulations cannot allow inclusive access to technology, so a scenario featuring these two states at the same time would be implausible. Similarly, you cannot have a system where everyone is illiterate and yet technically skilled and capable at the same time.
The training concluded with a sort of “story telling” session where we shared the different future scenarios that we had constructed from the different plausible states of the six key driving forces.
Thanks to this training workshop, all 16 participants now have the skills and capacity to incorporate forward thinking and strategic foresight in our work as research scientists, development experts and innovators. This will enable us to anticipate and better address present and future challenges of agricultural development. We shall continue to engage in foresight exchange and discussion with each other as the core group of the emerging Africa Foresight Academy, and with other agricultural professionals.
Blog post by Grace Wanene and Ruth Aine
Read more about this workshop and the Collective Action here.