An innovation systems approach to institutional change: Smallholder development in West Africa
Sustainable intensification of smallholder farming is a serious option for satisfying 2050 global cereal requirements and alleviating persistent poverty. That option seems far off for Sub-Sahara Africa (SSA) where technology-driven productivity growth has largely failed. The article revisits this issue from a number of angles: current approaches to enlisting SSA smallholders in agricultural development; the history of the phenomenal productivity growth in the USA, The Netherlands and Green Revolution Asia; and the current framework conditions for SSA productivity growth. This analysis shows that (1) the development of an enabling institutional context was a necessary condition that preceded the phenomenal productivity growth in industrial and Green Revolution countries; and that (2) such a context is also present for successful SSA export crop production, but that (3) the context is pervasively biased against SSA’s smallholder food production. The article traces the origins of technology supply push (TSP) as a dominant paradigm that hinders recognition of the role of enabling institutions. The article then reviews the literature on institutional change and zooms in on Innovation Platforms (IPs) as a promising innovation system approach to such change. We describe the concrete experience with IP in the Sub-Sahara Challenge Program (SSA-CP) and in the Convergence of Sciences: Strengthening Innovation Systems (CoS-SIS) Program. The former has demonstrated proof of concept. The latter is designed to trace causal mechanisms. We describe its institutional experimentation and research methodology, including causal process tracing.
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