Prior to joining our organisation, Judith, CTA senior programme coordinator, science and technology, worked with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA). There she managed a 15-country programme on expansion in the tropical fruit industry and promoted technology and innovation. Since September 2003, she has designed and managed an ongoing dialogue between researchers, political officials and stakeholders in agricultural development.

Innovation is often talked about in the agriculture and rural development sector. How would you define this concept?

People generally confuse innovation with invention and we need to distinguish between them. Invention is a new technology or a novel idea that has been given form (e.g. the tractor) and has potential to be used. When ‘technologies’ remain on the shelf, the investments are considered to have been wasted. This is one of the major criticisms of research and development outputs in ACP countries.

On the other hand, we can have innovation in products, e.g. garlic-flavoured cassava chips, in services, e.g. e-marketing of agricultural produce, or in processes, e.g. new organizational arrangements for doing research to reduce the cost, increase output and achieve the desired impact. Innovation is the application of knowledge (old or new) that creates value for end-users. It spurs competition and contributes to socio-economic development. It is a continuous process.

Do scientists and ACP rural dwellers communicate? To what extent do scientists include traditional knowledge in their work?

Formal science can add value to traditional knowledge and vice versa to spur innovation. In 2010, when the Advisory Committee on Science and Technology for ACP Agricultural and Rural Development deliberated on this issue in South Africa, we agreed that there were untapped opportunities for identifying and developing new products and solutions to the complex issues confronting the agricultural sector, if these two knowledge domains are integrated. We also noted the challenges.

What is the ASTI programme?

When CTA launched its Science and Technology Strategies programme in 2003, we began building the capacity of ACP experts to understand innovation processes and analyze the agricultural science, technology and innovation (ASTI) system using an innovation systems approach. We wanted to create a critical mass of ACP scientists who could engage in and influence science, technology and innovation policies and processes in support of ARD.

How does this programme improve livelihoods in ACP rural areas?

The complex ARD challenges require novel solutions and scientists must be able to support their countries and communities, including policymakers and farmers, to respond to these challenges. We cannot produce or trade without science and technology, and similarly we cannot address climate change without a sound science base.

How can science and innovation help tackle food crises and ensure food security?

We need to produce more food with less resources – water and land. We need to harness our indigenous biodiversity and knowledge to develop new and improved crops and livestock that can survive under changing climatic conditions. We need to reduce postharvest losses and process raw agricultural products to extend the shelf life. These three examples alone show why the ACP region needs science and innovation.

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