RIU - Research Into Use
Exploring opportunity-led innovation in horticulture value chain development efforts
TS Vamsidhar Reddy
Research Fellow with the RIU Central Research Team focusing on opportunity-led innovation

Application of innovation system conceptualization in agriculture development projects has recently been rapidly growing in significance. This is because of a general appreciation among concerned authorities that agriculture development is a context specific embedded process involving diverse agencies operating to their respective mandates and interests. However, different theorists have been promoting different narratives for the innovation process, ranging from poor/user-led innovation to researcher-led innovation. These narratives endorse different configurations of stakeholders and assign different roles for them in the innovation process.

The Research Into Use (RIU) Central Research Team (CRT) think that the best way to approach it is by having a diversity of these Innovation Narratives , which probably suit for different agriculture development contexts. They are trying to substantiate this thinking by investigating empirical cases in different locations of the programme.

Opportunity-led Innovation is one such narrative under investigation. The hypothesis is that 'opportunities presented by large markets of poor people are leading the emergence of new types of innovation processes and products. Also emerging are innovation process that are invisible to research and corporate communities due to alternative professional views of excellence and success. These are described in various forms such as bottom of the pyramid innovation and below the radar innovation. Innovation along value chains is a key feature of these developments.'

In two of the cases in the Asia Programme, opportunity-led innovation is being explored. Horticulture value chain development is being considered as a way of linking smallholder producers to markets and relevant stakeholders to enable innovation. The different approaches to realize this are outlined below. The CRT is examining these cases to generate lessons and build evidence for the opportunity-led innovation narrative.

The cases

Two groups of organizations are involved in facilitating these two cases. They are adopting different approaches to develop horticulture value chains and integrate poor users. One group led by the International Development Enterprises (IDE) in Nepal is working with existing components of the value chain in that country and connecting them to smallholder farmers. The other group led by the Coalition to Diversity Income from underused crops (CoDI), promoted by International Centre for Underutilized Crops (ICUC) is building a value chain through specific interventions to connect smallholder producers of underused crops to markets.

The group led by CoDI is trying to help diversify cropping systems with traditional and underused crops in the project locations in India by facilitating community services for production, processing and marketing. They are trying this through initiating and institutionalizing:
  • Village crop fairs, where villagers select germplasm and share knowledge
  • Community germplams orchards (nurseries), where the selected germplam is maintained
  • Food processing parks, where producers access information, training, post-harvest facilities and market linkages at local, national and international level

The other group led by IDE is applying the Participatory Market Chain Approach (PMCA) developed by the International Potato Centre (CIP) to build capacity of smallholder producers’ groups to identify and respond to existing market opportunities. The PMCA tool is expected to provide ways of linking components of the existing value chain, bringing in efficiencies.

These two efforts are providing opportunities to understand innovation along horticulture value chains. The contrast in the two approaches will be examined by exploring the following key research questions:
  • What are the new modes of innovation that are emerging?
  • Do these genuinely present opportunities for developmentally relevant innovation?
  • How can largely invisible processes be identified and supported?
  • Do innovations along value chains allow poor producers and consumers to benefit from new market opportunities?

The following table presents some of the key features of the two cases.

Feature CoDI case IDE case
Assembly of the cluster of actors Key stakeholders are organized in a coalition and involved in facilitating value chain building effort Key components of the existing value chain are brought together through Participatory Market Chain Approach
Mechanisms/ approaches/ strategies for use of research in the innovation process Research organizations are part of the coalition and make research outputs available based on need/demand. Need for specific research outputs are articulated by smallholder producers to researchers, who incorporate them in their research plans Smallholders' organizations are capacitated to articulate need for research outputs to research agencies
Features and ways of making the effort pro-poor Focus on vegetables and fruits that are mostly cultivated by smallholder farmers Focus on building capacities of smallholders' organizations
Commodities in consideration Under-used/ traditional fruits and vegetables Mainstream fruits and vegetables
Status of the existing value chain Mostly absent Mostly present but with inefficiencies and missing links
Intervention in the value chain Starting from smallholder producers and building different components of the value chain Building capacity of smallholders' organizations to identify and respond to market opportunities. Linking smallholders’ organizations with different components of the existing value chain
Facilitator of the effort A non-profit civil society organization A not-for profit organization

RIU will be exploring these two cases to synthesize generic lessons on opportunity-led innovation.

This paper is also available to download:
  Exploring opportunity led innovation in agriculture value chain development efforts
TS Vamsidhar Reddy

February 2010 (PDF 80KB)

Ian Maudlin, RIU Director, introduces Research Into Use, explains its aims and outlines the impacts the programme hopes to achieve. November 2009 (3:55)   RIUtv
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