By James Laraki (February 10, 2013)
AGRICULTURE globally faces many challenges. The foremost among them is to improve farm productivity. This is necessary for food security as well as to reduce hunger and alleviate poverty. And this has to be done in a rapidly changing landscape of climate change, increasing water and arable land scarcity, threat of rapidly spreading plant and animal diseases and pests, loss of biodiversity and volatile global trade in agricultural commodities.
For us to meet these challenges, ushering agricultural innovation is also necessary. It is universally agreed that rapid innovations is needed now and in future in farming and agricultural production. However, ushering innovation in agriculture is a major challenge. This is because the food chain is a complex process itself spread over several countries involving various players; farm input suppliers, farmers, processors, marketers, transporters and consumers.
The complex challenge of ushering agricultural innovation can be considered at a very basic level as the need to improve information content and information chains of the food chain. A core pathway to usher agricultural innovation globally is to improve availability, accessibility, applicability and ensure the relevance and usefulness of information for the intended users and enable agricultural communities to appropriate information and, through effective learning, use it as new knowledge, skills and technologies. This pathway is increasingly being recognized as crucial and central for agricultural innovation to occur and spread rapidly.
It is this recognition that is leading to the consideration of “openness” in agricultural information and knowledge for all.
In many developing and even in developed countries, a large proportion of agricultural research is done by and through public funds. In PNG, all agricultural research is done through public funds. The outputs of this research, especially information and technologies, should therefore technically be “public goods” in the sense that they should not be excluded from the public which has funded the research. Thus, “openness” of agricultural information and knowledge in the context of the emerging paradigm of agricultural innovation should mean that a large part of relevant and useful information generated by and through the public sector investment should be available and also accessible as a public good with equity to all its users.
However, in spite of agricultural information being largely a public good, it is not always available and accessible by all. This is happening mainly due to technological, institutional and community related barriers.
The technological barriers to availability, access and effective use of agricultural information are related to availability of hardware such as computers and cell phones, software especially tools and applications, content, connectivity and capacity of agricultural organizations and communities. The Institutional barriers include the lack of appropriate investment, policies, rules, regulation, standards, and organizational work processes that embed openness in information sharing. The most common barriers to communities sharing, exchanging and effectively using agricultural related information are related to political, social, economic and technological empowerment. It is common that rural and agricultural communities are the least empowered in most societies and countries. PNG is no exception. Besides these, there are issues related to awareness, language and skills. For those of us working towards bringing innovation in farming and agriculture, ushering openness in agricultural information and knowledge for all is a complex challenge. However, it does have solutions. We believe openness can be achieved with appropriate strategy in place and with concerned working together.
The strategy for bringing this openness is to enable and support all the multitude of actions that will lead to greater openness in sharing and exchanging agricultural information especially that in the main domain. This strategy at a generic level includes:
The National Agriculture Research Institute as a public funded statutory research organization in PNG is aware of this and is in the process of ensuring openness to share agricultural information and knowledge with stakeholders and the public. The institute under its realigned restructure recently has created the information and knowledge program as one of the four core programs with an objective to facilitate this process. While this may not solve the problem overnight, it is the basis to creating an enabling environment to share information and knowledge for all.
Photo: Visitors at the Bris Kanda Stall at the Agricultural Innovations Show last May. The show is one such avenue that the institute hopes to share agricultural information and innovation among stakeholders and the general public.