Towards Agricultural Innovation Systems: Actors, Roles, Linkages and Constraints in the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) in Sierra Leone
Despite success in parts of Southern Africa and Asia, the use of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) has remained low in many parts of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Alongside this, an Agricultural Innovation Systems (AIS) framework has been touted as a method to support innovation processes and enable a variety of agricultural innovations to be used by large numbers of farmers. However, very little is known about the linkages/interactions between stakeholders within such AISs and which are deemed important for the AIS to function. This study seeks to understand the perceptions of the agricultural innovation system actors regarding Sustainable Rice Intensification (SRI) usage in Sierra Leone. More specifically, it examines the key actors and their roles, the patterns, and strengths of the linkages among them, as well as the perceptions towards the innovation /potential constraints faced by the actors. The study draws on several workshops and key informant interviews with 49 actors consisting of research and extension professionals from governmental and non-governmental organisations and smallholder farmers involved in the rice innovation system. Using UCINET’s NetDraw for social network analysis (SNA) among innovation actors, the study finds a high level of connectedness between key actors – the Ministry of Agriculture, NGOs and farmers. The eigenvector centrality (a measure of influence within a network) was highest among NGOs, the Ministry of Agriculture and farmers respectively, which shows that these actors had the strongest influence within the SRI network. Further exploration of these ties also showed that these actors play a critical role in facilitating knowledge, resources and information flows within the network. Despite a strong level of interaction between actors and positive perceptions of the innovation, SRI usage has been unable to reach scale for a variety of reasons. The key reasons identified include: (i) the lack of interaction across levels (e.g. provincial and local) thereby limiting locally adapted techniques from emerging relevant to all regions; (ii) farmers’ limited technical skills in swamp development; (iii) a lack of funding opportunities (including private sector engagement) and (iv) the perceived labor-intensiveness of SRI techniques. Overall, this research has identified possible entry points for increasing the functioning of the innovation system and a useful methodological approach that can be applied to exploring the effectiveness of agricultural innovation systems. It also highlights the need to engage private sector actors to support the use of agricultural innovations as some services are sometimes beyond the purview of research and extension actors alone. The need for further research is also necessary to deepen the understanding of whether AIS approaches are enhancing farmers’ capacity to innovate or impeding this by encouraging embedded norms related to a transfer of technology model to perpetuate.