New Partnerships Stimulate Agricultural Innovation, Greater Food Security

December 22, 2010
Blake Audsley, Communications Division, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

Despite some relief from recent skyrocketing food prices, many poor consumers in developing countries are paying much more for their food than they were just a few years ago. New research led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and funded by IDRC, is showing how innovative private–public partnerships (PPPs) could alleviate some of the challenges facing the agriculture sector and ultimately lower food costs.

PPPs are collaborative efforts between public- and private-sector entities, where critical skills, knowledge, and risks are shared. When put in the service of agricultural development, these partnerships leverage resources to improve the well-being of the world’s poor people, the great majority of whom rely directly or indirectly on agriculture for their incomes and livelihoods. PPPs can attract greater attention to and investment in agricultural research and development, which in turn can spur innovation and growth of new technologies for poor farmers.

In particular, PPPs can play an important role in addressing the recent decline in the growth of global public investments in agricultural research and development. Reduced growth in agricultural productivity has meant that many countries have not been able to keep pace with rising food demands from growing populations.

Until the global food supply can meet this burgeoning demand, soaring food prices will be an ever-present concern to consumers, particularly in developing countries where food can account for 50% to 70% of household budgets. By bringing together public and private partners, PPPs create dynamic conditions for conducting advanced research, developing new technologies, and deploying new products for the benefit of small-scale, resource-poor farmers and other marginalized groups in developing countries.

 
Curt Carnemark / World Bank

PPPs in Latin America

PPPs are increasingly seen as a valuable resource for bolstering rural development, particularly in parts of Latin America. Ideally, successful PPPs move along several phases: identifying common interests; negotiating partnership agreements; operating the partnership itself; evaluating actions; and terminating or continuing the partnership. Many PPPs fall short of their objectives as collaborators often lack the skills needed to both plan and manage complex relationships in a sustainable way.

IFPRI, in conjunction with several national agricultural research institutions, sought to identify the factors for a successful PPP by examining agricultural production chains in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and El Salvador. Funding from IDRC supported these studies.

The studies found that successful PPPs require more than just information-sharing; non-traditional learning among partners must also occur. Collaborators must identify common interests, appropriate entry points along the agricultural production chain, and the capacity-strengthening measures needed to be effective, which may vary across agricultural activity.

In Ecuador, findings showed that PPPs in the broccoli industry faced mainly commercial constraints, such as a lack of market information monitoring systems for improved decision-making. On the other hand, mango producers involved in PPPs faced production-related challenges, such as soil fertility and pest management. These different challenges determined not just the role of participants, but the participants themselves.

The studies revealed that forming a PPP is only the first step. Close collaboration among partners is critical to success. A lack of effective coordination and motivation results in partners wasting valuable resources and time. Often, third parties are necessary to catalyze constructive participation. This may be especially true in countries where participants have little or no experience in inter-organizational collaboration.

A practical tool kit

The lessons from these studies informed the latest installment of IFPRI’s Food Security in Practice series, Building Public-Private Partnerships for Agricultural Innovation. A technical guide for agricultural development practitioners to use in facilitating PPPs to build innovative capacity, it highlights experiences from Latin America that can be applied to other regions as well. It also helps identify the optimum conditions and participants for such collaborative ventures, and the benefits which may result.

PPPs provide practical solutions to reducing poverty and food insecurity. While there is no single remedy to alleviate the current scenario of rising food prices, PPPs offer the potential to boost agricultural innovation that can improve the livelihoods of the world’s poor.

IFPRI’s Building Public-Private Partnerships for Agricultural Innovation can be found at http://www.ifpri.org/pubs/fspractice/sp4.asp