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CGIAR features FiBL cotton research in state of the art publication on innovation platforms

Creating impact: that is what agricultural research for development is designed for. The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) has long recognized the potential of innovation platforms in this respect, and thus evaluated the mature innovation platforms landscape with a case study competition. The result is a new book featuring examples of successful innovation platforms including the research activities of the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) on cotton in India.

What is an innovation platform? Generally, it describes a space for learning and change. It consists of a group of individuals (who often represent organizations) with different backgrounds and interests, ranging from farmers through traders, food processors and researchers to government officials. Stakeholders come together to identify problems, targets and opportunities. Optimally, they then go ahead to jointly implement activities to achieve their goals.

Who in agricultural research and development is working with innovation platforms? How efficient are these platforms? To answer these questions, Humidtropics – a research program by CGIAR – launched a competition in late 2014. Christian Andres and Dr Gurbir S. Bhullar from the Department of International Cooperation at FiBL took the challenge and participated in the competition.

Since case study writing is vastly different from writing articles for publication in scientific journals, the authors of the selected best abstracts were invited to a one-week writeshop at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, Kenia, in early 2015. During this week, the facilitators transformed scientists to storytellers who should capture the attention of the broad public with their papers by using empathetic language and skilful writing. It was a tough job, but it worked: At the end of the week, the case study had become alive with ribs, limbs and a face. It was left with a facelift. This final touch was a success: the editors selected FiBL's case as one of the final eight cases that is featured in the Humidtropics Anthology published by Routledge in early 2016.

The case of FiBL's innovation platform in India illustrates the advantage of combining applied science with participatory action research, and emphasizes the need to tackle complexity (of agricultural systems) with complexity (inter- and transdisciplinary learning processes). The authors argue that problems on a global scale (e.g. food security) may best be tackled by adapting site-specific successes ("best practices") to local contexts ("best fits"), and by bringing many "best fits" together.

Further, they call for a paradigm shift from international agricultural research (IAR) FOR development to IAR IN development, which should speed up scientific learning processes by shortening feedback loops inherent to innovation cycles. Finally, this mental transition should be reflected in projects and academia, by taking the courage of saying "No" sometimes, and by bringing together social and natural sciences in new forms of educational institutions. After all, the desire to achieve impact unites all, whether they are donors, researchers or farmers.

Further information

FiBL contact

Christian Andres


Andres, C., Mandloi, L.S., Bhullar, G.S. (2016) Sustaining the supply of White Gold: The case of SysCom innovation platforms in India. In: Dror, I., Cadilhon, J.-J., Schut, M., Misiko. M., Maheshwari, S. (Eds.) Innovation Platforms for Agricultural Development: Evaluating the mature innovation platforms landscape. Routledge, London, UK.