Private Sector Opportunities and Barriers in the Uptake of Food and Nutrition Security R&D Outputs
Analysis of preliminary findings of a CAAST-Net Plus survey conducted by Senegal’s sciene and education ministry is underway. The survey examines attitudes among Senegalese firms (SMEs, research actors, and others) working in food security towards EU-Africa research cooperation, and the use of research outputs to drive their innovations. The aim of the survey is to gather information regarding mechanisms to improve responsiveness of R&D actors to the needs and opportunities identified by industry, and routes for the input and involvement of the private sector in a collaborative platform for supporting bi-regional health research priorities. Building on a series of workshops in which CAAST-Net Plus participated (see below), ultimately the research aims to fill a gap on the mechanisms for enhanced private sector uptake of R&D outputs from bi-regional research cooperation.
Increase in collaborative research projects
In Africa, public agricultural research has been experiencing a resurgence in recent years with an increasing number of researchers and funding, even if there are still insufficient resources and even if funding still depends heavily from sponsors from abroad. In the private sector, research is virtually nonexistent.
An earlier CAAST-Net Plus study showed the existence of collaborative research between Europe and Africa in the field of food and nutrition security, especially through numerous projects funded by the EU’s Framework Programme (see the CAAST-Net Plus report Africa-EU Research Collaboration on Food Security: A Critical Analysis of the Scope, Coordination and Uptake of Findings (2015)). But this research is mainly funded by the EU and not African funders. As the report shows, private sector involvement in framework cooperation projects was approximately 15.5%, and civil society representation was approximately 1.5% of total participating organisations.
Poor research uptake
The large number of EU-Africa collaborative research projects has not necessarily led to more policy influence, improved food systems and processes, expanded product ranges, markets and trade, or more support to innovation for social and economic gain in either Europe or Africa. The reasons given by the various Senegalese stakeholders surveyed are many, but are mainly due to lack of funding, obstacles associated with political will, and communication challenges. Other barriers highlighted included:
- Differences in the motivations and priorities between the private sector and the research community.
- Lack of follow-up at the end of projects i.e. at end of funding cycles.
- Lack of, delay in, or non-involvement of the private sector in project design.
- Mismatch of certain results to private sector needs.
How to bridge the gap
Stakeholders surveyed generally agreed that multi-disciplinary research and development between and across actors is very important in tackling the food and nutrition global challenge. To increase the impact of research results in this area, and to promote innovation, it is necessary to break down the barriers and to bridge the gap between the private sector and public research actors. To this end, three approaches are suggested:
- We need to improve the use of research results by the private sector, through taking advantage of new funding opportunities such as, for example, an SME development fund, investments in the application of research results, and participation in programmes such as the European Union’s Horizon 2020 funding instrument. Respondents suggested increasing public funding for research and development, especially in Africa, and the strengthening of private sector capacity in the area of technology transfer. The visibility and the strength of the private sector should be supported through the establishment or strengthening of commercial umbrella or support organisations and the provision of an evidence-base of research and development results.
- Research actors should also provide answers to the real needs of industry by involving the private sector right from the beginning, that is, in the setting up of research priorities, in order to promote demand-led agricultural research for development, extension, innovation, and to strengthen capacities. The private sector should be strengthened to be able to formulate and prioritise research needs that enable a shift to more useful applied research. Communication between public and private sectors needs to be improved to increase awareness about innovation opportunities among SME owners and managers.
- Private sector actors should become more involved in collaborative platforms to support the definition of bi-regional priorities in the field of food and nutrition security. To this end, actors should be involved early enough in dialogues with other sectoral stakeholders. It is also necessary to develop or strengthen value chains and co-financing possibilities through a clear distribution of costs and benefits. The commitment of the private sector can also be shown through their involvement in business/entrepreneurship incubators. Support to, or creation of, networks among key stakeholders in both communities to facilitate interactions that would enable a harnessing of ideas/inputs and thereby facilitate inclusiveness of relevant stakeholders is sorely needed.
CAAST-Net Plus, RINEA Workshop on Non-traditional Approaches to Food Security (Brussels, Belgium: 2 October 2015)
Melissa Plath - Finnish Universities Partnership for International Development
"Among the many lessons learned from the discussion, the importance of communicating and sharing between the sectors and actors involved is crucial for better understanding the possible ways for cooperating together."
Vinny Pillay - Department of Science and Technology, South Africa
"There is a need to engage with a broader set of private sector members – perhaps at an individual level."
Judith Ann Francis - Technical Centre for Rural and Agricultural Cooperation
"A take-home message is that we need to change our mindset from looking at small funding baskets for research and look to bigger financing opportunities and partnerships with the private sector in these domains."
CAAST-Net Plus Workshop on Africa-EU STI Cooperation in Food and Nutrition Security: Innovation & Private Sector Engagement (Johannesburg, South Africa: 26 November 2015)
Dr Jean Albergel - Institute of Research for Development, France
"The CAAST-Net Plus intervention created an opportunity for African and European presenters to promote their technology in front of a panel of economic operators and investors looking for innovative technologies by presenting a poster of the selected technology and exchanging individually with industrialists and business managers."
Dr Andrew Cherry - Association of Commonwealth Universities
"While we have a very practiced narrative about the role that scientific and technological research plays in inspiring or driving innovation for economic growth, and a persistent anxiety about a perceived weakness in the academia/research – business relationship, a striking reality emerging from this exchange was that for many small and medium sized enterprises in the food and nutrition security and sustainable agriculture domain, for the small scale entrepreneurs, the link to the scientific and/or technological environment can be a distant one.
"The scientific or technological dimension of a new product or of a new service is just one of so many pressing practical issues facing SMEs and entrepreneurs and it is unrealistic to expect SMEs and entrepreneurs to share our perspectives. We who inhabit the world of international scientific cooperation must never lose sight of these realities and can ill afford to isolate the S&T contribution from the host of other factors driving business ideas."
*This article first appeared in the CAAST-Net Plus Magazine of December 2015.
[Image credit: Flickr, las - initially (Lori Semprevio)]
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Disclaimer: CAAST-Net Plus is funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n0 311806. This document reflects only the authors’ views and the European Union cannot be held liable for any use that may be made of the information contained herein.