On Tuesday the 28th September, the Asia-Pacific Association of Agriculture Research Institutions (APAARI) and CoSAI hosted the first dialogue, in an ongoing series, focussed on the innovation investment landscape and future food systems in the Asia-Pacific.

At the outset, Dr Ravi Khetarpal, Executive Secretary, highlighted the importance of agricultural innovation in the region to meet the challenges of climate change and zero hunger. He also highlighted the importance of partnerships and engagement with global and regional bodies in the Asia-Pacific region for building capacities to innovate. Rasheed Sulaiman, CoSAI Commissioner, set the tone of the dialogue as he outlined the need to reorient investment in innovation in the region and spark dialogue, underpinned by evidence, to support the required change.

The foundation of the dialogue was a recent report on the current level of investment in innovation for Sustainable Agriculture Intensification in the Global South, commissioned and published by CoSAI. The report by Dalberg Asia analysed public and private spending between 2010 and 2019 and estimated that approximately US$60 billion is invested annually into innovation in SAI in the Global South. This figure represents approximately 4.5% of total agriculture output, significantly less than the investment by the renewable energy sector, which invests approximately 6% of output into innovation. In addition to this comparatively low level of investment, the study found that only 7% of the innovation investment in SAI has explicit environmental objectives and only half of this has explicit social objectives. Because innovation is a critical component of future food systems, the analysis suggests that more and better investment must be arranged to support the multi-dimensional aspects of future food systems. This includes investment that considers environmental, social, and human objectives in addition to economic objectives. To support this, CoSAI is looking into financial mechanisms that promote the objectives of SAI, particularly to promote equitable and sustainable development that is farmer centred. See here for more details.

The dialogue brought together a diverse range of stakeholders from Europe, Asia, and the Pacific to discuss innovation investment in the Asia-Pacific. The dialogue took the foundations of the recent study and focussed the discussion on partnership for innovation, capacity development for innovation, and the innovation enabling environment. With a rich diversity of stakeholders present at the dialogue, various viewpoints were put forward to inform the discussions. Viewpoints came from development banks, regional organisations, educational institutes, research bodies, and farmer organisations, among others. They contributed to numerous important messages making condensing such a rich dialogue difficult. Nonetheless, the three key takeaways from the dialogue include:

  1. The need for a paradigm shift in the region. The shift must push innovation investments to go beyond concentrating on profitability to ensure actors are tackling the challenges of the future food system – ensuring equity within planetary boundaries that is evidence-based. 
  2. A front and centring of small-scale farmers within this paradigm shift. In addressing environmental and social issues, the future food system must strengthen and build multi-stakeholder partnerships that are supported by an enabling environment that tackles the difficulties of political incentives.
  3. A re-think of investment in innovation. Investments must be smarter. Not only do we need more investment, though our existing investments need to integrate and align technologies, policies, financing, and capacity building (at the individual and institutional levels) to ensure our investments are socially equitable and environmentally sustainable.

Ensuring effective impacts from investment in innovation in the Asia-Pacific region will be discussed in practical terms at the next APAARI-CoSAI dialogue. We will discuss the ‘how’ aspects of these issues as we start to identify the evidence-based tools that enable smarter investments to have sustainable impacts.