The scale of innovation required to face up to Africa’s challenges, more than ever, will involve multiple actors within and beyond the agricultural sector to coordinate their learning and action in order to improve management of natural resources and increase efficiency in targeted sectors/industries and value chains to develop new products and to access new markets. In short, what is required is what has been described in this paper as interactive learning.
Interactive learning produces both private benefits and returns of specific innovations and important social benefits. Notwithstanding the private benefits, markets are often unable to promote interactive learning, at least at the scale required. In addition, transaction costs to establish networks and develop trust among actors are prohibitive, particularly for the poorer participants. Finally, the coordination of action and learning among different types of actors with different mindsets and worldviews is especially challenging (and at times costly).
Despite (and because of) these challenges, there is both a justification and an urgent need for increased public investment in AAS to nurture the expansion and inclusiveness of interactive learning in public, private, and public–private domains. The various initiatives undertaken to date to strengthen AAS in support of interactive learning and, more specifically, IAR4D are ad hoc and insufficient.
Creatively developed business models are needed to cover the transaction costs of learning network development, while at the same time gradually reducing dependency on public investment. Three elements may be taken into account:
1. focusing on the kind of questions capable of generating concrete, workable answers—such questions relate to specific sectors, industries, and priority areas around which part of the innovation system could be build;
2. designing alternative business models and (public–private) financing structures, for each type of innovation challenge and for each phase of the innovation process (from the niche to the landscape phase); and
3. taking care to balance attention between research and AAS in making IAR4D work; both are required, but playing different roles.