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July 12, 2013. It sounds odd at first, but agricultural R&D usually ends up in our stomachs. How does research become a product sold to a user (equipment or input supplier, farmer, processor, or marketer) who uses it to produce something? At Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, we are exploring how technologies get from the lab to the field, to attempt to identify innovations that can help smallholder farmers. As is typical with these treasure hunts, we are asking more questions than finding answers.
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USDA, USAID, state governments, and international entities provide grant funding for research into any number of issues and products. According to USDA’s Economic Research Service, in 2009, the U.S. government spent about $4.8 billion on food and agriculture R&D. Public sector research takes place in myriad places. These include land grant universities, schools of veterinary and forestry sciences, USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS), USAID-funded domestic and international research centers (e.g., Laboratories, formerly known as CRSPs Collaborative Research Support Centers), and CGIAR Centers (Consultative Groups for International Agriculture Research). How is research coordinated? How do we know what “on the shelf” inventions exist? USDA has a searchable database of research called the Current Research Information System (CRIS), and the Innovation Laboratories/CRSPs also are working on cataloging their research. The CGIAR system is launching a publically searchable database, and USAID is requesting that field missions prioritize technology needs based on their on-the-ground programs. So much is going on that we need a Match.com for agriculture technology.


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Research organizations are increasingly under pressure to do a better job in commercialization. This is both a question of relevance and survival. Government funding may not continue at current levels in every field of agriculture. Smart people are working on this, but they are not in a comfortable space. One plant breeder with a good track record of commercializing her research told us that researchers generally are “wildly unprepared to make commercialization happen.” It is an area that is overlooked, underfunded, underappreciated and underemphasized; although, this is changing. Another academic characterized the space as “crowded and chaotic with many players going many directions.” It’s the Wild West, and we can’t afford expensive bombs like the Disney’s recent reboot of The Lone Ranger.


tonto-theloneranger-cliffs.jpgTo help create a forum for joint problem solving and practical working models for the research commercialization process, Partnering for Innovation is initiating several activities. We will be launching a "Community of Practice" to explore these themes. In addition, on July 16, we are participating in an AgriLinks-sponsored Twitter Chat on Smallholder Access to Technology (#AskAg) On July 17, from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. EDT, Partnering for Innovation is hosting a webinar on From the Lab to the Field: The Challenges of Commercializing Research. Finally, on July 24from 10 to 11:30 EDT Agrilinks’ Ag Sector Council Seminar series will host Scaling

Agricultural Technologies: Bringing Research to Farmers and the Market


 

To quote a favorite oldie, “There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear.” So, get involved, join the conversation, and help shape the future of agriculture!


Written by Bob Rabatsky, Director at Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation