A functional analysis of the role of input suppliers in an agricultural innovation system: The case of small-scale irrigation in Kenya

Sebastian Toft Hornum*, Simon Bolwig

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

CONTEXT: As a direct link between farmers and manufacturers of technologies, the characteristics and activities of input suppliers can be expected to play an important role in the generation and diffusion of innovations in agricultural systems. While the agricultural innovation systems (AIS) literature recognises the importance of input suppliers, there are few studies from the Global South assessing the nature and implications of their activities. OBJECTIVE: The aim of this paper is to improve the understanding of how input suppliers can influence the functioning and development of AIS in the Global South. METHODS: We first adapt the ‘functions of innovation systems’ framework to examine the role of these private-sector actors in an AIS, identifying three activity categories, through which input suppliers can influence the AIS: market creation for technological innovations, the creation and dissemination of knowledge, and influence on technology priorities. We then apply the framework to a case study of the small-scale irrigation sector in Kenya. RESULTS AND CONCLUSION: The case study documents the emergence of a new cohort of irrigation-equipment suppliers during the period of strong growth in the market for small-scale irrigation technologies since 2000, and examines how they affect the small-scale irrigation agricultural innovation system (SIAIS). We find that Kenyan irrigation-input suppliers perform important activities and roles in the SIAIS aside input supply, notably provision of advisory services, improvement of the supply chain for irrigation technologies, introduction and adaptations of new types of irrigation equipment, and facilitation of access to farm credit. Irrigation-input suppliers in Kenya thus play an important role in the functionality of the SIAIS, particularly regarding knowledge creation and dissemination. SIGNIFICANCE: The novelty of the paper lies in its empirical assessment of input suppliers in the small-scale irrigation sector and its application of the functions framework. The paper shows that input suppliers can become effective agents of knowledge diffusion once the market has reached a sufficient size and documents how they contributed to knowledge development as they develop, adapt and test specific irrigation equipment. The paper also emphasises that input suppliers can form a key link between national AIS and foreign companies, as they bring in foreign expertise (know-how) to the market along with agricultural technologies. We therefore suggest that policy interventions in support of smallholder irrigation should seek leverage from the growth and capacities of input suppliers as a complement to public research and extension.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103219
JournalAgricultural Systems
Volume193
ISSN0308-521X
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the UNEP DTU Partnership and the research project Technology, Markets and Investment for Low Carbon and Climate Resilient Development (TEMARIN) , funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark .

Funding Information:
Modern irrigation technologies were deployed during these developments. Sprinkler irrigation was introduced in 1975 in a pilot scheme, the Kibirigwi Irrigation Scheme (Mwangi, 1990), being used throughout the 1970s and 1980s on coffee and pineapple plantations (Blank et al., 2002). During the late 1980s and early 1990s, sprinklers and drip irrigation were adopted by large-scale horticulture and floriculture farms, but not by smallholders due to the high costs involved (Sijali and Okumu, 2002). Early activities with small-scale drip irrigation were carried out by Good Samaritan Christian missionaries from 1988. In 1996, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI; today the Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization, KALRO) became involved in small-scale drip-irrigation technology through a community-development program in Eldoret (Sijali and Okumu, 2002). With support from USAID and the World Bank, KARI played the leading role in testing, developing and distributing drip kits during this period (Keller, 2014). By 2001, KARI had sold five thousand kits to Kenyan smallholders, the majority through small-scale irrigation projects involving donors, NGOs and government agencies. The perception arose during the 1990s that drip irrigation was effective in enabling agricultural intensification, saving water and improving incomes (Burney et al., 2013; Postel et al., 2001). This contributed to the creation of a positive attitude to drip irrigation that motivated many donors and NGOs to develop drip irrigation projects, especially in the arid- and semi-arid regions of the country (Sijali and Okumu, 2002). These trends in drip-irrigation resemble those observed for other small-scale irrigation technologies, in particular sprinkler irrigation and, more recently, solar PV pumps.This work was supported by the UNEP DTU Partnership and the research project Technology, Markets and Investment for Low Carbon and Climate Resilient Development (TEMARIN), funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Ltd

Keywords

  • Agricultural innovation system
  • Innovation system functions
  • Input suppliers
  • Small-scale irrigation

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