Research and Extension Systems

FAO's role

Latest estimates indicate that almost 690 million people are hungry in the world. Extreme weather and climate events caused by climate change, such as droughts and flooding, are damaging the livelihoods of farmers, fishers and forest-dependent people who are already vulnerable and food insecure. Natural resources, such as land, water and fertile soil, are threatened by environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services and, in certain areas, urbanization and industrial use.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) believes that agricultural innovation can help its Members to meet these challenges by moving towards sustainable food systems that reduce food loss and waste and that produce more food, of greater nutritional value, with less environmental damage.

When faced with a major crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all reminded of the importance of innovation in maintaining sustainable food and agriculture systems and uninterrupted food supply chains ensuring diversified, safe and nutritious food for everyone.

Innovation is the process whereby individuals or organizations bring new or existing products, processes or ways of organization into use for the first time in a specific context. Innovation in agriculture cuts across all dimensions of the production cycle along the entire value chain – from crop, forestry, fishery or livestock production to the management of inputs and resources to market access.

Well-functioning, dynamic and demand-driven agricultural research systems and Extension and Advisory Services (EAS) play a critical role in the multistakeholder processes which unleash agricultural innovation.

Agricultural research provides high returns on investments. Public agricultural research is particularly effective in promoting sustainable agricultural growth and alleviating poverty. However, in many parts of the world the performance of agricultural research institutions is sub-optimal. This is because of factors such as insufficient funding, poor management, weak human capacities, high dependency on donor funding, weak linkages with EAS and a focus on research priorities that do not directly address the needs of the farmers.

EAS are key catalysts which allow innovation to happen. They are essential for increasing productivity on family farms and ensuring widespread adoption of sustainable agricultural practices. They also play an essential bridging role in bringing together researchers, farmers, the private sector and other key actors in the agricultural innovation system.

FAO supports its Members by providing policy advice and technical assistance, sharing knowledge and developing capacities. It helps them to transform their agricultural research systems and EAS, thereby unleashing the full potential of agricultural innovation.