Analysing how niche building and expansion occurred through a policy experiment, Sustainable Productive Systems and Biodiversity (SPSB), in southern Mexico may shed light on policy’s role in sociotechnical changes and on how different actors interrelate. This initiative contributed to the scaling up of grassroots innovation efforts favouring biodiversity-friendly productive practices. Thirteen thousand producers grouped in 27 associations from six states, two federal ministries, a technical public office, the social investment area of a private bank and two international organisations were all involved in SPSB deployment.
SPSB was chosen as a case study because it entails a different approach than traditional environment and agricultural policies, financed through public, private and international resources and stemming from the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (known as CONABIO), a scientific research responsible for expanding science, technology and innovation topics related to biodiversity. While it has not been publicly announced as an experiment, the programme complies with all analytical categories usually associated to policy experiments and, building on previous experiences, proposed working with producer associations instead of individual producers. Conabio became a key intermediary for policy-making by tackling a localized knowledge gap –biodiversity friendly practices in six productive systems– and co-creating innovative uses of that knowledge.
A thorough revision of evaluation materials and a participant observation while evaluating the project made it possible for the research team to learn how most producers effectively implemented biodiversity friendly productive practices, and attained increments in income when those new practices matched an existing differentiated market that valued them. SPSB niches were built upon elements considered important in the literature such as local participatory learning processes and performance improvements, translation of sustainability solutions, a strong commitment with the sense and directionality of the transformation, high levels of social complexity within poverty contexts and scarcity conditions. In this particular context the main reason to introduce biodiversity friendly practices was linked to an expectation of more income.
This case study shows how policy experiments could scale up social innovations but under certain circumstances. Budgetary trade-offs tend to affect less traditional and less embedded projects first and thus external co-financing works as a relative leverage. The change in productive practices occurred once the producer associations had time and incentives to work with technical biodiversity specialists. Fieldwork at the smallest local level, grassroots innovation initiatives and community engagement for environment protection were among the key drivers of success. External co-financing, top-down matching agenda, political timing, topic relevance for public opinion and alternative programme results all played a part in the programme’s uncertain future. The productive change is likely to remain even after the work has ended. This case shows the possibility of scaling up a niche innovation through policy although the mid term results of the knowledge and the environmental improvements obtained are yet to be assessed.
Please read the working paper for this project: