An Approach to Encouraging Innovation

This program is a good example of using incentives to encourage development and adoption of practice change.  The Victorian Food Innovation Network is a Victorian State Government led initiative, to encourage the development and implementation of innovation in the food sector in Victoria.  A core element of the initiative is the Food Innovation Vouchers Program which supports food businesses to undertake innovation.   It provides an opportunity for businesses to engage the services of a registered service provider from key private for profit or not for profit organisations.

There are three voucher types that support research, development or implementation in the following areas:

  1. Early stage feasibility and testing (Vouchers of up to $10,000) – The applicant is required to contribute at least one hour of in-kind time per $1,000 of voucher funds.
  2. Process innovation, product development, research, market positioning and product labelling (Vouchers of up to $50,000) – The voucher is suitable for emerging projects from the early stage feasibility voucher and applicants must match the voucher on a dollar for dollar, cash basis.
  3. Preparing for and attracting investment (Vouchers of up to $50,000) – Applicants must match the voucher on a dollar for dollar, cash basis.

The program is currently offering the Round 3 Food Innovation Program, which closes on May 12th

Case Studies of the Approach

Bernard McCarthy of Jujube Australia posed the question:

“What products might be feasible to value add to my fresh and dried jujube fruit and how would I go about production?”

Bernard MCarthy from Jujube Australia

Since posing that question to the Food Innovation Network, Bernard has gone on to partner with one of the registered service providers, George Gekas from Badalya, in securing a Food Innovation Voucher.  Bernard felt George’s expertise, global vision, and ability to develop, launch and market products was the best fit for adding value to a range of potential jujube products for his business.

George and Bernard applied for a Round Two Boost Your Business Food Innovation Voucher, which has been used to fund an early stage feasibility study to identify the next steps in developing a unique jujube product, including contract manufacturing supply options for potential commercialisation.

One potential product being explored, is a high-end, packaged jujube in chocolate; which could prove popular with the Chinese market.

Another project making use of a voucher involves a manufacturer of fresh nori (sushi) rolls

Fresh food vending machines – Source, The Victorian Food Innovation Network

In this project the manufacturer of fresh nori (sushi) rolls, who services a range of retail outlets, is piloting vending machines in several universities and hospitals.

They have used a Food Innovation Program Voucher, to work with a vending machine manufacturer, to develop a prototype vending machine capable of serving their fresh nori rolls.  The project is also using the prototype machines to test market feasibility and acceptability.

Privatised Extension in Practice

The Food Innovation Voucher Program is an example of encouraging and enabling privatised extension, that is able to use a range of extension methods, in which the quality and content of extension provision is responsive to the needs of the businesses being targeted.

“A key to understanding private extension is the fact that it is possible to separate the provision of funding, from the provision of service.” – (Chapman and Tripp, 2003)

Victoria is Australia’s largest food and fibre exporting state.  It is also a major food processing state, accounting for one third of the processed food produced by Australia.  Encouraging innovation and practice change in Victoria’s food industry, supports an industry that is a major contributor to the State’s economy and employment.

In the book Farming Systems Research into the 21st Century (2012), the authors discuss that the field of extension is quite dynamic and new configurations and alternative extension systems and approaches, have been emerging.  With a major focus being the changing role and nature of extension agents.

The Victorian Food Innovation Network is good example of how a new approach, using a multi-stakeholder network, who are supported to provide different sorts of approaches and services from the private-profit or non-profit sectors, can enable innovation and practice change.

These organisations are able develop and implement a range of participatory approaches; with the role of Government being to provide the networking opportunity and seed funding to make it happen, but not to deliver the individual projects themselves.

Content Sources and Further Information

Chapman, R., Tripp, R. (2003) Changing Incentives for Agricultural Extension – A Review of Privatised Extension in Practice.   AgREN Network Paper No. 132

Cristóvão A., Koutsouris A., Kügler M. (2012) Extension systems and change facilitation for agricultural and rural development. In: Darnhofer I., Gibbon D., Dedieu B. (eds) Farming Systems Research into the 21st Century: The New Dynamic. Springer, Dordrecht.