Innovation capacity of the agricultural sector: network of productive interactions, knowledge transfer and differentiation mechanisms

Economic growth is increasingly explained and driven by knowledge acquisition and firms’ capabilities to adapt to new evolving situations to fit economic, societal and environmental frames. Strategic behavior of private companies in differentiating and promoting their products and services is crucial for their competitiveness. In parallel, public research performed at different territorial levels and by a high diversity of actors is a strategic source of key assets adding value to the firms. External actors operate in a non-linear structure allowing frequent feedback and interactive loops in order to optimise the replies to substantial problems and constantly valorise their resources. These features are explored in the thesis through different projects. This dissertation is motivated by international negotiations in the frame of the GATT agreements and bilaterally between the European Union and Switzerland that are going towards the breakdown of borders, threatening the competitiveness of the Swiss agriculture. Negative externalities will affect small firms composing this agricultural network. Thus, the dissertation is focusing on innovation as a strategic asset to maintain the competitiveness and differentiate the domestic agricultural products. The first research project concentrates on interactions occurring in the Swiss apricot network. We investigate the types of interactions producing innovations that come from different sources that are internal or external to the agricultural production supply chain. We use network theory to model the structure of the domain and understand what is inherent to innovation production thanks to collaborations through an empirical work. In the second research project, we examine whether there is a connection between the issues faced by small companies producing food and the innovative solutions and knowledge generated by research institutions. The importance of solutions to daily activities conducted by companies depends on the nature of the sector. Thus, research projects providing outputs like publications might not specifically target these issues. Moreover, access, awareness and affordability of innovations can be hindering factors for small firms composing a low-technology intensive sector. Gaps of knowledge transfer, innovation and implementation are identified in this setting. In the last research project, we address market failures hampering economic and strategic management decisions encountered in the agricultural sector. We empirically construct two case studies highlighting the necessity of intellectual appropriation mechanisms. We explore the use of patents and regional trademark to add value to the emblematic product of a small region. Organisational and marketing innovations have to be supported and diffused by key stakeholders, aiming a good communication based on criteria that take into account diverse interests of those stakeholders; consumers have to be involved in the innovation process. Furthermore, knowledge transfer, innovation generation, diffusion and implementation rely upon the will of stakeholders to take part in an efficient process of interactions and communication in order to produce and perform useful products and services. Practical implications are levered in the projects presented. Finally, digital technologies are efficient for information exchange and can decrease time and transaction costs. These technologies are explored as part of the solution to small firms’

Foray, Dominique
Lausanne, EPFL

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 Record created 2019-01-10, last modified 2019-12-05

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