Nature and composition of rural innovation actor networks in South Africa: the case of agro-processing enterprises in the Mopani District
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Rural innovation processes are deeply embedded in actor networks, and their successes and failures are influenced by the nature and composition of such networks. While South Africa has adopted the National Systems of Innovation (NSI) framework since 1996, the participation of key recognised knowledge producers such as science councils and universities in rural innovation networks is underdetermined. Nevertheless, an explicit policy shift in the national strategy in 2019 toward socially inclusive and grassroots innovation calls for a more rigorous understanding of innovation in rural settings. As a contribution to this imperative, our study explores the nature and composition of rural actor networks of agro-processing enterprises in the Mopani District in the Limpopo Province. The analysis demonstrates that linkages between nonlocal actors, such as public agencies and large private firms, and local actors are often top-down and limited in strength. However, local linkages are characterised by locked-in, but free movements to search for new knowledge. We also find that previously overlooked actors, namely, civil society, play a crucial role in the innovation process. Consequently, we suggest that science, technology and innovation policy implementation should better integrate local conditions and capabilities, and judiciously combine external and internal resources in rural actor networks.