The unpacking and repacking of agricultural innovation: Embrapa's translation roles and positions in the introduction of the pyramid model and hybrid pigs in Brazil

Jean Vilas-Boas, Laurens Klerkx*, Rico Lie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Context: The notion of simply transfering agricultural innovation from suppliers to receivers as a strategy to improve agri-food systems globally has been strongly criticized and has raised debates in the field of agricultural technology development and innovation. Previous studies have shown that there is translational work to be done within agricultural innovation systems when technologies travel from one context to another, and they have also increasingly focused on how public research and technology institutions (PRTIs) participate in such efforts. However, previous literature has not sharpened such translation roles played by PRTIs into local innovation systems to interpret and adapt foreign agricultural technologies. Objective: This study aims to analyze translation roles played by Embrapa (a pivotal PRTI in Brazil) into the innovation system linked to Brazilian pig production. It analyses how Embrapa took part in the decontextualization and recontextualization of the pyramid model and hybrid pigs in the Brazilian setting. Methods: This study applies a qualitative research approach based on a case study method. Its primary data sources are 21 in-depth interviews with key actors involved with Brazilian pig production. Furthermore, interviewee's content was triangulated with secondary data and interpreted using our conceptual understanding as an analytical lens. Results and conclusions: Our findings add to theory on agricultural technology development and innovation systems in threefold way: 1) we show that PRTIs get involved in what we dub 'translation ecosystems’ when helping to interpret and adapt imported innovations; 2) we uncover that PRTIs may present a ‘translation flexibility’ and perform more than a single translation role simultaneously within translation ecosystems; and 3) we propose more fine-grained translation roles (orchestrator and supporter) by observing how Embrapa contributed to translation ecosystems functioning. Significance: This study enhances previous knowledge on how PRTIs can better deal with global flows of knowledge and traveling of innovation. It also evidences that PRTIs should be highly regarded in terms of how to approach imported innovations in terms of scaling readiness as they can perform pivotal functions to assist actors who may become marginalized by innovations from abroad, by providing options that suit local contexts.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103880
JournalAgricultural Systems
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2024


  • Agricultural innovation systems
  • Brazilian pig production
  • Public research and technology institutions
  • Scaling of innovations
  • Technology transfer
  • Translation
  • Unpacking-repacking


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