The emergence of a globalised knowledge economy, and the contemporary views of innovation capacity that this trend enables and informs, provides a new context in which development assistance to agricultural research and development needs to be considered. The main argument in this paper, which focuses on The Netherlands, is that development assistance should use this emerging scenario to identify niches where inputs can add value to the R&D investments of others, particularly in activities that help wire up innovation systems, linking R&D to other activities and actors in society. The paper outlines four agricultural innovation priorities and guiding principles for development assistance that could help strengthen national and global innovation capacity. These trends also raise many tensions and dilemmas for the development research community in Northern countries. A key message of this paper is that these tensions could be better handled if a long-term vision for development assistance to ST&I - which recognised the contingencies of the global knowledge economy and the importance of participation in the resolution of international issues that affect all countries - were in place. The paper concludes by suggesting that national development assistance policies on ST&I cannot be thought of separately from a country's general ST&I policy as participation in the resolution of international issues is a key element of a country's comparative advantage. This requires investments in expertise in the North and not just financial assistance to the South.