The challenge of a pro-poor agricultural research system

Kenyan farmers

One of the main challenges facing Agricultural Research for Development is how to build an agricultural research system more close to smallholders. For a long time, the research was a matter of scientists practiced in laboratories with results which farmers are often unaware. Several decades after this kind of research, the challenges of poverty and hunger that the research should help to provide solutions remain, and continue to cause more damage in some regions of the world than in the past times.

According to the recent report co-published by FAO, IFAD and WFP on the State of Food Security in the World, the rate of malnutrition in Africa and some regions of Asia have increased over the last 20 years, although improvements have been observed at global level.

Thus with the complexity of the challenges facing farming systems in the future, a transformation of agricultural research systems is urgent to increase the resilience of the most vulnerable and marginalized people, and consequently to make from research a real tool for pro-poor development. But to lead this desired change toward the prior development goals, some conditions are needed:

1. Each research must allow solving a specific problem in a given area

“Research should not be for the purpose of Research or for the purpose of publication”, said in the above film Mr. Zakaria, one of the join Directors of Rural Development Academy of Bogra in Bangladesh. Indeed, the care to find effective and accessible solutions to various challenges facing smallholders should be the fundamental for any pro-poor research initiative. So, it needs to establish an inclusive research system which considers farmer as a full actor of the process, unlike the top-down approach which, in the past, took the farmer for a mere receiver and consumer of research outputs.

Research should not only be content to bring new technologies to farmers, it must also support and promote local innovations since the complexity of the challenges requires multiple responses based on an integrated and participatory approach. “…. We must look into the farmer technologies, …. there are a lot of innovations in the field with the farmers,” precised Mr. Zakaria.

Indeed, in the absence of adequate solutions from scientists, farmers often put into practice their own knowledge to meet several challenges and to secure their livelihoods. The practices like zai, stone bunds, half-moons or assisted natural regeneration are some good examples of innovations locally developed by farmers in Africa especially in the Sahel to successfully respond to regular issues of drought and desertification. It is therefore firstly important to seek to explore the opportunities available at local level with the farmers before thinking of importing new technologies.

2. Make from farmers, the researchers

Farmers are generally engaged in a local and independent research process. In many cases they managed to safeguard many crop species, preserve and enhance the performance of many varieties of seeds through a selection process mainly based on local knowledge. But, they are often limited in their capacities because of their low education level added to the complexity of the issues that requires more diversified knowledge.

So, rather than trying to make farmers fully dependent on the results of classical research system, the research must strengthen farmer’s innovation capacity and their local system of research and learning. This has the advantage of increasing famer’s resilience by improving their ability to respond and innovate to secure their livelihoods from various challenges. Moreover, when the experimentation are carried out by the farmer himself, the technologies are more suited with the agro-ecological conditions of its farm, and the lost of performance related to technology transfer from the laboratory to the field in the case of classical research system are greatly reduced.

The video above that shows how the Rural Development Academy of Bogra district in Bangladesh have succeeded in transforming farmers in researchers in the field of seed selection and production is a quite instructive instance, allowing farmers to get out of the trap of poverty and food insecurity. Through training in simple seed selection techniques Mosammat Izatunnesa, a rural woman farmer, has be able to improve the quality of her crops which has translated into higher yields and more profit. This allowed to improve her family livelihoods. Remembering the sufferings that her family met before knowing this method, Mosammat says “I regret not learning it sooner”. Indeed, the smallholders are already too much suffering from the shortcomings of classical research system which the products don’t reach them or sometime don’t meet their needs. We should therefore no longer waste time to change the current research system by making from smallholders the focal point of any agricultural research for development.

3. Facilitate information flows between research and farmer

“We would like to see the researchers coming to us to advise us, telling us “do this and this””. This is in above video the cry of distress of Joseph Kaguata, a Kenyan smallholder facing drought and water scarcity. But just as Joseph, more than 1.5 billion people around the world, mostly poor, are suffering from a growing lack of water for food production as long as they depend on dry and degrading lands for their livelihoods (UNCCDD). These farmers need new technologies to address water challenges.

Several improved varieties have been developed for this purpose by the research institutions, but they are not generally knowing by farmers. AfricaRice has in his databases more than 200 rice varieties adapted to a wide of agro-ecological conditions and water stress, including 18 varieties for drylands ecologies, 60 varieties for rainfel and irrigated low and wetlands, 15 Sahel varieties, etc. But how many Sahelian farmers threatened by water scarcity are aware of the existence of these varieties? It is in this sense that we need to understand the cry of distress of Mr. Joseph Kaguata, who wishes that the research and the solutions it generates be within the reach of farmers.

This highlights a real challenge of knowledge management for a pro-poor agricultural research, which will be a major topic of discussion at the GCARD2. This meeting will be also the opportunity to fully discuss the issues of foresightcapacity development and partnership for the implementation of a pro-poor agricultural research system.

But for enhancing a large consultation on agricultural research system, GCRAD puts at disposal of the all stakeholders several tools for online collaboration in order to give them the opportunity to contribute in the discussions on seeking of effective and sustainable solutions to various challenges facing in the future agricultural research for reaching and impacting the smallholders in the perspective of sustainable development. Yours contributions are therefore expected through blog site, Twitter or Facebook page of the conference.

Blogpost by Rivaldo Kpadonou, one of the GCARD social reporters

Picture courtesy Peter Casier/CCAFS

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