Africa RISING: a multidisciplinary program using an integrated systems research

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In 2011, USAID’s Agricultural Research Division solicited brief proposals from IITA and ILRI as to how they would lead research efforts offering solutions to the numerous constraints to smallholder farm productivity while simultaneously achieving multiple objectives around food and nutritional security, improved incomes, and soil and water conservation.

Three key production regions across sub-Saharan Africa were targeted, each quite distinct and distant from one another. When the proposals came in, it became clear that the top-line challenges in each region are common to all. These are the persistent problems of land degradation characterizing much of the farmland in the regions; limited smallholder access to sufficient resources to invest in advanced solutions; and insufficient regional infrastructure, market links and institutional capacity. Over the decades, these challenges have been approached from different angles, using different approaches, but generally in a commodity-focused and uncoordinated manner.

Africa RISING works at the scale of smallholder farm household, community and landscape levels. It provides pathways out of hunger and poverty by offering demand-driven, locally tailored, resource-saving agricultural innovations for sustainable intensification that improve household welfare and at the same time enhance sustainability. Research results that focus on the farmers in Africa RISING’s intervention areas are also applicable to similar contexts beyond.

In reviewing the proposals and considering the constraints and opportunities identified, thought leaders from across the CGIAR system and universities in Africa, Australia, Europe and North America came to a unanimous conclusion – do something differently. That is, develop a unified, multidisciplinary program using an integrated systems research approach to identify, validate and transfer a suite of plausible options and information suitable for smallholder farmers. These options needed to offer more than simply increasing grain yields or providing supply-driven technologies. They needed to be options that farmers wanted in order to solve the problems they wanted to overcome.

The resulting program proposal –Africa Research in Sustainable Intensification for the Next Generation (Africa RISING) – did not limit research efforts to crop or livestock systems, but allowed for inclusion of agroforestry, horticulture, irrigation, soil conservation and nutrition as components of more effective solutions. Using iterative co-learning approaches, implementation of the proposal would directly engage scientific leaders in agronomy, economics, livestock, natural resource management and the social sciences; local, regional and national governments; NGOs; and over 10,000 farm households. This plan seemed high-risk – it was not clear what the solutions would look like, or how all the pieces would fit together.

Five years later, the risk has paid off. Many plausible options developed across the program have proven viable, from high-value fruits and vegetables, improved livestock, feed and forage management, and improved crop varieties and agronomic practices, through to farm- and landscape-scale natural resource management practices. Tens of thousands of farmers across the continent have a much expanded ability to make decisions that will launch them on their chosen pathways out of poverty and food and nutrition insecurity, while allowing them to protect the natural resources essential for the next generation of farmers. This is Africa RISING.

PARTNER SPOTLIGHT logoThis blog post by Jerry Glover, Senior Sustainable Agriculture Systems Advisor, USAID, Bureau for Food Security is part of our Partner Spotlight on Africa RISING. The aim of the program is to transform agricultural systems through sustainable intensification of mixed crop livestock systems, a key pathway towards better food security, improved livelihoods and a healthy environment. The program comprises three regional research-for-development projects, led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (in West Africa and East and Southern Africa) and the International Livestock Research Institute (in the Ethiopian Highlands). The International Food Policy Research Institute leads the program’s monitoring and evaluation project. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) supports the program as part of the U.S. government’s Feed the Future initiative.

Jerry_Glover
Jerry Glover

GFAR Secretariat is turning the spotlight on the work and collective actions of Partners in GFAR who share in our mission to strengthen and transform agri-food research and innovation systems globally. Not a GFAR partner yet? Join now!

 

 


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