Prolinnova-CGIAR studies on CSO-supported farmer-led research

Prolinnova is collaborating with the CGIAR Research Programs (CRPs) Aquatic Agricultural Systems (AAS) and Climate Change, Agriculture & Food Security (CCAFS) in seeking to understand how farmer-led research approaches improve smallholder farmers' livelihoods and local capacity to innovate.

Many of the efforts to transform scientific knowledge into sustainable agriculture and natural resource management (NRM) have brought only limited benefits to smallholder farmers, including fishers, livestock-keepers and other resource users. Donors, policymakers and civil-society organisations (CSOs) are urging the formal agricultural research and development (ARD) sector to make its research more directly useful to smallholders. Several ARD institutions are seeking ways to engage more closely with smallholders and supporting organisations in the field in order to conduct research that is more relevant for and accessible to them. These institutions are open to learn from examples of ARD driven and co-managed by smallholders in processes facilitated by CSOs outside of the formal ARD sector, in what could be called “informal” ARD.

The CRP Aquatic Agricultural Systems (AAS) is taking an approach that seeks to embed research in development processes and thus strengthen capacities of stakeholders to innovate and adapt. Similarly, the CRP Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) seeks to translate knowledge into action for change through social-learning processes. AAS and CCAFS have linked up with Prolinnova to explore the approaches, experiences, outcomes and impacts of “informal” ARD in the CSO sector. The first output of this initiative is a desk study on impacts of farmer-led research supported by CSOs. Based on 11 case studies from Africa, Asia and Latin America selected from over 100 cases identified through Prolinnova’s various networks and a Web search, the study team assessed the extent to which farmer- or community-managed processes of research and innovation in agriculture and NRM led to improvements in rural livelihoods. It analysed the impact in terms of food security, ecological sustainability, economic empowerment, gender relations, local capacity to innovate and adapt, and influence on “formal” and “informal” ARD institutions. It then drew lessons related to:

  • the process of FL-ARD and supporting it;
  • sharing and spreading results of FL-ARD;
  • scaling out the FL-ARD process;
  • scaling up FL-ARD as an approach;
  • gender and other equity issues; roles of formal research, advisory services and education;
  • roles of CSOs; and
  • roles of funding agencies.

The cases suggest profound, self-reinforcing and long-lasting change as a result of FL-ARD that conventional impact evaluation, when done at all, does not pick up. The lessons provide guidance for better integration of “formal” and “informal” research in rural development by smallholder communities.

Wettasinha C, Waters-Bayer A, van Veldhuizen L, Quiroga G and Swaans K. 2014. Study on impacts of farmer-led research supported by civil society organizations. Penang, Malaysia: CGIAR Research Program on Aquatic Agricultural Systems. Working Paper: AAS-2014-40.

See also PowerPoint and 4-page paper on the study presented at the Tropentag in Prague, Czech Republic, in September 2014.

Also as part of this collaboration, a small study is being carried out during the West Africa Farmer Innovation Fair in mid-May 2015 in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, to explore smallholder farmer innovators' perceptions of what enhances local capacity to innovate. This study is being carried out on behalf of Prolinnova by Jean-Marie Diop.