Small-scale Farmer Innovation: How Agricultural Research Works Together with Farmers

MISEREOR, Prolinnova and McKnight Foundation, in collaboration with the editors of WELT-SICHTEN have recently published a dossier in German on small-scale farmer innovation (Baeuerliche Innovation). The English translation is now finished and available here.

A farmer innovation in Burkina Faso showing how onions are stored to provide ventilation and protect the crop from heat

“The articles (in the dossier) present different approaches to supporting farmer-led research, ranging from partnerships between small-scale farmer organisations and research institutions, to alliances of farmer groups, nongovernmental organisations and researchers, to constellations in which farmer organisations directly contract researchers. The articles highlight some innovations that have emerged from these processes and – more important still – show new ways of organising research so that it strengthens innovative capacities at grassroots level. All authors share a joint vision of agricultural research embedded in society, working with and through small-scale farmers who thus contribute to intensifying agriculture and alleviating poverty in a sustainable way.” (page 1) I have written one of the articles, called “Beyond the Pipeline Model” that explores the need for research that is more embedded in local development processes and more responsive to needs and opportunities that emerge through this engagement. The article learns lessons from the recent closure of a research program that set out to mainstream more locally-engaged research approaches in the CGIAR. The program followed a string of similar attempts since the 1970s. I conclude that future attempts should be carried out only when two preconditions are in place. Firstly, those funding the work must understand that research embedded in local development processes follows a different dynamic in which the main outcomes flow from building local capacity to innovate, and the research and development of new technology (the familiar pathway to impact) is a means to that end. Secondly, the basis on which the work is to be evaluated, and its theory of change, should be agreed at the outset. These conclusions are consistent with my last post on Agricultural Research’s Three Pathways to Impact.

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