Capacity development is ‘back’: Reframing and repositioning an ‘orphaned’ CGIAR function for an expanded future

CGIAR CapDev Workshop: Javier Ekboir (ILAC at Bioversity) and Nicole Lefore (IWMI)

Javier Ekboir, of the Institutional Learning and Change (ILAC) initiative, hosted by Bioversity International, and Nicole Lefore, of the International Water Management Institute IWMI), listen to proceedings of a CGIAR Consortium Workshop, ‘Towards a CGIAR Strategy on Capacity Development’, hosted by ILRI, in Nairobi this week (21–25 Oct 2013); most of the participants are responsible for capacity development or are researchers working in the areas of social learning, innovation or partnership (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Most of those in or around CGIAR institutions for any length of time will have heard, likely absorbed and sometimes themselves promulgated two hoary notions. The first is that CGIAR work is among the world’s ‘best kept secrets’. The second is that a well-trained cadre of developing-country agricultural scientists is among CGIAR’s biggest, if inadequately assessed, impacts. (These views are occasionally conflated, as in ‘The amount and quality of CGIAR training in agricultural sciences over the last four decades is among its best-kept secrets’.)

A group of CGIAR staff meeting in Nairobi this week is dusting off these views (convictions?) in an attempt to reframe what was once known as ‘training’, later transformed into ‘institutional learning’ or ‘capacity development’ (or one of its several [elegant] variations such as ‘capacity strengthening’ or ‘capacity building’), and reposition it at the centre rather than the periphery of CGIAR business.

The goal of the workshop is for CGIAR research centres, programs and partners to identify optimal ways to increase capacity in agricultural research for development work, particularly in achieving the four CGIAR system-level (and development-oriented) outcomes:

  • reduced rural poverty
  • increased food security
  • improved nutrition and health
  • more sustainable management of natural resources

CGIAR CapDev Workshop: Panel

Left to right: Zoumana Bamba (IITA), Joyce Maru (ILRI), Suresh Babu (IFPRI), Iddo Dror (ILRI), Per Rudebjer (Bioversity), Simone Staiger-Rivas (CIAT), Luis Solórzano (Consortium Office) are members of a panel at the CGIAR Capacity Development Workshop in 2013 (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

How this work has found itself off-centre (and how far off-centre) in CGIAR institutions and research programs was briefly reviewed in a panel discussion Monday (21 Oct 2013), the first of five days of a workshop on CGIAR Capacity Development organized and hosted by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) at its Nairobi headquarters.

The panel session, led by Simone Staiger-Rivas, head of knowledge management and capacity development at the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), comprised seven members who had contributed to a recently published discussion paper, Understanding capacity development experiences and lessons from the past, commissioned by Louis Solórzano, director of staff at the CGIAR Consortium, in France, for the purpose of helping to establish a new CGIAR strategy for capacity development.

Although capacity development at each of the 15 agricultural research centres that are members of CGIAR has had a distinctive trajectory, the following are some of the commonalities, as noted by Staiger-Rivas.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, when CGIAR centres had substantial core funding for training as well as research, many centres built strong training units. Those were among the ‘research support services’ that suffered most from reductions in CGIAR core funding beginning in the 1990s and the restructuring that followed in the next decade. Increasingly in this period, training was embedded directly into research programs.

Starting in the 1990s, a major shift in the amount and type of donor funding to CGIAR had a massive impact on how training was organized, funded and implemented across the system. The decline of core funding led to a reduction or elimination in most Centers of training as a stand-alone activity. The Centers relied on the ability of their scientists to attract funding for training within their research projects. Training units were weakened, with few staff qualified in training, pedagogy or adult education. The responsibility for training itself was often passed on to national or regional partners, with mixed results. On the positive side, this decentralization connected the Centers more directly with field activities, which allowed the Centers to involve extension, farmer, and market capacities (Staiger-Rivas et al. 2013).

In the following decade, as CGIAR centres grew into ‘middle age’ (most are now between 40 and 50 years old), what is now generally called ‘capacity development’ work widened its ambitions to train individuals and groups to include making impacts at the level of institutions and innovations.

The trend towards results-based management in CGIAR includes a perception of [capacity development] as means to enable social learning and innovation and promote sustainable development as a collective achievement (Staiger-Rivas et al. 2013).

Here is how this evolution is described by a group at a former CGIAR centre, the International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR), which first brought ‘innovation systems thinking’ to the CGIAR table in the early 2000s.

‘If agricultural research organizations are to be more successful in reducing poverty and increasing the sustainability of agricultural production systems, they must become less isolated, more interconnected and more responsive. In so doing, they must transform themselves into learning organizations, more in touch with field realities and better able to learn and to change. . . .

‘[I]f agricultural research centers are to cope with growing complexity and seize opportunities as they arise, they need not merely new approaches to research organization or practice, but more flexible and adaptive institutional arrangements. . . . [T]he CGIAR must change from a supply-led model of centers of excellence to a more responsive mode of operation in which partnership and client orientation are core principles. . . .

‘If scientists and CGIAR Centers are to contribute meaningfully to innovation, they must become continuous learners, evolving and adapting all the time. . . .

‘CG Centers must attempt to become “learning organizations”—organizations that are open and flexible, that identify and recognize both successes and failures as opportunities to learn and improve, and that build relationships with the many and varied participants involved in agricultural development’ (Watts et al. 2007).

The next panel member to speak, Per Rudebjer, of Bioversity International, in Rome, said that training is essential mechanism for partnership. ‘CGIAR has trained some 80,000 people, in formal as well as informal ways. With the funding reductions in the 1990s, centres started training fewer people and offering shorter training courses. In the next decade, we began to take on organizational as well as individual learning. Now we are seeing another change: training in support of outcome delivery.

Training is necessary but not sufficient for capacity development.

Iddo Dror (ILRI), head of ILRI’s capacity development unit, in Nairobi, spoke on the current state of capacity development in CGIAR. The capacity development strategy is not as mature as some of the other cross-cutting work in CGIAR research programs, Dror said.

Although lots of the things we’re grappling with were foreseen, Dror said, they still have little ‘meat’ on them. While CGIAR’s Strategic Results Framework anticipates an expansion in capacity development activities, the role and modalities of capacity development in the new CGIAR structure has not yet been fully fleshed out.

What’s needed now, said Dror, is capacity for applied or downstream agricultural research for development.

We need a new framework, one that helps us move innovations from the lab to the farmers, one that changes what we do as well as how we do it.

Dror then briefly reviewed what Purvi Mehta-Bhatt and Jan Beniest found in their 2011 report as shortcomings in a comprehensive review of capacity development for the CGIAR research programs. These include the following.

  • Capacity development plans are extremely ambitious but have insufficient focus.
  • Most capacity development plans make explicit mention of other cross-cutting kinds of work and expertise—in gender, youth, communications—but it remains unclear as to how these various work agendas interact.
  • CGIAR research programs tend to provide ‘laundry lists’ of capacity development-related activities but are unclear about how these will be coordinated. Some community of practice or other ways of aligning this work is needed.

We’re also grappling with different views of capacity development, Dror said. We have 1960s views, 1980s views, 21st century views, all of them working alongside each other, but not in tandem.

As capacity development practitioners, we haven’t kept up the pace. Our new capacity development approaches have huge implications for how we do research; this is not yet understood by all of us.

We need to look at how we can better embed capacity development in agricultural research for development, at how we can help sharpen, deepen and widen the impact pathways from research products to intermediate development outcomes to system-level outcomes.

The outcome orientation of CGIAR puts new demands on capacity development for partners who will be instrumental in scaling up/out research outputs (Staiger-Rivas et al. 2013)

Zoumana Bamba, of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), spoke on institutional capacity development and the new need for new skill sets among researchers.

We need to research how to up-scale and out-scale our outputs, Bamba said. We don’t know enough about the mechanisms of those processes.

Suresh Babu, of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), spoke on monitoring and evaluation.

We need quantitative and qualitative indicators, Babu said. IFPRI implemented a monitoring system just last year.

If CGIAR is going to be serious about capacity development, it has to be serious about putting in place a monitoring and evaluation system for capacity development.

Babu noted the long struggle in capacity development work to measure its impacts, reminding participants that what you cannot measure you cannot manage. The big changes and reduced funding for CGIAR in the 1990s led to piecemeal approaches, he said. The idea that capacity development was an ‘impact-making’ activity fell away. In some centres, capacity development work was put under the care of new knowledge management teams; in others, it became part of communications; in still others, it ceased as a discrete function altogether.

CGIAR CapDev Workshop: Dileepkumar Guntuku (ICRISAT)

Dileepkumar Guntuku, of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Note on capacity development at the International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR)
In their recent (2012) book Capacity Building for Agricultural Research for Development: Lessons from Practice in Papua New Guinea,”Adiel N. Mbabu and Andy Hall describe ISNAR as follows.

ISNAR was unique in the CGIAR system in that unlike all the other international centres it had an explicit capacity building agenda rather than research (although as will be related, this eroded over time). The institute was also unique in that it was staffed by an eclectic set of professionals: economists, sociologists, human resource specialists, organisational development specialists, research management specialists, evaluators and policy researchers. As a result of this, it drew on professional perspectives outside of agricultural research. Many of these perspectives were already using systems ideas, particularly in the fields of evaluation, and organisational development. So, for example, ISNAR’s capacity development activities were already making use of learning and evaluation as ways of upgrading organisational performance (see Horton et al., 2003). The organisation was also unique in that it was focusing on retooling professional skills of agricultural researchers and research managers to help them cope with the changing context of agricultural development. This led to the rolling development of a series of capacity development modules aimed at helping research staff learn their way into new roles and ways of working” (Staiger-Rivas et al. 2013).

Empower local experts to inform agricultural policy in Africa: Short filmed interview of FANRPAN’s Lindiwe Majele Sibanda

One of the more interesting side events at this month’s sixth Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW6) hosted by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) in Accra, Ghana, 15–20 Jul 2013, was hosted by the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water & Food, of which the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is a partner.

In this 2.48-minute filmed interview at AASW6, Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, chief executive officer and chief of mission of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), based in South Africa, shares how ‘innovation platforms’ have ‘brought a new way of doing business’ that is helping to inform policy changes in the agricultural sector.

‘What is clear was that we have often sidelined traditional leaders and not looked at non-scientists and non-technocrats,’ said Sibanda, who chairs ILRI’s board of trustees. ‘We should be focusing on empowering these local experts, giving them capacity to inform policy processes to ensure sustainability.’

‘For this to happen,’ Sibanda says, ‘we need policies that are created bottom up, where the evidence comes from practitioners but is packaged to feed directly into policy.’

‘This process is about equipping all actors to be drivers of change—change that is driven by evidence that comes from research,’ she adds.

The chain starts from those affected by the problem being around the table with those who want to experiment, research and deliver options for development—sitting as equal partners.—Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, CEO of FANRPAN

This session by the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water & Food, which was facilitated by ILRI’s knowledge management and communication specialist, Ewen Le Borgne, shared experiences from the Limpopo, Nile and Volta basins on engaging partners, keeping them motivated and sustaining their engagement after the program is completed. The session’s 70 participants discussed how to set up engagement platforms, engage with policy, scale up platforms and how to deal with power and representation in these groups.

About AASW6
FARA’s 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW6), in Accra, Ghana, included marketplace exhibitions (15-20 Jul 2013), side events on sub-themes (15-16), a ministerial roundtable alongside a Ghana Day (17 Jul), plenary sessions (18-19) and a FARA Business Meeting (20 Jul). The discussions were captured on Twitter (hashtag #AASW6) and blogged about on the FARA AASW6 blog.

Read more on the ILRI blogs about AASW6

With ‘new road’ for agricultural research, Africa can feed Africa—and will feed Africa, and the world

NEPAD’s Ibrahim Mayaki makes the case for investing in Africa’s agricultural research for development, 23 Jul 2013

Recycling Africa’s agro-industrial wastewaters: Innovative system is piloted for Kampala City Abattoir, 22 Jul 2013

Jimmy Smith and Frank Rijsberman speak out at FARA’s Africa Agriculture Science Week, 22 Jul 2013

Lindiwe Majele Sibanda and Monty Jones on closing the gaps in agricultural research for Africa’s development, 19 Jul 2013

Voices from the sixth Africa Agriculture Science Week, 18 Jul 2013

‘Not by food alone’: Livestock research should be used to make a bigger difference, say African experts, 17 Jul 2013

‘Livestock Research for Africa’s Food Security’: Join us at our side event at FARA’s AASW in Accra, 15 July, 9 Jul 2013

Dairy farming = ‘dairy education’: The sector that is educating Kenya’s children – filmed story, 12 Jul 2013

Cultivate the future! How learning together can mean learning better and faster–speeding research into use

If you missed it earlier this month, watch this animated 5-min video on what can help agricultural research by CGIAR and others ‘go to scale’.

Below is the full transcript of the video, which public awareness staff of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) helped to create with Patti Kristjanson and others working in and with the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). The narrator is Zimbabwean food policy expert Lindiwe Sibanda, who is chief executive officer and chief of mission of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) and chairs ILRI’s board of trustees. The developers are  artist/illustrator James Durno and videographer Dale Ballantine, both of South Africa (Indie Village Creative).

‘The world is changing fast. We don’t know how we’re going to produce enough food to feed nine billion people and not destroy the environment in the process. So many more people to feed, escalating food and energy crises, water shortages, a changing climate, and the list goes on . . . .

‘So here we are, a group of scientists working for a food-secure future, meeting in sunny California. We’re here to rethink how we do science to make a bigger difference. We want to help transform the developing world’s agriculture and food systems. (We’re nothing if not ambitious!)

‘People are adaptable. Farmers are adaptable. So are scientists. We’re changing how we work and trying new approaches to solve the big, so-called ‘wicked problems’: e.g., poverty, climate change, environmental destruction and loss of species.

‘This is good, but it’s not good enough.

We’re running out of time; our wicked problems are likely to overrun our solutions unless we learn together, better and faster.

‘Here is the good news: We have evidence that we can speed things up, bring real benefits to people and bring these to scale. (Well, maybe the latter is more of a hypothesis, one that this group wants to test.)

‘Here are some examples of what we’re doing differently.

  • Crowd-sourcing is now being tested to understand what seeds and seedlings different people want, and how to best serve those diverse needs.
  • Learning alliances are bringing private-sector executives to farmers’ fields to learn first-hand from farmers struggling to feed their families; they then work with the farmers and scientists to develop and release varieties that make a difference on those small farms.
  • Innovative mentoring programs are speeding women’s advancement in agricultural sciences and their institutions in the developing world.
  • Farmer-business hubs are bringing together farmers, agri-businesses, NGOs. Farmers get training, seeds, credit and market information. They sell their milk, share their knowledge and earn money.
  • Participatory selection and breeding of crops is addressing women’s needs for foods that use less wood and take less time to prepare.
  • Farmer-to-farmer learning videos, radio and tv programs are spreading the word of best practices based on science and speeding adoption of new technologies.

‘And I’m sure all of us can think of many other examples. Whatever fancy terms we use, at the end of the day, it’s all about people, people from different backgrounds, people with different perspectives and expertise forming partnerships to learn from each other and solve complex problems.

But here’s the rub. We’ve all experienced how messy and time-consuming partnerships can be and how hard it is to take successes to scale.

‘What we may not always appreciate is just how beneficial this joint learning can be. These approaches tend to level the playing field, empower individuals and communities, create benefits that endure, and truly build local capacity.

‘So we can see that shifting how we do science in this way really works. What we can’t see yet is how to involve more people and speed it all up so that our solutions appear to us as to be big as our problems.

‘Let’s focus less on the present and instead view the present through the future we want to create. Just recall the skepticism around the sequencing of the human genome, and yet now, we are in that world.

Our research suggests that what’s going to be critical in the future is creating and nurturing spaces to innovate. This doesn’t have to take a lot of time. What it will take is being strategic and intentional about spanning boundaries.

‘Imagine a fertile safe space where diversity is embraced and where we can together grow, spread and harvest our best ideas and successes.

‘We have the pieces; we don’t yet have all the people. But we can create these environments that attract more people and allow us to learn together, better and faster.

Learning together transforms agriculture and lives.

‘Cultivate the future!’

Note: This animated 5-minute video was produced by and for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and launched at CCAFS’ annual science meeting, held in Bodega Bay, California 18–19 Mar 2013.

For more information:
Go to CCAFS 2013 Science Meeting programme. Updates from the event were shared on the CCAFS website and on Twitter (search for #2013CCSL).

For more on the value of social learning and the March CCAFS science meeting, see these earlier posts on the ILRI News Blog:
Agricultural research, climate change and ‘social learning’: How did we get here? 19 Mar 2013.
The world’s ‘wicked problems’ need wickedly good solutions: Social learning could speed their spread, 18 Mar 2013.
Climate change and agricultural experts gather in California this week to search for the holy grail of global food security, 17 Mar 2013.

And on the CCAFS Blog:
Farmers and scientists: better together in the fight against climate change, 19 Mar 2013.
Transformative partnerships for a food-secure world, 19 Mar 2013.

Read Alain de Janvry’s whole paper: Agriculture for development: New paradigm and options for success, International Association of Agricultural Economists, 2010.

For more on the use of ‘social learning’ and related methods by the CCAFS, see the CCSL wiki and these posts on ILRI’s maarifa blog.

Agricultural research, climate change and ‘social learning’: How did we get here?

'Southern Gardens' by Paul Klee, 1921 (via WikiPaintings)

‘Southern Gardens’ by Paul Klee, 1921 (via WikiPaintings).

An ongoing CGIAR group meeting in Bodega Bay, California, (18–19 Mar 2013) is looking at untapped potential in CGIAR and beyond for actors of diverse kinds to join forces in improving global food security in the light of climate change. Updates from the event are being shared on the CCAFS website and on Twitter (follow #2013CCSL). For more information, go to CCAFS 2013 Science Meeting programmeMore information about the meeting is here.

The following opinion piece was drafted by Patti Kristjanson, of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and based at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), in Nairobi, Kenya, with inputs from other ‘climate change and social media champions’, including Sophie Alverez (International Center for Tropical Agriculture [CIAT]), Liz Carlile (International Institute for Environment and Development [IIED]), Pete Cranston (Euforic Services), Boru Douthwaite (WorldFish), Wiebke Foerch (CCAFS), Blane Harvey (International Development Research Centre [IDRC]), Carl Jackson (Westhill Knowledge Group), Ewen Le Borgne (International Livestock Research Institute [ILRI]), Susan MacMillan (ILRI), Philip Thornton (CCAFS/ILRI) and Jacob van Etten (Bioversity International). (Go here for a list of those participating at the CCAFS Annual Science Meeting in California).

Untapped potential
All humans possess the fundamental capacity to anticipate and adapt to change. And of course experts argue that it is change — whether the end of the last Ice Age or the rise of cities or the drying of a once-green Sahel — that has driven our evolution as a species. If we’ve progressed, they say, it’s because we had to. And we can see in the modern world that, with supportive and encouraging environments, both individuals and communities can be highly resourceful and innovative, serving as agents of transformation. The agricultural, industrial and information revolutions were the products of both individual inventiveness (think of Steve Jobs) and social support (Silicon Valley).

Some of the major changes today are occurring fastest in some of the world’s slowest economies. The two billion or so people in the world’s developing countries who grow and sell food for a living, for example, are adjusting to huge changes — to their countries’ exploding populations and diminishing natural resources, to a rural exodus and rush to the cities, to higher food prices, to new lethal diseases, to a single global economy, and, on top of all of that, to a changing climate causing unpredictable seasons and more extreme and frequent ‘big weather’ in the form of droughts, floods and storms.

PETE CRANSTON
The problems generated by climate change requires larger scale, collaborative responses — that is, social learning, requiring collaborative reflection and learning, at scale, and engaging community decision-making processes. 
Collective action, at scale, to systemic problems caused by climate change is the area of interest that came out of a workshop on climate change and social learning held in May 2012.

[The workshop Cranston refers to, held on ILRI’s campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was organized by CCAFS; go here for more information.]

When it comes to the food systems that support all of us, that enable human life itself, we’re squandering our innate potential to innovate. What will it take to unleash the potential within all of us — consumers and farmers and farm suppliers, food sellers and agri-business players, agricultural scientists, policymakers, thought leaders, government officials, development experts, humanitarian agents — to make the changes we need to make to feed the world? And what will it take to do so in ways that don’t destroy the natural resource base on which agriculture depends? In ways that don’t leave a legacy of ruined landscapes for our children and children’s children to inherit?

PATTI KRISTJANSON
You don’t hear much about what can be done about it. We need to see major changes in how food is grown and distributed. In Africa and Asia, where millions of families live on one to five hectares of land, we need to see improved farming systems. We  need to see transformative changes, not small changes. But to transform food systems, we also need to transform how the research that supports these transformations is done. We need to think more about partnerships. And learning.

Remembrance of a Garden, by Paul Klee, 1914 (via WikiPaintings)

‘Remembrance of a Garden’ by Paul Klee, 1914 (via WikiPaintings).

How did we get here?
Before attempting to answer those questions, it might profit us to take a look at how agricultural development got to where it is now. Alain de Janvry, a professor of agricultural and resource economics at the University of California at Berkeley, and others argue as follows.

For decades, development agencies put agriculture at the forefront of their priorities, believing it to be the precursor to industrialization. Then, starting in the 1970s and early 1980s, the bias for agriculture began to be seriously eroded, with huge economic, social, and environmental costs.

The good news, de Janvry says, is that ‘In recent years, a number of economic, social, and environmental crises have attracted renewed attention to agriculture as both a contributor to these problems and a potential instrument for solutions. . . . A new paradigm has started to emerge where agriculture is seen as having the capacity to help achieve several of the major dimensions of development, most particularly accelerating GDP growth at early stages of development, reducing poverty and vulnerability, narrowing rural-urban income disparities, releasing scarce resources such as water and land for use by other sectors, and delivering a multiplicity of environmental services.’

The bad news, he says, is that ‘renewed use of agriculture for development remains highly incomplete, falling short of political statements.’

Let’s now return to our questions about what’s missing in agricultural development today, and what that has to do with ‘social learning’, or lack of it.

Apparatus for the Magnetic Treatment of Plants, by Paul Klee, 1908 (via WikiPaintings)

‘Apparatus for the Magnetic Treatment of Plants’ by Paul Klee, 1908 (via WikiPaintings).

Unlocking the human potential for innovating solutions
Agricultural scientists are important actors both in instigating change and in helping people anticipate and adapt to climate and other agriculturally important changes. They have played a key role so far in spearheading major agricultural movements such as the Green Revolution in Asia. Yet one billion poor people have been left behind by the Green Revolution, largely because they live in highly diverse agro-ecological regions that are relatively inaccessible and where they cannot access the research-based information, technologies and support they need to improve, or ‘intensify’, their farming systems.

The complex agriculturally related challenges of today require going way beyond ‘business as usual’. And they offer agricultural scientists unprecedented opportunities to play major roles in some of the major issues of our time, including reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change. But we’re not going to make good use of these opportunities if we don’t recognize and jump on opportunities for joint societal learning and actions.

POTATOES IN THE ANDES
Take this example from Latin America, where agricultural researchers set about documenting the biodiversity of potato varieties in the high-elevation Andes. An unanticipated consequence of this activity was learning from local farmers about numerous varieties previously unknown to science. And the scientists realized that traditional knowledge of these hardy varieties and other adaptive mechanisms are helping many households deal with climate variability at very high elevations. Further learning in this project showed that women and the elderly tended to have much better knowledge of traditional varieties and their use than the owners of the land. This kind of knowledge is now being shared widely in an innovative Andean regional network.

RICE IN VIETNAM
Here’s another example. Rice is now being grown by over a million farmers in Vietnam using a new management system that reduces water use and methane gas emissions while generating higher incomes for farm families. This happened through farmers — both men and women — experimenting and sharing experiences in ‘farmer field schools’ that had strong government support. It turns out that the women farmers are better trainers than men. After participating in a farmer field school, each woman helped 5–8 other farmers adopt the new approach, while every male participant helped only 1–3 additional farmers. So making sure women were a key part of this effort led to much greater success in reducing poverty and environmental damage.

Ravaged Land, by Paul Klee, 1921, Galarie Beyeler (via WikiPaintings)

‘Ravaged Land’ by Paul Klee, 1921, Galarie Beyeler (via WikiPaintings).

New opportunities for doing research differently
Back to de Janvry for a moment. ‘Crises and opportunities’, he says, ‘combine in putting agriculture back on the development agenda, as both a need and a possibility. This second chance in using agriculture for development calls for a new paradigm, which is still largely to be consistently formulated and massively implemented. . . [A] Green Revolution for Sub-Saharan Africa is still hardly in the making.’

ALAIN DE JANVRY
In the new paradigm, process thus matters along with product if the multiple dimensions of development are to be achieved. . . . As opposed to what is often said in activist donor circles, it is a serious mistake to believe that we know what should be done, and all that is left to do is doing it. . . . Because objectives and contexts are novel, we are entering un-chartered territory that needs to be researched and experimented with. Extraordinary new opportunities exist to successfully invest in agriculture for development, but they must be carefully identified. . . . Innovation, experimentation, evaluation, and learning must thus be central to devising new approaches to the use agriculture for development. This requires putting into place strategies to identify impacts as we proceed with new options.

The biggest mistake one could make about using agriculture for development is believe that it is easy to do and that we already know all we need to do it. It is not and we don’t. . . . Lessons must be derived from past mistakes, and new approaches devised and evaluated.

So how do we derive lessons from past mistakes? How do we devise new approaches and evaluate them on-goingly?

LIVESTOCK IN EAST AFRICA
One way is to take a proactive social learning approach — learning together through action and reflection, which leads to changes in behaviour. Researchers from ILRI, for example, learned by interacting closely with pastoral groups in East Africa that intermittent engagement is not as powerful a force of social change as is continual engagement, which they achieved by instituting ‘community facilitators-cum-researchers’. This led to transformative changes in land policy and management, with long-lasting benefits for wildlife populations, pastoral communities and rangelands alike.

Public-private partnerships that include researchers can also help. Through active learning together we can reach more people, more efficiently and effectively than before — this approach is further supported through widespread access to the internet and smartphones that allow greater engagement from communities and individuals spread far and wide. We can map the soils and water resources needed to grow food, and try new ‘crowdsourced’ approaches to identify needs for different types of seeds and seedlings. We can democratize research, and make scientists much more responsive to the needs of different groups of people.

Rising Sun, by Paul Klee, 1907 (via WikiPaintings)

‘Rising Sun’ by Paul Klee, 1907 (via WikiPaintings).

Why bother?
What’s the incentive for researchers to do things differently? For all of us, it lies in the opportunity to sharpen our edge, to become better solvers of bigger, more complex problems, or at least to ask better questions about ‘wicked problems’. For scientists in particular, the opportunity to make our research, including fundamental and lab-based research, more relevant and targeted to meeting demand — user-inspired rather than supply-driven research — is tremendous.

RICE IN AFRICA
When researchers at two international rice research institutes, IRRI and AfricaRice, started to include women in participatory varietal selection, different preferences emerged. Women focused more on food security than yields. Through working directly with women as well as men, the nature of research challenges and questions changed to accommodate different needs, values and norms. The use of farmer-to-farmer learning videos accelerated the transfer of different types of learning. Evaluations show that this approach has led to an 80% greater adoption rate of different technologies and practices than previous dissemination techniques.

In these ways, socially differentiated and participatory research approaches hold the promise of making our research more central to the major agricultural problems we’re facing — and to anticipate future problems, issues and questions by sharpening our critical questioning through ongoing learning.

Reconstructing by Paul Klee, 1926 (via WikiPaintings)

‘Reconstructing’ by Paul Klee, 1926 (via WikiPaintings).

How do we learn and make this happen?
We learn by using, by doing, by trying, by failing, by modeling, through engagement, dialogue and reflection. Knowledge links to action more effectively when the users are involved from the problem definition stage onwards, when they ‘co-own’ the problem and questions that could lead to solving it. So a shift towards joint observation, trials, modeling and experimentation is key. CGIAR and its partners have used learning approaches to catalyze transformative change in the ways in which food is grown, distributed and consumed.

LEARNING ALLIANCES IN LATIN AMERICA
CIAT has been taking a ‘learning alliance’ approach, partnering with intermediaries such as the Sustainable Food Lab, global food and commodity corporations, local farmer associations and international development-oriented non-governmental organizations. Innovative networks have been formed that link local producers (rural poor) with global buyers. Executives from global food companies have gone on learning journeys where they hear first-hand from small farmers about 3-month periods of food insecurity; they responded by supplying alternate seed varieties for food security over this period. Global companies have reoriented their buying patterns to accommodate local producer needs. These new alliances are generating longer-term networks that are building the adaptive capacity of both food sellers and producers.

Refuge by Paul Klee, 1930 (via WikiPaintings)

‘Refuge’ by Paul Klee, 1930 (via WikiPaintings).

What are we asking people to do?
We want to see more people embracing the idea of joint, transformative learning, the co-creation of knowledge. This is not a new idea. But the imperatives we’re facing now demand a more conscious articulation, promotion and facilitation of this approach by a wide range of people, especially scientists from all disciplines. More relevant science leads to social credibility and legitimacy, which in turn should lead to the ability to mobilize support — a win-win for researchers.

PATTI KRISTJANSON
To enable social learning, incentives and institutions — the rules of the game — have to change also. This includes our changing how research is planned, evaluated and funded. We need much longer time horizons than those currently in play (with 2–3 year projects the norm). And we need to share this critical lesson with governments and other investors in agricultural research for development.

Our vision of success includes many more scientists engaged in broad partnerships; producing more relevant, useful and used information; doing less paperwork and more mentoring of young people and more interactive science; and more generously sharing their knowledge. This helps us to see — much more clearly than before — our scientific contributions to improved agricultural landscapes, sustainable food systems, profitable and productive livelihoods, and improved food security globally.

EWEN LE BORGNE
For more on social learning, consult these ‘social learning gurus’ cited by Ewen Le Borgne:
•  Mark Reed, author of the definition that a few of us have been quoting — see his What is social learning? response to a paper published in Ecology and Society in 2010.
•  Harold Jarche or Jane Hart, both write well on social learning in an enterprise — see Social Learning Centre website and Jarche’s blog.
•  Sebastiao Ferreira Mendonca — see the Mundus maris website (Sciences and Arts for Sustainability International Initiative)
•  Valerie BrownAustralian academic who worked a lot on multiple knowledges in IKM-Emergent, a five-year research program in ’emergent issues in information and knowledge management and international development’ (blog here)

For more information:
Go to CCAFS 2013 Science Meeting programme. Updates from the event are being shared on the CCAFS website and on Twitter (follow #2013CCSL).

For more on this week’s meeting, see these earlier posts on the ILRI News Blog:
The world’s ‘wicked problems’ need wickedly good solutions: Social learning could speed their spread, 18 May 2013.
Climate change and agricultural experts gather in California this week to search for the holy grail of global food security, 17 Mar 2013.

And on the CCAFS Blog:
Farmers and scientists: better together in the fight against climate change, 19 Mar 2013.
Transformative partnerships for a food-secure world, 19 Mar 2013.

Read Alain de Janvry’s whole paper: Agriculture for development: New paradigm and options for success, International Association of Agricultural Economists, 2010.

For more on the use of ‘social learning’ and related methods by the CCAFS, see the CCSL wiki and these posts on ILRI’s maarifa blog.

The world’s ‘wicked problems’ need wickedly good solutions: Social learning could speed their spread

Five-minute animated video produced for a Climate Change and Social Learning (CCSL) initiative of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). CCAFS scientists and partners are meeting this week to share their best ideas on how to work better together, and with many others, for a climate-safe future.

Patti Kristjanson, an agricultural economist working out of Nairobi, Kenya (World Agroforestry Centre), for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), opened the latter’s annual science meeting in California yesterday (18 Mar) with a little animated video on ways to combat the world’s ‘wicked problems’. The 70-odd researchers at this meeting are looking for ways to make bigger and faster impacts on increasing global food security while reducing global warming.

The short (5-minute) animated video is worth a look. It sets out the need for speed in scaling up our agricultural successes and encourages us to make more conscious use of something called ‘social learning’.

What’s that? Well, it’s what most of us do most of the time—learn from each other in social gatherings of one kind or another. What Kristjanson and her climate change researchers are advocating, however, is applying social learning methods intentionally and systematically, that is to say, doing research that pays as much attention to the social processes of science and its communication as to the scientific methods it employs and the evidence it generates.

That may not be rocket science for most of us, but it’s still a tall order for most scientists. Kristjanson’s short engaging video, narrated by Zimbabwean food policy expert (and ILRI board chair) Lindiwe Sibanda and produced by two South Africans, artist/illustrator James Durno and videographer Dale Ballantine, chips away at such academic fustiness and scientific exceptionalism, arguing for greater scientist engagement with a greater diversity of people for greater impacts.

The video encourages its viewers to create ‘safe spaces’ for social learning (picture tree nurseries protecting seedlings — seedlings that will grow into trees of knowledge!). In such protected places, scientists and their many new partners can together tackle the wickedly complex problems of today, such as finding ways to grow enough food to feed the world’s increasing population in the face of an increasingly unpredictable climate.

Cultivate the future’, the video exhorts us. ‘Focus on the future, not the past — on our solutions, not our problems.’

The Tree of Life by Gustav Klimt, 1909 (via Wikipaintings)

‘The Tree of Life’ by Gustav Klimt, about 1909, Austrian Museum of Applied Arts (via WikiPaintings). 

More information
Read more on the ILRI News Blog about the CCAFS annual science meeting here and here.

For more information on the CCSL initiative, go to CCAFS 2013 Science Meeting programme. Updates from the event are being shared on the CCAFS website and on Twitter (follow #2013CCSL).

For more on the use of ‘social learning’ and related methods by the CCAFS, see the CCSL wiki and these posts on ILRI’s maarifa blog. See also this document by Blane Harvey (Institute for Development Studies [IDS], at the University of Sussex), Jonathan Ensor (University of York), Liz Carlile (International Institute for Environment and Development [IIED]), Ben Garside (IIED), Zachary Patterson (IDS), Lars Otto Naess (IDS): Climate change communication and social learning — Review and strategy development for CCAFS, Oct 2012.

For a recent scientific review of social learning, see this paper: Towards systemic and adaptive governance: Exploring the revealing and concealing aspects of contemporary social-learning metaphors, by Ray Ison, Chris Blackmore and Benjamin Iaquinto, Ecological Economics 87 (2013) 34–42, http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2012.12.016

Here is an excerpt from the paper:
‘Concerns about the effective governance of situations such as river catchments, watersheds, climate change adaptation, biodiversity conservation and ecosystem service provision are widespread. A paucity of effective governance approaches in such situations seemingly exists despite the efforts made in the 40 years since Rittel and Webber (1973) coined the term ‘wicked problems’ to refer to situations that are contested, difficult to bound, involving many stakeholders with socio-technical features (APSC, 2007; Ison, 2008). There is clearly a need for governance innovation (Hajer and Wagenaar, 2003); fortunately recent research, as evidenced by Ostrom’s body of work (see Ostrom, 2007, 2010) demonstrates that commons-type situations are no longer irrevocably committed to tragedy as posited by Hardin (1968). Social learning research is also an innovative response to commons-like, or ‘wicked’, situations (Wals, 2007) but the potential of ‘social learning’ to contribute to the governance of socio-ecological systems is not widely appreciated.’

 

 

 

 

Climate change and agricultural experts gather in California this week to search for the holy grail of global food security

Silhouette of a woman, by Vincent van Gogh,

Silhouette of a peasant woman digging carrots, by Vincent van Gogh, 1885, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands (via WikiPaintings).

Experts working at the interface of climate change and agriculture are gathering at two venues in California this week to do the impossible: find ways to do ‘climate-smart agriculture’, specifically—use science to feed more of the world’s growing population and reduce world poverty while mitigating agriculture’s environmental harms the greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the Earth.

First up is a CGIAR group looking to work better, with faster impacts, through so-called ‘social learning’. On Mon and Tue, 18–19 Mar 2013, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is holding its annual science meeting, in Bodega Bay. This group of 70 or so people is Rethinking Science, Learning and Partnerships to Meet Development Outcomes: Reducing Poverty and Improving Food Security in the Context of Climate Change.

This CCAFS meeting is looking for ways to achieve better, bigger and faster impacts through engagement with a wide variety of communities. The participants see untapped potential in CGIAR and beyond for actors of diverse kinds to join forces in improving global food security in the light of climate change. They’re looking at innovative ways to democratize and co-create science for practical use. They hope to build on a legacy of social learning approaches and participatory work within CGIAR and to find ways to adapt these to address the complex challenges faced by hundreds of millions of small-scale food producers and sellers in developing countries.

Updates from the event are being shared on the CCAFS website and on Twitter (follow #2013CCSL).
For more information, go to CCAFS 2013 Science Meeting programme.

Among the CCAFS participants coming from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya, are Philip Thornton, James Kinyangi, Mariana Rufino, Polly Ericksen, Wiebke Foerch, Maren Radeny and Ewen Le Borgne.

Three peasants at a meal, by Pablo Picasso (via WikiPaintings)

Three peasants at a meal, pencil sketch and study by Vincent van Gogh, 1890, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands (via WikiPaintings).

Following the Bodega Bay meeting, a larger group of climate change and agricultural experts will meet at the University of California at Davis from Wed through Fri, 20–22 Mar 2013, for a global science conference on Climate-Smart Agriculture (and here).

With climate change occurring more rapidly than anticipated, an increase in extreme weather events is threatening global agriculture and food supplies. Existing technologies and institutional structures will be insufficient to slow climate change while feeding the growing human population sustainably. Participants at this conference will work to identify useful actions that are science-based, to use knowledge systems in new ways and to help strengthen the resilience of agricultural communities facing an uncertain future. They’ll look at new ways of integrating science and policy to transform land management and community action for food security. The overall aim is to link agricultural sciences with policies and practices so as to ensure a triple bottom line: food security, poverty alleviation and ecosystem services.

Many CCAFS staff will be participating in, or organizing sessions at, this conference as well.
For more information, visit the UC Davis website.

Pastoral mobility is not a problem to be eliminated–It’s a trump card to be strengthened–CAPRi

Managing mobility in African rangelands

Above and below: Illustrations from a chapter on ‘Managing Mobility in African Rangelands,’ in a book, Resources, Rights and Cooperation: A Sourcebook on Property Rights and Collective Action for Sustainable Development, published in 2010 by the International Food Policy Research Institute for the CGIAR Systemwide Program on Collective Action and Property Rights (CAPRi); ILRI scientist Nancy Johnson was one of four members of the production team for this book (illustration credit: IFPRI).

In a commentary in Today Online, the American economist Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and special adviser to United Nations Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals, argues for policies that support rather than hamper the movements of livestock herders in the drought- and hunger-stricken Horn of Africa.

‘The rains have failed for two years running in the dry regions of East Africa. These are places where water is so scarce year after year that crop production is marginal at best. Millions of households, with tens of millions of nomadic or semi-nomadic people, tend camels, sheep, goats and other livestock, which they move large distances to reach rain-fed pasturelands. . . . The location of life-supporting pasturelands is determined by the unstable and largely unpredictable rains, rather than by political boundaries. Yet we live in an era when political boundaries, not the lives of nomadic pastoralists, are sacrosanct. These boundaries, together with growing populations of sedentary farmers, have hemmed in pastoralist communities. . . .’

Nancy Johnson, a scientist with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Maryam Niamir-Fuller and other authors explore the merits of pastoral mobility in a chapter of a book, Resources, Rights and Cooperation, which is a sourcebook on property rights and collective action for sustainable development. The source for their material is a CAPRi research brief published in 2005 by Maryam Niamir-Fuller (see below).

Managing mobility in African rangelands

As this chapter reports:

‘In arid and semi-arid lands in Africa, pastoralists manage uncertainty and risk and access a range of markets through livestock mobility. Mobility enables opportunistic use of resources and helps minimize the effects of droughts. . . .

‘Undergrazing of remote pastures or in protected areas can lead to the invasion of unpalatable plants, lower vegetation cover, and lower diversity of plants, and can sometimes be a more serious problem than overgrazing. . . .

‘The scale and magnitude of persistent environmental decline in dryland Africa—and how livestock grazing has affected such changes—appear to have been overestimated. . . .

‘Mobile pastoral systems also appear to be more economically efficient than their sedentary counterparts or commercial ranching. . . .

Government policies have upset the economic balance between crops and livestock by favoring crops and agricultural encroachment onto rangelands. Governments have discouraged investments in the range and livestock sector and claimed “vacant” pastoral land for national parks and government-owned farms.

‘Projects in Africa have long sought to develop livestock productivity rather than enhance livelihoods. Drawing on the classical ranching model from the United States, interventions encouraged sedentarization, destocking, and water development. However, they did not increase livestock productivity, and some were very destructive. . . .

In the 1990s . . . mobility was still seen as a problem to be eliminated, not a trump card to be strengthened.

‘Livestock needs to be seen as an integral part of conservation and development in Africa, since transhumance may even be a necessary precondition to sustainable development in arid lands.

Recommendations

• Mobile pastoralism is not a “backward” means of livelihood—laws, policies and procedures should be considered backward, since they do not recognize the ecological and economic value of mobile pastoralism.

• A clearer understanding of common property regimes and a holistic analytical framework for pastoral development activities are also required . . . .

• The fundamental design principles related to managing institutions for mobility are nested property rights, fluid boundaries, inclusivity, flexibility, reciprocity, negotiation, and priority of use. . . .

• Resource holders need to retain authority to grant temporary use rights to secondary and tertiary users. . . .

• There has been strong momentum toward “co-management,” or systems of common property regimes that combine government decentralization with community participation. Though the approach is far better suited than any other to mobile pastoralism, it needs to deal with large-scale management of contiguous land.

• Management of livestock mobility also requires multiple institutions working at multiple spatial scales, authorities, and functions. To modify or create the institutional structure for a legitimate, locally controllable transhumance, the function—not just the structure—of new institutions must be addressed.’

Read the CAPRi policy brief on which this chapter is based: Niamir-Fuller, M. 2005. Managing Mobility in African Rangelands. In: Mwangi, E. (ed). Collective Action and Property Rights for Sustainable Rangeland Management. CAPRi Research Brief, International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, D.C.

Read the whole CAPRi sourcebook: Resources, Rights and Cooperation: A Sourcebook on Property Rights and Collective Action for Sustainable Development, International Food Policy Research Institute for the CGIAR Systemwide Program on Collective Action and Property Rights (CAPRi), 2010.

Read the whole news commentary by Jeffrey Sachs in Today Online: Famine and hope in the Horn of Africa, 2 Aug 2011.

Market-oriented smallholder development in Ethiopia

Today, the ‘Improving Productivity and Market Success (IPMS) of Ethiopian Farmers Project’ holds an experience-sharing workshop on market-oriented smallholder development.

This project – www.ipms-ethiopia.org – is funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) as a contribution to the Ethiopian Government’s ‘Plan for Accelerated and Sustained Development to End Poverty’.

At its establishment in 2005, The project was designed to follow a participatory market-oriented commodity value chain development approach. This is based on the premise that technology uptake is significantly influenced by the profitability of production, and that production is driven by market demands for specific commodities. The approach is participatory in that it involves farmers and other value chain actors as well as associated service providers in diagnosis, planning and implementation of the interventions through formal and informal linkages.

The workshop is designed to facilitate experience-sharing – the 150+ participants are drawn from national, regional and district governments, the private sector, civil society, research institutions and universities, and development agencies. It focuses on specific commodity value chain interventions – livestock and crops – as well as essential enabling methods, approaches, and processes the project has applied. Exhibition-type displays showcase interventions on specific commodity value chains. Cross-cutting issues such as knowledge management, capacity development, and gender, are also explored.

After five years intense applied work, the workshop also provides an opportunity for project lessonsa nd outputs to be shared with the Government’s new Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) that re-emphasizes the role of smallholders in the commercialization of Ethiopian agriculture.

Watch a video with project manager Dirk Hoekstra

Follow the event and its outputs online:

Wiki about the event
Photos from the event
Presentations and posters
Video interviews

Calestous Juma: Filmed keynote presentation on how biosciences can create a ‘new harvest’ in Africa

Calestous Juma, of Harvard University’s John F Kennedy School of Government, talks with clarity and humour about the hopeful future that he sees for Africa as the use of bioscience grows in the African agricultural sector.

He predicts that once started, African development will be faster than Chinese development since Africa has access to decades more globally generated knowledge.

This lively 45-minute keynote presentation was given by Juma at the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi in March 2011. The occasion was the official launch of a regional Bio-Innovate Program, during which Juma introduced his newly published book, The New Harvest–Agricultural Innovation in Africa (Oxford University Press 2011).

See also a 2-minute interview of Calestous Juma conducted at the same ILRI event.

New program aims to spur state-of-the-art biosciences innovation to fight food insecurity, climate change and environmental degradation across eastern Africa

Bio-Innovate launch: Swedish Embassy's Bjorn Haggmark

Launched today at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the Bioresources Innovations Network for Eastern Africa Development (Bio-Innovate) program will support the fight against food insecurity in eastern Africa (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).

A new program that provides grants to bioscientists working to improve food production and environmental management in eastern Africa was launched today at the Nairobi headquarters of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

The newly established Bioresources Innovation Network for Eastern Africa Development (Bio-Innovate) Program—the first of its kind in Africa—provides competitive grants to African researchers who are working with the private sector and non-governmental organizations to find ways to improve food security, boost resilience to climate change and identify environmentally sustainable ways of producing food.

In its first three-year phase, the program is supporting five research-based projects working to improve the productivity of sorghum, millet, cassava, sweet potato, potato and bean farmers; to help smallholder farmers adapt to climate change; to improve the processing of wastes in the production of sisal and coffee; and to better treat waste water generated in leather processing and slaughterhouse operations.

In its second three-year phase, beginning mid-2011, Bio-Innovate will help build agricultural commodity ‘value chains’ in the region and a supportive policy environment for bioresource innovations.

The five-year program is funded by a USD12-million grant from the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida). Bio-Innovate is managed by ILRI and co-located within the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BeCA) Hub at ILRI’s Nairobi campus. Bio-Innovate will be implemented in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

‘By emphasizing innovations to help drive crop production in the six partner countries, Bio-Innovate is working at the heart of one of the region’s greatest challenges—that of providing enough food in the face of climate change, diversifying crops and addressing productivity constraints that are threatening the livelihoods of millions,’ said Carlos Seré, ILRI’s director general.

An increasingly large number of poor people in the developing world are hungry, or, in development-speak, ‘food insecure.’ In sub-Saharan Africa, where agricultural production relies on rainfed smallholder farming, hunger, environmental degradation and climate change present a triple threat to individual, community and national development. In eastern Africa alone, over 100 million people depend on agriculture to meet their fundamental economic and nutritional needs.

Although some three-quarters of the African population are involved in farming or herding, investment in African agricultural production has continued to lag behind population growth rates for several decades, with the result that the continent has been unable to achieve sustainable economic and social development.

‘Bioresources research and use is key to pro-poor economic growth,’ says Seyoum Leta, Bio-Innovate’s program manager. ‘By focusing on improving the performance of crop agriculture and agro-processing, and by adding value to primary production, we can help build a more productive and sustainable regional bioresources-based economy.’

Bio-Innovate works closely with the African Union/New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AU/NEPAD) and its new Planning and Coordinating Agency, as well as with the councils and commissions for science and technology in eastern Africa, to encourage adoption of advances in biosciences. The program builds on AU/NEPAD’s Consolidated Plan of Action for Africa’s Science and Technology and the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP).

‘African governments are appreciating the importance of regional collaboration,’ says Ibrahim Mayaki, the chief executive officer of NEPAD. ‘Collaborations such as this, in science and technology, will enable the continent to adapt to the rapid advances and promises of modern biosciences.’

Bio-Innovate has already established partnerships with higher learning institutions and national agricultural research organizations, international agricultural research centres and private industries working both within and outside eastern Africa.

‘Bio-Innovate is an important platform for pooling eastern African expertise and facilities through a regional Bioresources Innovations Network,’ says Claes Kjellström, Bio-Innovate Sida representative at the Embassy of Sweden in Nairobi. ‘We believe this program will enable cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary biosciences research and enhance innovations and policies that will advance agricultural development in the region.’

The Bio-Innovate team is working with these partners to help guide development and adoption of homegrown bioscience policies in its partner countries and to spread knowledge of useful applications of bioscience. In the coming years, Bio-Innovate staff envision eastern Africa becoming a leading region in the use of biotechnology research and approaches for better food production and environmental management.

Some presentations from today’s launch:

More information about Bio-Innovate:
Short Blip TV clips

Three interviews of Seyoum Leta, Bio-Innovate program manager:

http://ilri.blip.tv/file/4882255/

http://ilri.blip.tv/file/4882101/

http://ilri.blip.tv/file/4881914/

Four interviews of Gabrielle Persley, senior advisor to ILRI’s director general:

http://ilri.blip.tv/file/4882211/

http://ilri.blip.tv/file/4882005/

http://ilri.blip.tv/file/4882481/

http://ilri.blip.tv/file/4882486/

Website:

http://bioinnovate-africa.org/

Pictures:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/ilri/sets/72157624891160295/

New Bio-Innovate Program is good news for bio-scientists in ‘bio-rich’ eastern Africa

A new program called Bio-Innovate, which stands for ‘Bioresources Innovations Network for Eastern Africa Development,’ is being launched tomorrow (Wednesday 16 March 2011) at the Nairobi, Kenya, campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida), Bio-Innovate offers competitive funding for biosciences and innovations in six countries of eastern Africa through a Bioresources Innovation Fund. The program accepts applications for regional, multi-disciplinary innovation projects in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

More than 80 people—including scientists, policymakers, development practitioners and staff from private companies, donor agencies and diplomatic missions—are expected to participate. They represent national agricultural research organizations and universities, national councils for science and technology, regional bodies and international organizations from within and outside the region.

We interviewed two of the key people, Seyoum Leta, Bio-Innovate’s program manager, and Gabrielle Persley, senior advisor to ILRI’s director general, to tell us what Bio-Innovate is all about. Watch these short interviews below.

And follow the launch tomorrow on the web using the search term #BioInnAfrica2011.

Bio-Innovate Bean Technology Consortium

Seyoum Leta, Bio-Innovate program manager, is interviewed in the following brief films.

Film 1—Bio-Innovate: Addressing the missing link between research and innovation
East Africa has never had the facilities, funding or skilled manpower to undertake agricultural science on a scale that could move from research all the way to new technologies for farmers. Bio-Innovate is a new program aiming to provide that ‘missing link’. It will tackle the big regional problems such as climate change results, and environmental degradation, by the application of bio-sciences, with the direct aim of helping small-scale farmers.

Film 2Over 3 million farmers could benefit from the first projects of a new initiative
Small-scale farmers in 6 East African countries will be the first in the region to benefit from the new Bio-Innovate program. The first projects in the scheme will tackle challenges like the development of more productive varieties of staple crops, and waste re-cycling. Over the next 5 years, the numbers of projects will expand, using Bio-Innovate’s promotion of improvements in policy frameworks, its networks of scientists and research organizations, and the novel links it is building with private sector companies.

Film 3Launching a unique African-based and African-led program on innovations and policy analysis in eastern Africa
16 March 2011 is the official launch date for Bio-Innovate, a unique regional agricultural research initiative that is Africa based, Africa led and focuses on innovations for farmers.

Gabrielle Persley, Senior Advisor to the Director General

Gabrielle Persley, senior advisor to ILRI’s director general, is interviewed in the following brief films.

Film 4New phase of African Bio-Innovate Program will soon deliver solutions to farmers
Bio-Innovate is building on a previous project that trained 20 regionally recruited bioscientists to PhD level. Now the new program plans to move from research outputs into partnerships with private sector players and other delivery mechanisms. The real focus and the success of Bio-Innovate will be delivery of products to African farmers.

Film 5New science program makes use of facilities and expertise at the first biosciences hub in Africa
The choice of location for the headquarters of Bio-Innovate depended on access to the best bioscience facilities and expertise in the region. The Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub, at the ILRI Nairobi campus, provides a vibrant biosciences research platform for advanced research into crops and livestock.

Film 6Bioscience support plus field trials will lead to the development of practical technologies for farmers
Core elements of the work of the Bio-Innovate projects will be done in the field. Through building partnerships within the participating countries, national research programs and the local private sector, evaluation of potential products in the field and scaling up can be targeted to local needs.

Film 7Large African bioscience-based agricultural project targets key famine-type foods and environments
Funding of USD10 million over 5 years will allow projects sponsored by Bio-Innovate to reach the critical mass of financial, agricultural and research resources needed to tackle large-scale regional challenges such as climate change and environmental degradation. In this way Bio-Innovate will help improve food supplies and incomes for small-scale farmers.

Help us refine the CGIAR’s livestock and fish research proposal

In September 2010, four CGIAR Centers – CIAT, ICARDA, ILRI and WorldFish – formally submitted a proposal on ‘livestock and fish’ to the CGIAR Consortium Board (CB).

We just received feedback and guidance on the proposal. Overall, the Consortium Board “appreciates the innovations in this proposal, and its overall quality. The Board considers that, with a few additional improvements, the proposal will be ready to be submitted to the Fund Council.”

The Board and the reviewers also raise some important questions about our proposal: We need your help to respond to some of the critical questions raised by the reviewers:

Question 1: Can we really expect livestock and fish production ‘by the poor’ to contribute meaningfully to nutrition ‘for the poor’?

Question 2: How best to partner with the private sector in pro-poor livestock and fish value chain development?