Storming the ivory towers: Time for scientists to get out, ‘get social’, to learn better, faster–Nature commentary

Framework for building an evidence base on impacts of social learning

An evaluative framework for assembling an evidence base on the impacts of social learning. Figure 1 in Social learning and sustainable development, article by Patti Kristjanson, Blane Harvey, Marissa Van Epp and Philip Thornton, published in Nature Climate Change 4, 5–7 (2014) (first published online 20 Dec 2013).

Most of us like learning new things. But while learning alone is no fun, it’s hard to convince scientists, who spend their professional lives attempting to learn new things, to adopt ‘social learning’ approaches. These could help bring about new understandings, and help transform such understandings into development benefits, by helping scientists learn with, and from, a diverse group of stakeholders, including non-scientists, holding common purpose.

Those assumptions are held by social learning advocates, who include Patti Kristjanson, an agricultural economist at the World Agroforestry Centre and lead author of a commentary on social learning published in the 20 Dec 2013 online edition of Nature Climate Change. Kristjanson gives a main reason for the reluctance of her agricultural research colleagues to take up social learning. ‘First and foremost’, she says, ‘is the worry of scientists about the large transactions costs of the “many conversations and messy partnerships” such joint learning necessarily entails.’

‘Yet many of the same scientists also worry about the slow pace of agricultural development in many parts of the world’, Kristjanson says.

Those of us attempting to use science to help solve complex agriculturally related development problems—like how to help hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers adapt to harsher, more erratic, climates while producing more food and lifting themselves out of poverty—need to try new approaches. If we keep doing science the way we’ve always been doing it, we’re going to run out of time.’

This Nature Climate Change commentary includes a ‘call to action’.

Kristjanson and her colleagues say it’s time for climate change scientists to step up—to help effect a step change. ‘We need the “social engagement” of many, many more scientists working on climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies. We need them to help us build a solid body of evidence on the benefits—and the costs—of applying social learning approaches.’

The commentary provides a framework that can be used to assess when social learning is likely to be ‘really worth it’ and begins with an introduction, summarized here:

Agricultural research-for-development bodies such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, CGIAR and their partners are under mounting pressure from their funders to link their research knowledge to actions that achieve faster and more substantive and long-lasting ‘development outcomes’, such as CGIAR’s four ‘system-level outcomes’ of reduced rural poverty, increased food security, better nutrition and health, and sustainable management of natural resources. To bring about the many changes in behaviour, policies and institutions as well as agricultural practices needed to achieve such broad benefits, the authors argue that researchers and their projects need to be continuously informed by, and engaged with, many others, including the individuals and societies they are working to benefit, so as to better understand, and more effectively use, the processes by which people and communities, and policymakers and government officials, learn and adapt their behaviour in the face of climate and other changes and pressures.

Among the many advantages the authors cite of agricultural scientists employing social learning approaches are the following:

  • joint learning and knowledge sharing and co-creation are enhanced among diverse stakeholders around a common purpose
  • the established traditions of participatory development are built on, with learning and collective change placed at the heart of such engagement
  • diverse knowledge and value systems are integrated in ways that help us tackle so-called ‘wicked’ (highly complex) socio-agro-ecological problems

The Nature Climate Change commentary provides a table of examples of agricultural development projects and programs that are already using social learning approaches.

On the face of it, the authors says, social learning approaches should help research-for-development institutions become smarter and more effective. But while iterative learning processes appear to be critical to adapting to environmental and other big changes, it’s difficult to apply ‘learning tools’ in many developing-country situations, they say, where there is high uncertainty and great poverty. ‘And we have as yet little evidence of the impacts of social learning approaches on “hard” development outcomes’, says Kristjanson. Scientists are also concerned, she says, about a lack of demonstrated ability to replicate and scale out the benefits of localized social learning.

The authors of this commentary include Philip Thornton, an agricultural systems analyst and climate change specialist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). Thornton says that the authors are embarking on a ‘systematic evidence-gathering initiative, using a common evaluative framework to track new initiatives from a range of institutional settings that incorporate social learning approaches’.

‘The practical guidelines we provide’, he says, ‘should help those interested in applying social learning approaches to use the best available knowledge, information and tools to implement and document their initiatives’.

Acknowledgements
Patti Kristjanson and Philip Thornton both lead work of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security Program (CCAFS), where Kristjanson leads its Linking Knowledge to Action Theme and Thornton its Data & Tools ThemeCCAFS is funded by the CGIAR Fund, AusAid, Danish International Development Agency, Environment Canada, Instituto de Investigação Científica Tropical (Portugal), Irish Aid, Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, UK Aid, and the European Union, with technical support from the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

Read
An authors’ version of this article is available for all to read on Cgspace.

Journal subscribers can read the whole article, Social learning and sustainable development, by Patti Kristjanson, Blane Harvey (International Development Research Centre, Canada), Marissa Van Epp (International Institute for Environment and Development, UK)) and Philip K Thornton, in Nature Climate Change 4, 5–7 (2014) doi:10.1038/nclimate2080 (first published online 20 Dec 2013).

A lively article about this Nature commentary was published by CCAFS yesterday (8 Jan 2014): Want sustainable development? Then it’s time to get social.

CCAFS, ILRI and their many partners invite you to join our efforts to create an evidence base on the impacts of social learning approaches. Leave your comments and ideas in the commentary section below or on the CCAFS website.

This Nature commentary article was produced as part of a continuing social learning process — see their wiki here: Climate Change and Social Learning initiative — in which knowledge is being co-constructed through many different channels. We are grateful and indebted to all who have participated in this process.

Scissors and crazy glue: Lorne Babiuk, award-winning vaccine evangelist, speaks his (clear) mind in Ottawa

Vish Nene and new ILRI Board Member

Director of ILRI’s vaccine development program Vish Nene (left) with Canadian vaccinologist and ILRI board member Lorne Babiuk (right) at morning tea with ILRI staff (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Canadian Lorne Babiuk, an internationally recognized leader in vaccine research, visited the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Ottawa yesterday (8 Oct 2013) to deliver a live webcast talk on exciting breakthroughs in the development of animal vaccines, which, he argued, can both improve global food security and reduce the global impacts of infectious diseases.

Babiuk is vice-president of research at the University of Alberta and the recipient of two recent distinguished awards for his outstanding career in vaccinology — the Gairdner Wightman Award in 2012 and the Killam Prize in Health Sciences in 2013. He serves on the board of trustees of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

For all his illustrious awards, Babiuk talked not like a scientist but rather like ‘a regular guy’, preferring to speak of  ‘scissors’ and ‘crazy glue’ to describe molecular advances in vaccinology rather than use scientific jargon.

Here’s some of what he said.

ON POVERTY
One billion people go to bed hungry every night. Not hungry like you and me when we miss a meal. But hungry, really hungry, every day, day in and day out. By 2050, we’ll have another 2 billion people to feed. The last time I checked, they were not making more land. So we’re going to have to do more with the land (and livestock) that we have. We have an opportunity to develop new approaches to increase food supplies or to have a lot more hungry people.

The developing world is looking for more and more protein; those of us in the developed world should not deny them that.

Livestock are a critical component of smallholder farming, which supports about two billion people, some two-thirds of them women

ON DISEASE
I’ve spent my career in infectious diseases. They matter partly because they cost so much. Alberta has still not recovered from BSE. And SARS cost a staggering USD100 billion—USD2 billion in Ontario alone.

Some 74% of new or emerging diseases are ‘zoonotic’, which means they’re transmitted from animals to humans, or from humans to animals. The economic impacts of zoonoses are huge for farmers, for producers, for international traders . . .

ON DISEASES OF THE DEVELOPING WORLD
I have concerns about Rift Valley fever spreading to North America. The West Nile virus, which has the same kind of vector, has already arrived here.

ON BIOTECH
Technology and biotechnology can be a saviour, but it’s a challenge because we have a large number of people against genetically modified food. We have to work with social scientists to make sure we have healthy animals for healthy people

ON RESEARCH
Basic research and applied research are two sides of the same coin—the two of them need each other.
We no longer train our biologists in broad biology but rather in narrower molecular biology studies. That’s a mistake.
We biological scientists must get smarter at engaging social science and scientists.

ON VACCINES
Vaccination has saved more lives than all other treatments and prophylactics combined.
The traditional types of vaccines, live or killed, have given way to really interesting new types.
We eradicated smallpox with a vaccine; that research would never be approved today because the vaccine has too many side effects.
What can we do to change perceptions of vaccines and biotechnology?
It costs something in the order of one billion dollars to get a vaccine approved.

ON VACCINES FOR THE DEVELOPING WORLD
The major obstacle in Africa is to get a commercial company to invest in the regulatory component of a vaccine because there isn’t a financial incentive. You can’t sell a livestock vaccine for much more then 50 cents per dose in a developing countries. That’s why we have to work with African or Asian vaccine companies, which can produce vaccines much cheaper than industrial countries can.

Several diseases in the developing world are protozoan and those are, of course, much bigger challenges. But there have been new donors for protozoan vaccine research. We need to convince more donors that this research is needed.

ON THE ANTI-VACCINE LOBBY
I’m an evangelist for vaccination because I think we have lost the battle to the anti-vaccine lobby. In North Amercia there is a huge anti-tech group. They misquote or use data to push their own agenda at the expense of large numbers of lives lost. Look at the article published decades ago about a possible link between vaccination and autism. Despite decades of subsequent research showing no such links, we still haven’t managed to convince a lot of people that vaccines do not cause autism.

How do we encourage the scientific community to stand up and be more vocal about what they know? We have to continue to advocate and demonstrate what we can do using the new technology. We should promise less and deliver more. We have been our own worst enemies. We have to be realists and say what can be done in what time period. That will give us back some credibility.

People go into science because they like doing the science part of it. If they loved the podium, they would have gone into the social sciences. We need to encourage others to do this kind of communication.

ON TEAM DYNAMICS
Any successful researcher has to stimulate the team around him or her and make them all feel part of something big. Getting people excited about working together as a team, providing a vision, and saying how the team can achieve something, that’s what I’m good at. Get people passionate about something and get them to know it’s their idea. I’m a facilitator. I don’t tell people what to do. I create an environment that facilitates what they do. You have to accept different cultures, different ways of doing science. You have to have patience and go with the flow. I learned patience.

ON HIS SUCCESSFUL CAREER
I still get up in the morning and put one leg in my pants and then the other, just like everyone else.

About CIFSRF
Lorne Babiuk manages a grant funded by the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund (CIFSRF), among others. CIFSRF is a CA$124.5-million program of IDRC undertaken with financial support from the Government of Canada. CIFSRF supports applied research partnerships between Canadian and developing-country organizations to find lasting solutions to hunger and food insecurity. It is a core element of Canada’s Food Security Strategy.

For more information, see the IDRC website.

Study finds Vietnam has low awareness of leptospirosis, a bacterial disease commonly transmitted between animals and people

A smallholders pig in Chưng Mỹ, Vietnam

A three-year study by ILRI and partners shows that farmers in Vietnam have low awareness of leptospirosis, a bacterial disease that infects animals (including pigs) and humans (photo credit: ILRI/Andrew Nguyen).

A joint research team consisting of staff from the Vietnamese Department of Animal Health, the Pasteur Institute in Ho Chi Minh City, Nong Lam University and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) recently completed a three-year study of leptospirosis, a bacterial disease passed from animals to humans. The aim of the study was to identify behaviours and conditions in Vietnam that increase the risk of humans and animals contracting this disease.

Results from Tien Giang and Binh Phuoc provinces, where the study was conducted, indicate farmers and small-scale slaughterhouse workers have low awareness of leptospirosis, even though researchers found that the disease was common in the pigs and humans tested.

The study, the findings of which were presented at a workshop in August 2013, was part of a larger project called ‘Ecosystem approaches to the better management of zoonotic emerging infectious diseases in Southeast Asia’, or EcoZD for short, which is coordinated by ILRI and funded by the International Development Research Centre, of Canada.

The EcoZD project used an ‘ecohealth’ approach, which requires bringing scientists from different disciplines and partner organizations to work together on complex health problems. Applying an ‘ecohealth’ framework improves understanding of the web of social, economic and ecological dimensions of infectious diseases and the importance of engaging local actors in preventing and controlling them.

‘Leptospirosis is a disease that has been around for a long time, but it often gets ignored as attention and resources are focused on emerging diseases like avian influenza’, said Mai Van Hiep, the deputy director general of the Department of Animal Health in Vietnam.

Leptospirosis affects animals and humans worldwide. The most common way humans get the disease is through direct exposure to urine from infected animals or from contact with water contaminated with such urine. People living in areas with open sewers, or that regularly flood, or that have poor hygiene are at particular risk. People who work or live with animals are at even greater risk. Animals that commonly acquire and spread leptospirosis include rodents, dogs and livestock.

Leptospirosis stunts the growth of pigs and causes them to abort, leading to economic losses for pig owners and the pork industry as a whole. People who develop the disease also suffer economic losses due to decreased productivity or missed work and the costs of seeking medical treatment.

‘We started by looking at public health records dating back to 2008 but there were no records telling us how common leptospirosis has been in Vietnam, in animals or humans’, said Hiep. ‘We knew that if animal and human health researchers worked side by side to better understand this disease, we would collect relevant data.’

The research team tested more than 360 people and 880 pigs in Tien Giang and Binh Phuoc. In Tien Giang, 29% of pigs and 10% of humans in the sample tested positive for leptospirosis. In Binh Phuoc, 22% of pigs and 20% of humans in the sample tested positive. (A positive test indicated the person or animal had past contact with the causative pathogen.)

Discussions with community members in both provinces revealed that people were unfamiliar with the symptoms of leptospirosis, how it could harm them and their animals and ways they could prevent it.

As yet, no mechanism in Vietnam links disease reporting between animal and human health. This missing link makes it hard for researchers in both sectors to understand how changes in the environment or behaviour may affect leptospirosis and other zoonotic diseases, which are passed between animals and humans.

‘Identification of serovars and serogroups provides us with clues as to which types of animals are transmitting leptospirosis. This information can help authorities to design strategies to control the spread of the disease to humans’, said Cao Thi Bao Van, deputy director of the Pasteur Institute in Ho Chi Minh City.

‘Some simple things reduce the risk of exposure’, said Van. ‘People working with animals should wear protective clothing, like gloves and boots, when cleaning animals and their pens; this reduces the chance of bacteria entering the body through cuts or scratches. The risk of leptospirosis spreading among animals can be reduced by separating them in several pens rather than keeping them altogether in large groups.’

Lucy Lapar, an ILRI agricultural economist based in Hanoi, said research should now be conducted on the economic burden of leptospirosis in Vietnam, which remains largely unknown. ‘We need estimates of the economic burden in terms of harm both to human health and to livestock production so that decision-makers can better prioritize their resources for disease control’, said Lapar. ‘As long as the true burden of leptospirosis remains unknown in Vietnam, we will not know if the country should direct more resources to controlling it.’

For more information about EcoZD, visit www.ilri.org/ecozd

More information about the project is available on the EzoZD wiki.

Roots and tubers to the fore: How a Tanzanian crop and goat project is helping farmers

Integrated Dairy Goat and Root Crop in Tanzania workshop

A meeting to review research results from a dairy goat and root crop project in Tanzania was held in Nairobi last week (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

Last week (18-20 Jun 2013) the Nairobi campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) hosted partners in a crop and goat project working to improve food security in Tanzania. The meeting reviewed research results from the two-year-old project.

This project is helping Tanzanian farmers integrate their dairy goat production with growing root crops. It’s raising incomes by improving the milk production potential of dairy goats, introducing improved sweet potato and cassava varieties and improving marketing options for goats and crops in Tanzania’s Kongwa and Mvomero districts.

Led by Tanzania’s Sokoine University of Agriculture and the University of Alberta in Canada, the project also involves collaboration with an agricultural research institute in Kibaha, the Kongwa and Mvomero district councils and the Foundation for Sustainable Rural Development, a non-governmental organization in the country. ILRI is serving as knowledge-support partner for the project and is providing expertise on goat production, gender issues and monitoring and evaluation.

Started in March 2011, the project is funded by the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Canadian International Development Agency. The project brings together farmers and scientists in setting up community-managed breeding programs for dairy goats and introducing improved varieties of cassava and sweet potato in agro-pastoral area of the two districts. Previously, dairy goat keeping was restricted to wetter areas of the districts.

‘This is one of few projects whose achievements so far the IDRC is proud of and it stands a good chance for being considered for funding for scaling-up under the Food Security Research Fund,’ said Pascal Sanginga, of IDRC.

The program’s interventions have focused on understanding women’s roles in livestock activities such as feeding and milking, getting more women involved in livestock keeping and increasing women’s access to, and control over, benefits from livestock rearing and farming.

‘This project highlights the central role of partnerships in ILRI’s work in Tanzania, which is a focus country for the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish,’ says Amos Omore, the project’s coordinator at ILRI.

ILRI's Okeyo Mwai and Amos Omore with Immaculate Maina (KARI)

Participants in the meeting, who included graduate students and faculty from Sokoine and Alberta universities and researchers from ILRI, shared 16 research presentations, which will now be reworked as papers for submission to scientific journals. Feedback from these presentations guided a project evaluation and planning session that followed the workshop.

‘We’re learning about the challenges in establishing root crops and dairy goat production in marginal environments where there is a high variability in rainfall and stiff competition from pastoralism,’ said John Parkins, of Alberta University.

The project, which is reaching more than 100 farmers, has conducted a baseline study and has developed gender and monitoring & evaluation strategies.

Findings from this workshop, which included determination of specific environmental constraints and the costs and benefits of adopting new varieties of sweet potatoes and cassava, guided preparation of a proposal to scale up the project’s interventions. This proposal will be used to implement the final phase of the project, which ends in August 2014.

‘This meeting revealed a need to focus on doing a few things well—like facilitating fodder production, animal health and disease control,’ said Parkins.

View presentations from the meeting:

Read more about the project, ‘Integrating dairy goats and root crop production for increasing food, nutrition and income security of smallholder farmers in Tanzania’, http://ilri.org/node/1177 and https://sites.google.com/a/ualberta.ca/diary-goats-and-root-crops-tanzania/home. Download a project brochure

Read an ILRI news article about the project: Cassava and sweet potato may improve dairy goat production in Tanzania’s drylands, but will women benefit?

 

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.

Roots and tubers to the fore: Cassava and sweet potato may improve dairy goat production in Tanzania’s drylands, but will women benefit?

Tanzania Dairy Goats and Root Crops Project: M&E training

Harrison Rware, an ILRI researcher, listens to Sinayo Taigo, a farmer in Mvomero District, Tanzania during a review of 3-year work plans developed by women in a program that is setting up community-managed breeding programs for dairy goats and introducing improved varieties of cassava and sweet potato in the country (photo credit: ILRI/Deo Gratias Shayo).

Researchers in Tanzania are exploring how small-scale farmers might better integrate production of root and tuber crops, such as cassava and sweet potatoes, with rearing dairy goats to improve the food and nutritional security of their households.

Surprisingly, few programs in Tanzania have yet focused on integrating these crops with small ruminants, such as goats. This is despite the fact that sweet potato and cassava are among the most important root and tuber crops grown by the country’s farmers, most of whom keep goats. Cassava and sweet potato provide human food in periods of hunger, provide feed for ruminant animals (leaf meal from cassava and vines from the sweet potato plant), and can be grown in semi-arid areas.

With farmers, the scientists are setting up community-managed breeding programs for dairy goats and introducing improved varieties of cassava and sweet potato. Both dairy goats and root crops are new to the study region, the Mvomero and Kongwa districts of Morogoro and Dodoma regions, respectively, where project staff distributed Toggenburg and Norwegian improved breeds of dairy goats to 107 farmers in February 2012.

Drought-tolerant varieties of cassava and sweet potato have never before been farmed at large scale in the region and dairy goat keeping has previously been restricted to the wetter areas of the districts. ‘This is changing now,’ says Faustin Lekule, a professor with Sokoine University of Agriculture, ‘because with the use of these crops, we can now introduce dairy goats in dry agro-pastoral areas.’

Led by Tanzania’s Sokoine University of Agriculture and the University of Alberta, in Canada, the project also involves collaboration with the agricultural research institute in Kibaha, the Kongwa and Mvomero district councils and the Foundation for Sustainable Rural Development, a non-governmental organization. The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is serving as knowledge-support partner for the project and is providing expertise on goat production, gender integration, monitoring and evaluation, and assessing food and nutritional security.

‘We’re combining project- and community-based indicators to ensure that farmer decisions guide the project’s implementation,’ said Pamela Pali, a scientist at ILRI who is leading the monitoring and evaluation component of the project. The project is using a web-based monitoring and evaluation system, set up by ILRI’s Research Methods Group, to collect and share information on how farmers are responding to the project’s interventions.

A gender analysis has been applied from the start of the project, including in its research design. ‘We analyzed gender roles, time use, labour allocation and other gender-related factors associated with raising dairy goats and cultivating root crops,’ said Pali. This information was used to refine the distribution of goats and planting materials to households.

Tanzania Dairy Goats and Root Crops Project: M&E Training

ILRI scientist Pamela Pali leads a session on community-based monitoring and evaluation to train farmers in Kongwa District, Tanzania on creating project objectives and indicators (photo credit: ILRI/Deo Gratias Shayo). 

Results from the study sites show that few women own goats or have control over the milk produced and sold from dairy goats. As the demand for milk and milk products increases in cities and milk points, men’s role in milk marketing has taken centre stage. ‘But we also know that livestock activities for women in Africa increase with intensification of production’, says Pali. ‘Seasonal and gender differences in livestock activities such as feeding, watering and milking must be well understood so that we avoid the extra work load on women but ensure that their control over the benefits is increased.’

A key input of the project has been capacity building. Both Sokoine University of Agriculture and the agricultural research institute in Kibaha are training farmers how to raise dairy goats.

‘I received a goat in February this year. As a result of the training, I now understand how to feed the animal, construct a better goat house and identify signs of diseases for my goat. This project has improved my farming skills,’ said Subeida Zaidi, a woman farmer in Kongwa District.

Farmers like Zaidi, who keep goats and grow root crops on small plots typically about one-quarter of an acre, both consume the milk produced by their animals at home and will start to sell it to meet their cash needs. Sustainability is built into this project: once a goat produces offspring, its owner gives a female kid to another farmer, thus ‘passing on the gift’, to use the term made popular by the American non-governmental organization Heifer International.

The project’s monitoring and evaluation trainings have helped farmers clarify their objectives, which include increasing the number of goats they keep, the amount of milk their goats produce and the amount of dual-purpose food-fodder root crops they cultivate. The farmers keep records of their milk production, and this information is supposed to be regularly fed into the web-based monitoring and evaluation system. The researchers are using the information generated to put checks against interventions that are likely to impact women and men, especially those that will narrow the gender, nutrition, income and asset gaps between men and women. The information is also helping project staff and the community members to better understand, and make better use of, the informal markets and ‘value chains’ in the region that the farmers use.

In particular, the University of Alberta is using the project to assess the economic impacts of informal markets, trading and gift giving between households at the village level. Knowing how these informal markets for root crops and goats work will broaden understanding of, and inform, ongoing initiatives in the project.

This project, ‘Integrating Dairy Goats and Root Crops Production for Increasing Food, Nutrition and Income Security of Smallholder Farmers in Tanzania’, is funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre, and Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

Read more about the project http://ilri.org/node/1177 and https://sites.google.com/a/ualberta.ca/diary-goats-and-root-crops-tanzania/home

For more information, read a working paper about this project published earlier this year: Integrating improved goat breeds with new varieties of sweet potatoes and cassava in the agro-pastoral systems in Tanzania: A gendered analysis, by Petra Saghir, Jemimah Njuki, Elizabeth Waithanji, Juliet Kariuki and Anna Sikira, 2012, ILRI Discussion Paper No. 21, International Livestock Research Institute.