Smallholders' insights fuel Africa farm innovation
An EU-funded project designed and tested new soil and water management innovations to increase food production on African farms hand in hand with local farmers. It shows how involving smallholders in research could increase innovation uptake when there is a proper enabling framework.
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Upodated on May 27, 2019
In the EAU4FOOD project, African small-scale farmers took the driving seat in the development of low-cost innovations for irrigation, plant management and soil fertility. The project aimed to increase food production and identify barriers that keep farmers from adopting useful new ideas and methods.
Farmers identified needs, such as more efficient use of water or greater access to markets. Then they and higher-level stakeholders, including local authorities, selected priority needs together. Finally, all stakeholders were included in proposing and testing innovations for these and evaluating the results.
This inclusive approach had been used in other sustainability research, says project coordinator Jochen Froebrich of Stichting Wageningen Research in the Netherlands. But this was the first time it was applied to smallholder irrigation across different countries in Africa.
Change through collaboration
Solutions often increased yields dramatically, potentially boosting development and food security. Some have been summarised in a step-by-step farmers manual, says Froebrich.
Although widespread uptake of the innovations was not always possible due to factors outside the farmers control, the project had lasting results.
One was that Mozambiques National Irrigation Institute adopted EAU4FOODs development approach. In Ethiopia, a local government aims to apply it to other irrigation schemes in the region. And a scheme to improve market access is underway in a cooperative maize milling development in South Africa co-funded by the Dutch government.
Changes on the ground are possible when the private sector, donors and research institutes work together over time, Froebrich says.
He adds that EAU4FOOD helped to improve researchers mind sets for future work. A survey by the Overseas Development Institute, a project partner, showed that all partners found the inclusive approach brought great advantages.
Being stakeholder-driven shifted from a nice to have to a must have. It wont solve the problem overnight, but it shares ownership of it, adds Froebrich. The project marks the need for continuity and a strong enabling framework that allows farmers to put their innovations into practice.