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The Walloon Rural Network support unit in Belgium has been running an initiative called “The Innovation Route” - five farm visits spread over 18 months bringing together diverse groups of farmers, consumers, researchers and agricultural advisers. The idea was, as a group, to identify the factors, bottlenecks and impact of agricultural innovation and it has helped to improve interactions between farmers and people nearby.
“We wanted to gain insights and encourage exchanges on practical knowledge of innovative agricultural systems, analyse their logic and performance and map out the innovative mechanisms and techniques implemented by Walloon farmers” – says representative from the Walloon NSU.
The main objectives of this initiative were to:
The five farms involved were selected as they have all adopted innovative practices with the aim of becoming more self-sufficient in their production systems. The farms included for example an arable farm which has recently converted to organic farming, a dairy farm combining grazing and use of a milking robot and another that sells directly from the farm whilst running a “protected zone” for a specific breed of sheep.
A “multi-actor” group was formed, this group involves a wide range of people: farmers, researchers, development agencies, advisers, consumers, teachers, representatives of institutions and businesses. Up to 50 people were involved in this group. Over a period of 18 months, 6 meetings were organised. The first 5 meetings all followed the same programme: in the morning a farm visit and in the afternoon a workshop to exchange on what they had discovered on the visit. Therefore, each of the 5 farms were visited and analysed.
“The host farmers received advice about their farms from other farmers and from consumers buying their products, this allowed them to see their strengths and weaknesses from an external perspective” – says representative from Walloon NSU.
The visit enabled the multi-actor group to discover the farm and the innovative processes for farm self-sufficiency it has set up.
Then the workshop afterwards was a chance to take a step back, to imagine what other projects or innovations the farm could implement in order to improve. This part of the day was based on bottom-up, participatory approach, led by a professional facilitator. Farms were at the centre of the discussions. “The idea was that this group became a sort of investigator to analyse the factors which had stimulated innovation on his/her farm” – says representative from Walloon NSU.
4 specific participatory tools (see links below) were used and adapted for this type of work:
A sixth meeting was held, this time without a farm visit, to compare and contrast between the different farms and to allow participants to identify the potential future innovative activities for each farm.
Through this process, each of the farms were analysed in terms of innovative processes and self-sufficiency, many connections between people in the multi-actor group were established and a number of future projects were initiated.
“A ‘community of practice’ approach helped to create a dynamic vision of agricultural innovation, link it to changing economic, environmental and social contexts and improve interactions between farmers and the users of the surrounding territories”– says representative from Walloon NSU.
Three innovative projects were developed as a result of this process - the farms and representatives of the multi-actor group decided to apply for funding. These are FeedPoulWall, Séchage de foin en grange/lait de foin, Pâturage des cultures dérobées par les ovins. The other two farms are also starting new initiatives, one is working on the question of independent agricultural advisory and the other is rethinking their business model.
Rural Connections (ENRD magazine)
Carnet du Réseau (In French)
Contact: Xavier Delmon - email@example.com
Photo credits: Walloon Rural Network support unit
Check out the EIP-AGRI on Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Systems which presents other ways of exchanging knowledge.