Agricultural research that incorporates innovation and experimentation by smallholder farmers

Agricultural research that incorporates innovation and experimentation by smallholder farmers

Tuesday, 26 November, 2013

For a long time Agricultural Research for Development (ARD) was regarded as the private domain of scientific experts. The traditional linear model – researchers providing the technologies that are supposed to be taken up by the outreach services that in turn wait for farmers to adopt them – is disappearing.

There is now growing awareness of the vital need to draw on both the local knowledge and capacity to innovate of small-scale farmers in providing a better response to their needs, reducing rural poverty and improving food security. The EU has launched a number of initiatives to this effect, in keeping with the priority objective of encouraging sustainable agriculture in Africa.

The JOLISAA and INSARD projects, financed under the 7th European Framework Programme, are opening up new prospects for the way in which smallholder farmers can be integrated in ARD. Both projects will be presented 28 November in Brussels at the seminar on food and nutrition security .


JOLISAA: Innovating with the rural world stakeholders

JOLISAA is an interdisciplinary project. The aim is to improve understanding of innovative farming systems by focusing on the activities of African smallholders and the interplay of traditional, local and global knowledge.

The project ran in three countries – South Africa, Benin, Kenya – and was implemented by a consortium of 4 European and 3 African institutions:

-  CIRAD (Centre International pour la Recherche Agricole orientée vers le développement - France)

-  ETC Foundation (The Netherlands)

-  LEI/WUR (Wageningen University and Research Center – The Netherlands)

- ICRA (International Centre for Development-oriented Research in Agriculture (The Netherlands)

- University of Pretoria (South Africa)

- KARI (Kenya Agricultural Research Institute - Kenya)

- University of Abomey-Calavi (Benin).


The partners identified agricultural innovation processes in a wide variety of sectors, ranging from natural resource management to production and agribusiness. Out of the 57 most interesting examples, a dozen of cases were studied in depth (including the innovative process for drying rice parboiling in Benin, the manufacture of Aloe soap in Kenya, and improvements to irrigation systems on smallholdings in South Africa), not only in workshops but also in the field.

The project developed original common learning and experience sharing approaches involving many different stakeholders (researchers, farmers, processors, shopkeepers, students, and agriculture research decision-makers, etc.).

It found that innovation is often the result of very complex long-term processes and networks. Also, it can occur without external intervention when farmers face a challenge (such as depletion of natural resources) or seek to benefit from market opportunities. The right policy serves to encourage this innovation. In Kenya, for example, the authorization to produce wood charcoal from Prosopis opened up many opportunities for the local population, who are continuing to innovate to benefit from this and to increase their revenue. 

The JOLISAA project highlighted the dynamism of African agriculture. It opened up prospects for research, cooperation and interaction in connection with family-run smallholdngs, such as innovation platforms, and confirmed the pertinence of a multi-stakeholder approach.

Financing, institutionalisation and sustainability” will be the three essential elements for this inclusive process, explains Ann Waters Bayer, senior expert at the ETC . “The involvement of smallholders in agricultural research requires a change of mentality among researchers and decision-makers,” she stresses.


Project details:

JOLISAA: Joint Learning in Innovation Systems in African Agriculture

Participants: CIRAD (coordinator), ETC Foundation, LEI/WUR, ICRA, University of Pretoria, KARI, University of Abomey-Calavi.

Type of project: FP7

Reference: 245319

Total cost: EUR 1 608 990

EU contribution: EUR 999 657

Duration: From 01-02-2010 to 31-07-2013

Coordinator: Bernard Thriomphe (CIRAD)


INSARD: Including smallholders in agricultural research

Like JOLISAA, the INSARD (Including Smallholders in Agricultural Research for Development) project shows that if ARD is to generate a positive impact on smallholders it must involve them at every stage. 

The project was implemented in three pilot countries: Senegal, Tanzania and Zambia. It involved the networking of operators, research institutions, smallholder organizations and civil society organizations by a consortium of six European NGOs and African platforms: 

  • ESAFF (Eastern and Southern Africa small-scale Farmers Forum) - Tanzania
  • ETC Foundation – The Netherlands
  • GRET (Groupe de Recherches et d’Echanges technologiques) - France
  • PELUM (Participatory Ecological Land Use Management) - Zambia
  • REPAOC (Réseau des Plates-formes nationales d’ONG d’Afrique de l’Ouest et du Centre) - Senegal
  • Practical Action –Great Britain

The aim is to make it easier for NGOs and organisations representing smallholders to be involved in formulating and implementing ARD policy in Africa. “It is not only a question of involving smallholders in experimentation,” stresses Céline Allaverdian (GRET). “They must also be allowed to play their full part at every stage of agricultural research processes, in other words: identifying the priorities of research programmes, implementing activities and analysing and sharing the results”


The project helped to:

  • Encourage the putting into place of consultation and coordination mechanisms between European and African CSOs in the field of ARD. 
  • Define priorities in meeting the needs of smallholders and establishing platforms between the latter and researchers to jointly present preliminary projects for research actions. Among the priority themes are land issues in Senegal, soil preservation in Zambia and local seed issues in Tanzania.
  • Encourage knowledge sharing.
  • Establish a strategy of dialogue between the CSOs and the principal European and African research institutions and donors so as to influence the agenda and include smallholders in ARD. 

Project details:

INSARD: “Including Smallholders in Agricultural Research for Development”

Participants: ETC Foundation (coordinator), ESAFF, GRET, PELUM, REPAOC, Practical Action.

Type of project: FP7 

Reference: 266002

Total cost: EUR 603 562

EU contribution: EUR 498 330

Duration: From 01-01-2011 to 31-12-2013