Prof. Bettina Haussmann
Tackling key issues for smallholder farmers: The Farmer Research Network Approach
Smallholder sorghum farmers represent a heterogeneous group, in terms of both bio-physical and socio-economic context. Depending on context, they can have different production objectives, encounter different production constraints, and have different access to resources. Present research and development (R+D) systems seem to be limited in their ability to produce research outputs that can be matched to the wide variety of social and biophysical contexts of smallholder farmers. Participatory research methods have been mostly effective at a small scale in producing farmer-relevant research outputs, but are often limited in achieving impact at scale. Many problems faced by smallholder farmers such as sustainability of the production system, soil health, pest, disease and weed management, yield stability and risk management in variable climates, and nutritional quality are complex and require cross-sector collaboration. Rural organizations that support farmers are numerous and often strong, especially in West Africa. They form a collective rural infrastructure that can contribute to research capacity and shape research agendas. The McKnight Foundation Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP) is convinced that stronger connections which link social knowledge, technological, methodological and political capital will be more effective in solving complex problems faced by smallholder farmers than the current R+D approaches. CCRP is therefore promoting a “Farmer Research Network” (FRN) approach, which aims at democratizing agricultural innovation through broader participation. In this approach, farmers who represent the social and biophysical diversity of their communities participate in the whole research process. Research should be rigorous, democratized, and useful, and provide practical benefits to farmers as well as scientific insights on biophysical and social variation. Networks will foster collaboration and opportunities for learning and knowledge sharing. The presentation will summarize initial learnings from using such a FRN approach within CCRP-funded projects targeting agro-ecological intensification of sorghum-based cropping systems in West Africa.