In the recent edition of the New Agriculturalist Magazine (October 2008) is an interesting article on ‘Points of View: Agricultural research and development- which way now?” presenting a selection of viewpoints from some of those researchers, practitioners, private sector and farmer representatives, and those from international and donor organizations who met in December at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), UK, to reflect, review and propose ideas to improve research and development in agriculture. Amongst these points of view presented are some from researchers of the CGIAR and many partners and stakeholders of CGIAR research.

According to the article “There was a general consensus that farmers and farming systems are changing and that there is an urgent need for changes in approach if more effective agricultural development is to be achieved“.

See below for some of the points of view presented. This is also something that the Knowledge Sharing in Research project is also working on (see KSinR article in New Agriculturalist-Sept edition)…

…but what is YOUR ‘Point of View’?

Share it with us!


To achieve greater progress we need to learn from what has worked and what has not worked in terms of farmer participatory research, and to mainstream involvement and give farmers, consumers and others more of a say in what research is undertaken. Researchers need to be asking themselves how they can be much more effective in working with farmers, national governments, consumers and the private sector to develop better technologies and better policies.
David Howlett, Central Research Department, UK Department for International Development (DFID)

I think one of the key elements is to come up with mechanisms that help to bring farmer knowledge and scientific knowledge together in such a way that it becomes accessible to a wide range of end-users and intermediary users or service providers.
Paul Van Mele, Africa Rice Center (WARDA)

Too much emphasis on methods and techniques, I believe, takes us away from the central principle: how do we learn from farmers? How do we enrich our understanding and build bridges between formal and informal science? I also think the time has come to move on from thinking of just farmers. Why not labourers, too? If the workers are better informed they can carry knowledge to many farms.
Anil Gupta, Indian Institute of Management

Do we want innovation or innovative people? One farmer in Sri Lanka trained 4000 other farmers at his own expense. What he did was more persuasive than ten published articles in journals. Many farmers are better educated and many have increased their commitment to farming. On the other hand, young people are deserting agriculture. Alongside these demographic and cultural changes we see a blurring of roles in agricultural research. It’s no longer that farmers do this and researchers’ role is to do that: I think extensionists, farmers and researchers can all become very good friends in the process and are more likely to be productive, and have impact if we break down the mental stereotypes of each other.
Norman Uphoff, Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development

A basic characteristic of man is that we tend to accept the status quo and what is familiar rather than go for the challenge of change. Take scientists, they dwell on talking about concepts without wanting to really get to grips with change itself. What I believe is that in order to bring about change we have to change ourselves so that we will be able to reflect on our methodology and respond to the challenges of poverty, climate change and so on.
Adewale Adekunde, Sub-Saharan African Challenge Program, Forum for Agricultural Research for Africa (FARA)

There are a lot of actors in this. Researchers are one part of it, so are national governments, civil society, donor governments and of course the private sector. We do not expect researchers to achieve everything on their own. That will not make sense.
David Howlett, DFID, UK

Farmers and researchers are just two groups within a wider network of players that are required to bring innovation about. And I think one of our challenges really is to take away some of the emphasis on researchers and indeed on farmers and to look at the wider set of players that are required to make change happen.
Andy Hall, Merit Centre, United Nations University (UNU-Merit)

I feel it is wrong to think that innovations belong to the research sector. I think innovations are more likely to be nurtured by the development sector because innovations are supposed to be solutions to problems and so they emerge from the experiences of users testing ideas. Innovation is not something that can be anticipated, researched into. Innovation emerges.
Michael Kibue, Kikasha, Livestock (Beef) Association, Kenya

How do we ensure that there is a level playing field for different kinds of knowledge? Where is the forum where farmers, NGOs and even formal scientists can talk on equal terms? Knowledge dialogue is what I would like to see more effort going towards because, unless we identify and address the different hierarchies of power, then we will just strengthen all the existing asymmetries or inequalities in the system.
Shambu Prasad, Xavier Institute of Management, India

I think one of the areas that we certainly need to strengthen as we look at innovation systems is the whole area of farmer organisations and what role these can play in defining the research agenda.
Jemima Njuki, International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)

How is the farmer going to really be an initiator rather than just a passive participant in participatory research? I want to discover and share ways of how we have empowered farmers, emancipated farmers, involved farmers, who really can participate in the process.
Lucy Mwangi, Kenya National Federation of Agricultural Producers (KENFAP)

To address problems on-farm we also have to look beyond the farming systems. Farmers and farming are influenced by many factors in the wider economic and political environment. So we are looking for innovative systems that really can address the issues in their complexity, but it all boils down to bringing farmers benefits in the way they relate to the world and to the regional and local markets that they are dealing with.
Julieta Rao, UPWARD Network, Philippines

What I would like to see is people reflecting on themselves, being aware of their own mindsets, being aware of what they see, what they don’t see, what they tend to prioritise and what they tend to push to one side. If that was a quality in the agricultural scientists and extensionists of the future, and if it was a quality in the managers and administrators and policymakers who are responsible for agricultural policy, then I think we could have a major transformation in the next 20 years.
Robert Chambers, Institute of Development Studies (IDS), University of Sussex, UK

There are hundreds or thousands of wonderful experiments going on at village level but that is not fully reflected in the mainstream of education, it is not reflected in the mainstream of institutions, of development agencies of DFID or FAO or World Bank. That is quite a challenge. Farmer champions have to speak up to convince policymakers and leaders, those who develop curricula in universities and ministers of agriculture who establish the policies within which research and development can work in a participatory way. But if we could get through to these I think we would be much happier. Maybe that could be the target for the next 20 years.

John Dixon, International Wheat and Maize Improvement Center (CIMMYT)

We need to change our way of doing things, our attitudes. We have to give a chance to the pastoralists or to the people directly to talk about themselves. Instead of us directing and dictating to them what to do, they should tell us what they need us to do. That approach should be the way forward to help to improve their lives and living conditions.
Dawit Abebe, Feinstein International Center, Tufts University, USA

The real challenge is how do we scale this out? How do we get, for example, national research programmes to use some of these innovations systems approaches? In some countries we are still seeing very top down approaches that, although they can work for certain purposes, we know are not empowering enough in terms of getting farmers out of poverty. We really need strategies of how to scale out these processes and how to institutionalise them, especially national programmes.
Jemima Njuki, CIAT

I would like to see a consensus on how to modify our approaches so that we can multiply our impact. No single person can finish the work in Africa – we have to work together. But if we continue to talk theoretically we may not be able to achieve this.
Adewale Adekunde, FARA

Yesterday I attended seminar on ILRI Addis campus given by two senior researchers: Berhanu and Ananda- on the topic of how to integrate Value Chain Analysis and Agricultural Innovation Systems approaches in order to move forward and achieve an agenda for research for development. This was an interesting seminar which sparked many questions and discussions between the presenters and the many CGIAR staff members present.

Of interest to the Knowledge Sharing in Research project was the highlighting of one of the main differences in the innovation systems perspective as compared to earlier theories and approaches to research.

As the presenters pointed out, the main thrust for research has always been knowledge creation and generation- which they entitled INVENTION–coming up with solutions.

However much knowledge (and technology) has been created by various types of research systems over the years which has never been adopted or used and remains ‘sitting on the shelf’. The presenters indicated that this is because research just stops at the point of knowledge creation without considering ‘who will use this?”, “how will/can it be applied?”

But INNOVATIONS or changes, as different from an INVENTION, only happen when knowledge and technology is used or applied to achieve social and economic benefit. It has therefore been recognised that knowledge is only one component necessary for bringing about an innovation as the ultimate goal, and that interaction and learning amongst a number of key actors is also required.

The presenters highlighted that “there is a need to think about who is going to use the knowledge and technology being created and plan how this will happen. It is necessary to bring the relevant actors in at various stages of the knowledge creation process, right from design stage, in order to facilitate the adoption and use of such knowledge after it has been created.”

While many agree with the theoretical and intellectual underpinnings to this framework and agree with the propositions it makes, there is still a looming question about how this new type of approach can be operationalised.

“What does it actually look like?” asked one person attending the seminar, “What activities does it include? how can I realistically introduce it and use it in my research program?”.

The practical approaches to how to collaborate, learn together, and share knowledge with various actors is what is missing from this still conceptual discussion.

Quite often the innovation systems approach seems to be quite big, all-encompassing–leading to failure from trying to make such a big leap. One reason for failure to adopt or successfully use an Innovation Systems approach in agricultural research may be because it requires such big changes in approach that research organizations are unable to support due to lack of skills to carry it out, it being heavily time-consuming and expensive, it is a complex approach, and it involves many more activities than research organisations can or feel that they should be carrying out themselves.

What the Knowledge Sharing in Research project brings to this particular table is a set of options for how to undertake activities to achieve such objectives put forward for necessary improvements in research processes to enable it to contribute more to development outcomes. These may be small-scale approaches or frameworks which can be integrated into the research process/cycle itself to improve it along the lines which the Innovation Systems calls for. These are innovations at various stages in the research process which help us to improve our imapct by making efforts to complete the chain of effective knowledge generation, dissemination, adaptation and utilization.

Examples include–


*Use the Participatory Action Plan approach from IWMI WASPA LA

*Host an event in which stakeholders present their issues, knowledge, experiences and ideas–see ICARDA’ s Farmers’ Conference

*Try one of the methodologies from CIFOR’s collection of priority assessment methods–and learn from the experiences shared by the authors from various CGIAR Centres and partners

To COLLABORATE with stakeholders:

*Try using a Learning Alliance approach to bring stakeholders together to discuss issues, ideas, solutions and actions as done in the IWMI WASPA Pilot project

To LEARN together with stakeholders:

*Try some alternative, participatory monitoring evaluation and imapct assessment approaches which involve stakeholders in the process and focus on additional aspects of behavioral change, network relationships and stakeholder needs and perspectives, such as Outcome Mapping and Most Significant Change–like the WorldFish Pilot is trying–and perhaps develop an approach which fits your own project context and needs.

*Develop and use a process monitoring method to monitor and evaluate the process your project is using together with stakeholders to understand their perspective and the impact of the approach–see IWMI WASPA LA

To get research-generated knowledge out to target groups in more, appropriate ways, like:

*Using radio programs in local languages including presentation of information and a panel of experts for people to call-in to ask questions to-as being tried by IWMI Wastewater project

*Developing information packets of knowledge and technologies from various research projects and storing them in a database for access and use by extension agents and academics–like in the IRRI lead pilot project

*Developing awareness videos about key messages coming out of research projects to be shown at various events and opportunities. Videos can be tailored particularly to target groups. See those developed by IWMI Wastewater pilot project

..and more options and examples!

Perhaps we can still achieve the same objectives and reach the same end goal called for in the Innovation Systems movement but by integrating some (small) approaches which are manageable into our research process to make step-wise changes and improvements rather than having to make big leaps which cannot be easily supported.

This in itself can be an innovation for our own research for development processes.

For information on (agricultural) innovation systems:

-see presentation

-read paper: ‘Enhancing agricultural innovation systems” by WorldBank

-read ‘Challenges to strengthening agricultural innovation systems: Where do we go from here’ paper by Andy Hall, 2007

Natasja Sheriff, Project Leader of the WorldFish KSinR Pilot Project, together with Tonya Schuetz (IWMI)-who helped facilitate the WorldFish Pilot’s training workshop, wrote and submitted a paper for the workshop ‘Rethinking impact: Understanding the Complexity of Poverty and Change‘ which was convened in Cali, Colombia 26-29 March 2008.

The paper, entitled “Monitoring for change, assessing for impact: the WorldFish center experience” can be viewed from the following link- paper. This paper was based on the experience gained from the initial introduction to and use by the Project of Outcome Mapping and Most Significnat Change-the workshop which was described in a previous bog post.

According to the paper “like many CG centers, a traditional emphasis on the development and dissemination of new technolgies has shaped impact assessment within the WorldFish center” and ” assessing the impact of projects undertaken…has largely been quantitative in nature, applying economic models to assess productivity, welfare and technological efficiency for example”.

This paper contends that “in comparison to ex post impact assessment activities, less attention has been given to monitoring and evaluation, and to the process of learning and adaptation, during project implementation”.

This paper outlines the new trend of research towards a broader approach to addressing poverty alleviation and the move towards development and application of methods which increase the impact of agricultural research on poverty and which facilitate learning and change.

The paper posits that “there is a lack of appropriate, effective tools for participatory monitoring and evaluation for application in a natural resource management context” and “simultaneously there has been a trend towards increased partner collaboration and impact-oriented research which requires a more responsive and adaptive approach to impact assessment and M&E than has been previously applied”.

This was the driver behind the proposal of the CP35 project at the WorldFish Centre to the Knowledge Sharing in Research call for proposals, to pilot new M&E methods to compliment existing quantitative M&E tools, and to support a more open and responsive approach to change occurring in communities involved in the project. This paper outlines the initial experiences of the project in piloting new approaches to M&E and impact assessment mainly in the form of Outcome Mapping and Most Significant Change methods.

The paper provides a rationale for the choice of particular approaches, examining what potential fit and benefit they would have with the research project into which they would be integrated.

Next a clear description of the activities undertaken to introduce and initiate such methods was provided.

The real ‘meat’ of the paper comes in the strong review and analysis of the piloting of these kind of methods which is presented in the form of annotated lists of ‘benefits’ and ‘issues hindering effectiveness’ of each of the methods being employed. While there were some initial positive signs of benefits that would/could be derived from using such methods, the challenges, issues and concerns raised were more of a highlight.

Some benefits include:

  • Creating a longer term vision for sustainability and impact
  • Identifying unanticipated problems and constraints to project success
  • Revealing outcome and impact priorities held by project participants and stakeholders
  • Creating a sense of ownership and responsibility for project success
  • Clarifying roles and responsibilities
  • Articulating where change is needed and monitoring progress towards required change

Some disadvantages identifed were:

  • The potential for unequal power relationships amongst stakeholders (and even team) to influence the process/method
  • Relative complexity of the approach
  • Difficulty in communicating terminologies and processes in various languages
  • Substantial time investment of project team and stakeholders to work through OM
  • Potential for misinterpretation and inappropriate application of the concept of ‘behavioural change’

Although some negative consequences were described, these were proposed to be valuable learning experiences from which specific attention could be paid to relevant modifications and adaptations which could be made for future use in the project-in its other country sites.

The authors concluded, therefore that “there is a need to carefully evaluate alternative methodologies available to research scientists and to put forward appropriate tools for impact assessment and M&E that can be readily taken up and applied in R4D, particularly in the natural resource management context”.

The 15 Centers supported by the CGIAR and their many national partners are together creating a wealth of knowledge that can help rural communities in developing countries build sustainable livelihoods. Yet, formidable obstacles to uptake and use of generated knowledge as well as impact of CGIAR agricultural research remain. One of the missing elements which has reduced the effectiveness of our research and development (R&D) efforts, is appropriate and effective knowledge sharing, both within Centers and between them and their partners.

There is a longstanding tradition that separates researchers from those that take up their results. The traditional linear, transfer of technology approach has worked at different times for different purpose but does not offer the best solution for agricultural research to contribute to development outcomes. While this approach may have had some success in the past, the ever-changing nature of agricultural products, research development, actors and needs, this approach is no longer appropriate for all the whole of the agricultural research and development arena.

The CGIAR Centers and their partners need to shift to a more demand-driven, interactive approach, in which such methods are developed collaboratively through a shared process of learning and innovation. A key requirement for achieving this shift is that knowledge sharing should no longer be a mere afterthought in research. Instead, it must become an integral part of the whole research process, involving all stakeholders.

More than 30 years after participatory research approaches emerged, we still face formidable obstacles to take up, use, and ultimately achieve impact from the results of CGIAR agricultural research. One missing element is the appropriate and effective sharing of knowledge, whether within our institutions, between Centers, or with our partners. At the same time, new and effective approaches and tools have been developed and proven to strengthen collaboration. Recent possibilities of Participatory Web open new doors to more inclusive and transparent collaboration for excellence.

The Institutional Learning and Change Initiative of the CGIAR (ILAC) starts a new five-year phase, with support from DGIS. “This new phase of the ILAC Initiative will strive to enhance impacts through partnerships for innovation and to support pro-poor groups that are already employing innovative approaches but may lack adequate visibility, resources and credibility.” Among other important activities ILAC is also organizing with the PRGA Program, ILRI’s Innovation Works and the Sustainability Science Program, and the Center for International Development at Harvard University a workshop on “Rethinking Impact: Capturing the Complexity of Poverty and Change”. The workshop will be held at CIAT headquarters in Cali, Colombia from March 26-28, 2008. Prospective participants are requested to submit abstracts by November 9, 2007. Background information and a call for papers are at: