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3.1 Setting the Stage

Prior to addressing the specific topic of integrating sustainable food security in the NARS research agenda, it must be understood that in many developing countries the NARS face daunting challenges and constraints to their research capacity, where the problems and impacts of food insecurity are also greater. A dearth of financial resources and infrastructure undermines the ability of scientists to take advantage of technological advances while encouraging competition rather than collaboration among institutions. These realities consequently expose research agendas to outside priorities and vested interests.

In addition to the challenges that specifically face the NARS, there are broader political and institutional challenges facing many countries in terms of cooperation, shared priorities and the political will and means to address sustainable food security. Developing formats to promote shared understanding of the issues, facilitate mutually agreed upon goals and priorities and foster motivation to pursue those priorities are also challenges that both the NARS and the countries in which they work face. These are necessary prerequisites to address food security concerns effectively. However, removing these constraints may entail decisions and actions beyond the power of the NARS, such as a consistent policy environment, committed and coordinated donor interventions and the political will and support at national and international levels.

Nonetheless, there are also actions and steps that can be taken within the scope and means of the NARS that can go a long way in laying the foundation for an effective research strategy. The guidelines, representing a synthesis of the contributions made by international participants engaged in these issues and aware of NARS realities, recommended a two-pronged approach that simultaneously aims at:

  1. enhancing resource management and operational effectiveness within the NARS; and
  2. expanding their scope and drawing additional resources by collaborating with other institutions and stakeholders.

Improved cost-effectiveness, accountability and impacts of food security research will eventually contribute to stimulating public support and political commitment to ensure that the NARS have the capacity and resources to carry out their mandate.

3.1.1 Improved Institutional Capacity and Operational Environment

While it is recognized that ensuring food security calls for the intervention of and interaction among a wide range of stakeholders, the NARS will need to continue playing a key leadership role in facilitating collaboration between disciplines, institutions and sectors as well as coordination of research efforts. Their ability to fulfil this role is contingent upon certain levels of infrastructure and financial resources, human resource capacity and the existence of an enabling institutional environment.

The first step needs to be an assessment within the NARS of existing and needed resources, databases and information networks, followed by elaboration of strategies to address constraints in a realistic and sustainable manner. Human resources may also need to be developed and directed towards a food security agenda. In particular, efforts should be directed to improve the technical capacity and professional commitment of researchers and to recruit new staff inclined and accustomed to work from a holistic perspective. The benefit of additional resources and training will be marginal unless the operational processes and management approaches favour flexibility, accountability, collaboration and responsiveness to food security priorities.

Developing a strategy and setting in motion a process to ensure an adequate resource and informa-tion base and an enabling institutional environment are essential first steps in setting the stage for the integration of food security concerns in the research agenda. Actions to be taken to ensure a stable institutional foundation may include:

Assessing resource capacity, information base, communication networks and past approaches

Enhancing technical professional capacity

Reforming the structural environment and managerial processes

3.1.2 Establishment of Institutional Partnerships and Collaborative Processes

Key stakeholder participation is essential to ensure relevance and feasibility. Therefore, an important part of setting the stage is the identification and mobilization of appropriate partnerships. All those who can contribute to or are affected by food security issues should be involved at some stage in the process. However, to be effective and efficient, collaboration must be strategic, meaning that stakeholders may be involved in different stages of the process as appropriate. The specificity of the situation (i.e. whether food security hinges on domestic production, food imports, or income from export crops) will determine which partnerships are most relevant at any given time.

The research agenda needs to be relevant to the national context and responsive to local realities. Local community involvement is a critical element, not only as sources of data but also as decision-makers. However, this requires that researchers gain not only a theoretical appreciation for the value of participation, but also actual experience with participatory research approaches. These include a variety of tools that may be adapted to different situations, such as farmer-to-farmer extension (which hinges on the producers' ability to communicate knowledge to fellow producers), farmer field schools (with producers directly involved in technology development and adaptation) and participatory technology development (interaction between producers and facilitators to develop relevant and feasible innovations).

Ensuring the participation and commitment by all stakeholders is the necessary foundation for an effective collaborative research effort. The following steps may be required to engage key sectors and partners.

Integrate interdisciplinary and international cooperation

Interdisciplinary multi-sectoral partnerships as keys to improve household food security
(Johnson-Welch et al. 2000)

The Broadening Access and Strengthening Input Market Systems (BASIS) programme conducted case study research to identify integrated approaches that apply to food security and link it to agricultural productivity, economic access and nutritional well-being. BASIS identified some core operating principles that make collaborative efforts work. A careful analysis of a self help development international project in Malawi yielded the following results regarding successful interdisciplinary, multisectoral partnerships:

  • Partnerships were initiated at the earliest possible stages of project development.
  • Institutions were invited into the process based on their comparative advantages in terms of technical expertise, skills and relationships to the community.
  • Immediate, short-term community needs were addressed, which helped establish credibility for a process that aimed to build the problem-solving capacity of all stakeholders as a means for supporting long-term sustainable change.
  • Institutional commitments were made to use a time-intensive process in the initial phases and to gain long-term benefits in terms of ownership and overcoming entrenched practices, beliefs and attitudes.
  • The donor was willing to provide funds to process-focussed projects. This created the flexibility to allow community and NGO members to identify problems and solutions rather than implement pre-designed projects that lacked community input. Based on international health projects, the study showed that the components of successful partnerships share the following characteristics:
  • There is open and transparent communication between and among institutions.
  • Institutions reach a common understanding to cooperate and agree on the terms and conditions of the partnership.
  • Institutions coordinate their resources and find ways to strengthen their individual roles.
  • Collaboration leads to new activities, programmes or policies.

Strengthen community-based organizations and agricultural extension

Link with civil society, urban populations and private sectors

Seek public sector involvement and political support

3.2 Setting Priorities for Research

The task of prioritizing research topics requires careful consideration of many issues. The E-conference participants identified several questions to consider in the priority setting process, including the following:

The preceding questions must be actively considered with all affected parties. The broad range of issues relevant to food security point to the need for close collaboration of the NARS with other governmental and non-governmental agencies. In particular, the emergence of groups that advocate for the interests of lower-income, less privileged, or marginalized groups (such as small-hold farmers, farm workers, urban unemployed, ethnic minorities and women) presents an opportunity to establish a better fit between proposed programmes for research and technology application at field level. Representatives of disenfranchised groups need to participate in the identification of research priorities and in the assessment of research efforts.

3.2.1 Groundwork for Priority Setting

Priority setting is one of the most crucial decisions faced in the research process. Who is involved and how is it done, are as significant as the specific research issues that are investigated. The research agenda should first and foremost build on producers' and consumers' needs. It must be recognized, however, that producers and consumers, as well as all other stakeholders, are highly diversified groups that have different interests and resources at their disposal. To further complicate the picture, most rural households in developing countries are no longer able to meet all their needs by farming alone and include among their members a varied combination of producers, processors, traders and consumers of food with different relationships to supply, quality and prices. Therefore, it is necessary that the decision-making process be flexible and inclusive enough to allow for these diverse, even contradictory, interests to be articulated and considered.

National objectives

In addition to the multiplicity of stakeholders' interests, prioritizing areas of concern should also consider the context of competing national agenda issues in which the NARS operate. This points to the need for all relevant parties (including national bodies, such as assemblies, ministries, etc.) to arrive at a concerted agreement regarding the NARS' role vis-à-vis these objective-setting institutions and processes and to identify a potential mechanism to establish research priorities in relation to national objectives. It is also imperative to ensure that this process does not marginalize politically disenfranchised groups that may not have adequate representation in the political process at national level.

NARS and IARCs collaboration
(Weijenberg 1995)

In 1980, nearly all the potatoes in Rwanda were of European origin. They were also highly susceptible to late blight, a potato disease that caused the Irish potato famine in the nineteenth century. Beans growing in Rwanda were characterized by a similar propensity to disease in that 95 percent of the beans originated primarily from the same range of germplasm introduced to Africa more than 200 years ago. These bush-style beans are also low-yielding.

To address this problem, the NARS of Eastern and Central Africa in collaboration with two IARCs (CIAT and CIP) worked together with local farmers to achieve impact in the areas of productivity and national research effectiveness. The IARCs provided germplasm from the crops' Latin American centres of origin. The NARS worked with local farmers to set priorities and evaluate materials. This collaborative partnership also improved systems for multiplication and dissemination of varieties.

In all respects, this project was a success. Productivity has increased, farmer adoption rates are high and profitability for both beans and potatoes have been excellent. As a result of the NARS and IARCs working together, Rwanda released fourteen potato and nine bean varieties with high yield potential and disease resistance. On-farm trial data conservatively estimate a 40 percent increase in production nationwide. Likewise, data for a climbing bean variety indicate a doubling in productivity. Dissemination of the new varieties has been effective. The potatoes introduced from Latin America have completely replaced the European variety. Adoption rates for the climbing beans range from 40 to 50 percent with the highest rates among the poor including female-headed households.

Social vulnerabilities

Priority setting should be informed by an empirically based understanding of whom, where and why people are lacking adequate food. Entities and agents that monitor food security and nutritional status at the local level (e.g. famine early warning systems, nutrition monitoring programmes and market information systems) can advise on priority areas and issues. Those who work with the food insecure should help identify households and individuals that are most at risk, as well as coping mechanisms that should be mobilized and strengthened to prepare for the inevitable eventualities of food insufficiency. The research agenda should encompass spatial, temporal and social vulnerabilities.

Intersectoral linkages

There is a need to understand thoroughly the linkages between sectors and to seek solutions to the causes of the interrelated issues of population growth, environmental degradation and livelihood insecurity. A sectoral approach that merely focuses on aggregate increases in productivity or income will fail to adequately address these linkages. In particular, improvements in productivity should avoid overproduction (which lowers prices to producers) and the heavy use of imported inputs (which increases production costs). New technology and techniques need to be economically feasible, environmentally friendly, socially acceptable and safe to use. Particular emphasis should be devoted to seeking sustainable solutions for resource-poor producers and caretakers of marginal lands.

Lessons and projections

While these guidelines are intended to stimulate innovative and integrated approaches to food security, research decisions should build upon lessons of past approaches and experiences from other countries or regions. For instance, the following are among the key aspects of an informed assessment of potential impacts of new technology:

Farmer research committees for effective plant breeding
(Toomey and Saad 1999)

A boom in farmer-led participatory plant breeding (PPB) has occurred throughout Latin America due in large part to the benefits for poor producers, enhanced research efficiency and the efforts of CIALs or local agriculture research committees. CIALs are local volunteer research services owned and managed by the rural communities in which they are located. CIALs, in contrast to traditional food security research paradigms, link local farmers with formal researchers, provide communities with better access to external research resources and enable farmers to innovate.

CIALs typically consist of four farmers selected by the local community for a variety of skills, including their interest and aptitude in experimentation, leadership, communication, organizational capacity and honesty. CIALs draw on the formal research expertise of government organizations, universities and NGOs.

Although CIALs initially began with a push from outside organizations such as CIAT, they have quickly become farmer-led organizations and have spread across Latin America. More than 250 CIALs now operate in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Farmer-researcher CIAL teams managed tests of 1 000 varieties of beans, maize, peas, groundnuts fruits and vegetables in the first four years of CIAL development. The establishment of CIAL-led small seed enterprises has been a secondary benefit to this research. More than 10 000 farmers have bought seeds from CIALs to date. Seed sales from these enterprises during one growing season were estimated to have reached a gross income of over US$2.5 million. In addition to this financial benefit, estimates indicate that CIAL-managed experiments are more cost effective than trials run by government extension agents.

To summarize, participatory farmer-researcher experimentation as manifested by CIALs provides numerous benefits to both community members and to food security research. They give communities enhanced access to external research resources and enable farmers to innovate through experimentation. In communities with CIALs, farmers have not only learned from each other about promising new crop varieties but they also "learn how to learn" from each other.

3.2.2 Priority Areas for Research

A broad spectrum of potential research concerns was identified during the E-conference and in contemporary literature. These areas and activities only offer examples that participants from various countries proposed and point to directions for the most urgently needed research. They do not exhaust the realm of possibilities or present a comprehensive picture of research needs. The specific conditions and contexts of different agricultural ecosystems and the capacities of the NARS in each country will shape research priorities.

Priority areas most closely related to agricultural research institutions

The following areas relate to applied and basic research, which has been the traditional mandate of agricultural research institutions. The points below emphasize issues that were identified as directly related to food security. Particular attention should be focussed on:

Another dimension of growing importance is the assessment of the potential of urban agriculture and peri-urban animal production systems, given the expansion of urbanization caused by rural-to-urban migration and the growth of complex mosaics of towns nestled in high-density rural areas. Topics would cover community gardens, greenhouses, small-scale irrigation, highly intensive and high yielding forms of precision agriculture and rooftop horticulture, as well as the appropriate measurement and monitoring for environ-mental, food safety and hygiene standards.

Agricultural implements used by women farmers in Africa
(IFAD 1998)

In Africa, a major constraint to increased food production centres on women's access to improved and appropriate agricultural tools and implements, especially those that make weeding an easier task. Women currently carry out 70 percent of all food production work, primarily using hand tools. They have limited access to the training, credit and implements that would reduce time and physical effort.

As a first step, the focus group discussion technique was used to explore ways to improve agricultural production tools for women farmers and to identify research topics that could be addressed by the NARS. The study explored the possibility of improving tools, determined what limited women's access to currently available tools and identified new farm production techniques that require locally available tools and implements. More than 1 500 women and men farmers in Burkina Faso, Senegal, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe took part in the study, which was financed by the Government of Japan and was conducted by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and FAO.

While there are no simple or quick solutions to improving agricultural production tools for women, the study found that given time and appropriate actions by governments and others the situation can improve. The study identified constraints to change and some actions to overcome those constraints such as:

  1. Governments, NGOs and other organizations need to intensify efforts toward addressing the limited access that women have to economic resources such as land and credit to enable women to purchase improved tools.
  2. Weeding was considered to be a major constraint to production. However, making changes in weeding practices offers the greatest opportunity for improvement.
  3. Women need different tools than men since many implements are too heavy for them to use. Consultations between blacksmiths or other tool manufacturers with women clients may lead to production tools that address gender differences, such as bicycle manufacture does.
  4. Women do not have access to needed training, especially in animal traction. Since men traditionally have been involved in animal traction, government and other institutional training is still aimed at men despite the fact that women need the training.
  5. There is a great need for research in women's production technology. Especially needed are ergonomic studies to determine the most energy efficient tools for women; studies that address importation and testing of tools, including cases where the tools are found unacceptable; and studies that seek solutions to the weeding problem such as the introduction of row planting and the use of donkeys.

Gender and research planning
(Satio and Spurling 1989)

When women farmers were included in bean variety trials, unexpected results demonstrated the importance of involving women in food security research. Project scientists with the Farmer Participation in Technology Assessment Project in Colombia, organized by the International Centre for Tropic Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC) asked farmers to rank their bean preferences prior to planning trials. Women farmers selected an unattractive small grain bean for inclusion in the variety trials. The women recognized the bean as a high-yielding, flavourful variety that had disappeared from their area. This particular variety swelled upon cooking and proved to be quite profitable. Either unmarried or recently married male farmers living with extended family chose a large-grained bean variety. The preponderance of farmers who preferred the small-grain variety were heads of households with children. Had women farmers not been involved in planning at an early stage, the criteria for variety and evaluation that they preferred would have been omitted.

Priority areas at the household level

A cluster of issues relate to food security and sustainable livelihoods at the household-level. This is due to the fact that ultimately it is at the household level that most decisions and actions concerning the procurement, management, distribution and consumption of food are made. Key social variables marking inter-household and intra-household differentiation, such as age, gender, kinship, ethnicity, wealth and residence should be given particular attention.

These questions may already be the focus of institutions or departments specializing in demographic statistics, human nutrition, agricultural economy, rural sociology, or applied anthropology. As far as possible, their activities should be coordinated and their findings incorporated with food security efforts by NARS and other national bodies.

Information investments improve research resource use
(Mills and Mbabu 1998)

In a publication by the International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR) that documented a participatory process for agricultural research priority-setting, a description of the groups that should be involved in a programme-level priority-setting was included and two exercises to facilitate priority setting were identified (see below). These groups include:

  • a stakeholder group with 30-40 representatives from organizations interested in the research programme;
  • a priority-setting working group composed of research and extension personnel with a strong regional and disciplinary mix;
  • a facilitator with previous experience conducting priority-setting exercises; and
  • a socio-economist to analyse data.

Exercise 1.1: Simple steps; discuss the following questions in small groups:

  1. What are the current procedures for programme planning, priority setting and resource allocation in your organization? How can linkages between priority-setting and these other sets of activities be improved?
  2. Have priority-setting exercises in your organization resulted in a firm set of guidelines for resource allocation decisions? Provide an example of priority-setting guidelines that would significantly influence resource allocations.
  3. How can "secondary" benefits of priority-setting exercises, such as learning, consensus building and increased credibility, be used to influence resource allocation decisions?

Exercise 1.2: Designing a priority-setting process: form a small working group and discuss the following issues:

  1. At what levels do planning and resource allocation occur in your organization?
  2. Who is involved in making planning and resource allocation decisions at each level? Do the people involved also differ by programme type?
  3. Review the function of each type of participant in priority setting. Do they provide information, do they decide priorities, or do they allocate resources?

The priority areas for research regarding food security at household level include:

Priority areas relating to longer-term and macro-level issues

A number of major priority areas identified fall into the domain of national policy, political decision-making, economic trends, social organization and environ-mental change. Some of these issues are already the object of attention at the level of national treasuries, economic advisory boards, regional development banks, international conventions and agreements, etc.

Research areas of concern regarding food security at broader levels include:

Additional priority areas in technology development

There are several areas that have been identified as deserving research attention in developing technology and measurement, including:

In these areas NARS would mobilize collaboration among relevant partners, drawing on the expertise of services and agencies working in specific fields. For example, an agro-forestry service conducting tree-farming work could work with national forestry and extension services, as well as with regional bodies and the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) in the CGIAR. Likewise, nutrition research and health services could collaborate with NARS in exploring topics such as food grading and micronutrient fortification.

3.3 Research Approach and Implementation

3.3.1 Understanding the Big Picture

To address food security issues from a sustainable development perspective necessitates understanding relationships between technical, environmental, economic and social dimensions related to food production, availability, quality and access. Rather than purely technical solutions, applied research must seek to understand the complexities and dilemmas faced by producers and others along the production chain in order to propose relevant and realistically feasible ways of advancing food security concerns. This may entail an expansion of the analytical focus, scope and scale and the integration of different bodies of knowledge.

3.3.2 Gathering the Tools

Given the diversity of causes and contexts of food insecurity, no single strategy or tool can apply to all situations. Rather, researchers should avoid methodological blueprints and seek to customize approaches and methods to the needs and priorities of target groups. What may be required in many cases, especially in developing countries where data collection over large sample areas may be difficult and expensive, is that researchers forego the `illusion of precision' of conventional research techniques. Likewise, time-bound rigidly-structured experiments or project cycles should give way to a more flexible timeframe that can promote continuity and sustainability of research activities and relationships.

Participatory research approaches can yield a considerable amount of valuable information at relatively low costs and in a comparatively short time. They provide a paradigm for sustained interaction with producers, ensuring that the research agenda is consistent with local values and needs, incorporates local knowledge and experience and reflects local resources and skills. They also promote commitment among partners and sustainability of proposed innovations.

The participatory process needs to be informed by recognition that communities are not homogeneous entities whose members have the same interests and priorities. Rather, they are intersected by several cross-cutting boundaries marking differential power and privilege (i.e. among men and women, wealthy and poor households, dominant and subordinate groups, etc.). Customary forms of public discourse or behaviour (such as village meetings) may favour the articulation and advancement of the most powerful group's agenda. Various forms of communication need to be tested and eventually adopted to ensure the meaningful participation of marginalized groups, such as resource limited producers, farm workers, ethnic minorities, urban poor, women, youth, etc.

Among the tools discussed in the E-conference that have proven effective in addressing food security are the following:

Client responsive research in Mali
(Silva-Barbeau et al. 2001)

An interdisciplinary, intersectoral team of agronomists, an agricultural economist, a horticulturalist, sociologists, animals scientists, soil scientists, nutritionists, gender specialists and food scientists from various national research institutions in Mali1 and from Virginia Tech came together to analyse results from a diagnostic survey conducted among women in central Mali.

Research was prioritized and based on the concerns that women articulated during the study rather than on the researchers' scientific understanding of the issues. In particular, women were most concerned about how to improve the nutrition of their children. The following questions emerged as priorities and guided responsive research:

1. How can the project help us feed our babies better now?

A weaning food based on a local blend of millet and cowpea was developed, tested and proved to be effective in promoting weight gain among children (Silva-Barbeau et al. 1998).

2. How can the project help us to continue to feed our children in the future so that they will not get sick but grow to be strong and happy?

Scientists used a proven indicator, the diversity of the complementary weaning food as a way to identify children at risk of developing malnutrition. The diversity of the complementary weaning food can indicate linkages between children at risk for malnutrition, times of the year that the children are most vulnerable and other factors associated with such risk (e.g. ecology, rainfall patterns, cropping systems, market integration, household demographics and economics). Attention to these issues can help design support policies and technological solutions that are effective in addressing risks and are compatible with nutritional needs of children in the region. For instance, the findings suggest that integration into the market economy and off-season vegetable cropping may result in greater diversity of weaning food, especially when it is accompanied by nutrition education.

Institutional partners can bring their specific experiences and expertise to identify needs, develop technologies and test effective solutions to achieve a commonly defined goal. Professional and interpersonal relationships and commitment to teamwork by individual scientists is the key to success. The project was developed in response to the DRSPR's desire to identify strategies to meet the needs of rural women. The Cellule highlighted the importance of weaning foods and developed weaning flour that could be introduced to improve nutrition. Virginia Tech provided nutrition and gender analysis expertise, assisted with study design, developed the research instrument and analysed the data. The DRSPR deployed researchers in the field to test the innovation. This partnership was effective because it directly addressed clients' articulated needs and concerns and because each institution was convinced that collaboration was mutually beneficial.

1 Institut d'Economie Rurale, the Cellule de Technologie Céréaliere of the Malian Nutrition Service, the Division de Recherche sur les Systèmes de Production Rurale [DRSPR, now called Programme Systèmes de Production- Gestion des Ressources Naturelles of IER]

A plethora of handbooks, manuals and toolkits on various aspects of participatory research exist. Among them, Mikkelsen (1995) is a useful handbook of participatory approaches to research, development, evaluation and training, etc. Okali et al. (1994) provide a thorough review of various farmer participatory approaches, illustrated by case studies. UNDP (2000) published a guidebook that provides resources for promoting participation. The World Bank compiled a book on participation, The World Bank Participation Sourcebook (1996). The sourcebook includes not only examples of participatory development approaches as applied in the field, but also a helpful summary of participatory methods with brief descriptions of how these tools work. In addition, FAO's Peoples Participation Programme has produced Participation in Practice: Lessons from the FAO People's Participation Programme (1997b), which captures the programme's experiences and participatory tools. A recent work by the International Institute for Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) provides a resource on participatory tools while focussing on planning (Selener et al. 1999). Pretty et al. (1995) developed a trainers' guide on participatory methodologies, principles of participatory learning and action and exercises. Participatory research and development field provides a burgeoning number of methods and tools, of which just a few are represented here from a rich array of materials.

Sustainable livelihood research key to food security
(DFID 1998)

The British international aid agency, the Department for International Development (DFID), employs a Sustainable Rural Livelihoods (SRL) approach in its development work. DFID's working definition of sustainable rural livelihoods is based on the definition by Robert Chambers and Gordon Conway. SRL is defined as follows: "A livelihood comprises the capabilities, assets (including both material and social resources) and activities required for a means of living. A livelihood is sustainable when it can cope with and recover from stresses and shocks and maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets both now and in the future, while not undermining the natural resource base." (DFID 1998)

DFID's field experience has informed its research and development approach in terms of the critical role integrated SRL research may play in order to understand the realities of a given site as well as the complexities of food security in that area.

Contrary to the original aspirations for enhanced food production and concomitant food security from a controlled high yield variety rice production scheme in Bangladesh, local food security actually diminished and rural poverty increased. The controlled flooding of the floodplain in question, which encompassed both aquatic and terrestrial means of production, resulted in a decline in environmental quality and biodiversity loss. In addition, fish production from open access fisheries also diminished. In contrast to a narrow focus only on rice production without examining the broader context within which it exists, DFID has undertaken research that focused on an analysis of social, human and natural capital in a major Bangladeshi floodplain. The researchers are modelling the complex interactions of physical, social and economic systems within a large rural population whose livelihoods are heavily dependent on the natural capital of the floodplain. DFID's research, which is gaining an enhanced understanding of the interrelationships between natural, human and social capital, will enable development planners to support conditions for greater rural livelihood security.

3.3.3 Avoiding Collaboration Pitfalls

Having identified and mobilized the relevant stakeholders during the `setting the stage' phase, it is important to foster a collaborative process that optimizes the benefits of stakeholder involvement and minimizes the possibility of misunderstandings among participants, manipulation by powerful interests, or marginalization of the less privileged. The following are a few basic principles that may help avoid common pitfalls in collaboration:

Holistic resource management in West Africa
(Bertelsen 2000)

The SANREM West Africa1 project is using the Holistic Management Model to define its research programme in Mali, a programme that aims to improve natural resource and conflict management practices in agro-pastoral systems. Long-term trends in population growth, a deteriorating natural resource base and a harsh and erratic climate have exacerbated the cycle of poverty for the vast majority of the farmer and pastoralist populations of West Africa. Clearly a local consensus building model is required to arrest a potentially explosive trend in growing competition over scarce resources.

The Holistic Management Model (Savory 1988) is particularly adapted to understanding and managing livestock and agricultural interactions (including potential conflicts) in an arid and semiarid landscape ecology framework. Unlike conventional natural resource management that focuses on constraints and leads to highly specific prescriptive action plans and technology solutions, the Holistic Management Model stresses strategic applications of past experience along with community values and visions towards a consensus goal. The model emphasizes the importance of four key ecosystem processes (water cycles, nutrient cycles, community dynamics, energy flow) to achieve sustainable natural resource management. By taking these into account, the community collectively defines a holistic goal composed of three parts: a) the future quality of life desired; b) the production necessary to achieve and maintain this quality of life; and c) the future landscape state that is necessary to achieve and maintain these production levels. The model also includes decision testing criteria for participatory planning to ensure that decisions taken move the community towards their defined holistic goal.

SANREM has been using the Model to build broad-based consensus about the consequences of past activities and to identify the potential for community actions. By integrating researchers into this process, SANREM expects to build a scientifically rigorous research programme that is also understandable and relevant to local populations.

The project's focus is on the newly decentralized decision-making unit or commune. Communes, which have recently been empowered to manage natural resources at local level, are comprised of several villages and are similar to the lowest administrative units recently created or empowered in most other countries of the subregion. To support decision-making at the commune level, SANREM catalysed the formation of a Natural Resource Management Advisory Committee (NRMAC) that is composed of village representatives, women's groups, pastoral organizations and resource user groups. This body is the consultative and participatory bridge between the project and the populations of the commune. NRMAC members have been trained in Holistic Management.

The model itself is simple (but not simplistic) and understandable to farmers, livestock producers and other local-level decision-makers. It provides a framework for collectively envisioning a sustainable resource management as well as a flexible road-map for diagnosing causes, prescribing remedies and monitoring results. Yet, the model is also robust enough to engage researchers in collaborative diagnostics, hypothesis formulation and testing. Hence, it can serve as a bridge between local stakeholders and researchers in planning, implementation and evaluation of research activities.

1 The SANREM West Africa project is a partnership of diverse institutions including Virginia Tech, the University of Georgia, Washington State University, the Institut d'Economie Rurale, Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE)-Mali and trainers associated with the Centre for Holistic Management.

3.4 Assessing Research Activities

As funds available for investments in research decline, prioritization and evaluation of research efforts are becoming subjects of growing interest. Given this situation, it is important to clearly articulate the process of decision-making concerning research objectives as well as of demonstrating the impacts of research activities. Research impact assessments need to be based not only on rates of adoption but also cost-effectiveness and sustainability.

Ex ante and ex post evaluation can be done for a variety of purposes including project feasibility, management improvements, documenting impacts, assessing sustainability and comparing costs and benefits. It is essential that the approach undertaken and the parties involved are appropriate for the evaluation objectives. Usually a combination of approaches, including conventional and participatory monitoring and evaluation methods that assess process and product, are advisable. For instance, evaluations can be carried out by:

Agricultural researchers learn about participation in Peru
(Holland and Silva 2000)

In this interesting case, participatory development involved NARS researchers rather than farmers and aimed at developing tools for participatory research rather than agricultural technologies. The initiative grew out of a project called the Participatory Development in the Amazon (DEPAM), which was funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), received technical support from the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and involved researchers and extension agents from about one dozen local agricultural research and extension institutions. After a year and a half of operations, lack of time, resources and autonomy were identified as key constraints to implementation of participatory approaches by researchers. Consequently, an action-research response was developed to address the problem, which pointed to the need for a capacity building process whereby researchers could develop participatory and facilitation skills, learn from field experience and available literature and support one another in their efforts to mediate between farmers and their own institutions.

A total of 12 researchers from eight local research and extension institutions participated in these learning groups. The central purpose of these groups is to critically reflect on participatory practice, but eventually participants jointly designed and conducted a participatory technology development project with farmers. Their structure was purposely informal, with no reporting obligations, fixed meetings, organizational leadership or external facilitation. Participants set objectives and a timeframe, decide on organizational procedures and learning activities, have control over the resources and are accountable only to one another. Participation is the responsibility of individual researchers, who must negotiate with their institutions for the ability to participate.

After a year, participating researchers are reporting that the learning is having a strong impact on their work within their institutions. However, the project has also run into the same challenges that face other participatory or community-based projects. For instance, in order to create a safe space for critical analysis and creative experimentation, project members have intentionally circumscribed their activities as a sphere of autonomy, distinct from their own institutional structures. This has resulted, however, in limiting the institutional impact of the project. The challenge that remains to be addressed is how to institutionalize the critical reflection, creativity and commitment that the experience is generating among individual participants so that participatory learning will be affirmed as a key dimension of research policy and practice.

3.4.1 Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation

Given its many proven advantages, participatory monitoring and evaluation (PM&E) is becoming standard practice in evaluating research and development efforts. The PM&E model was originally developed by NGOs as a way to capture lessons learned from field experience (Aaker and Shumaker 1997; Estrella 2000), but have now been broadly adopted by bilateral and multilateral donor agencies.

In a PM&E approach, stakeholders collectively develop and agree upon indicators of progress prior to engaging in the planned research or development activities. This process enables all partners to make explicit their expectations and agree on an evaluation framework that encompasses the different interests at stake. Obviously, partners will have different stakes and therefore identify different indicators (e.g. farmers may want to stress crop diversification while researchers may focus on interactions among crops).

PM&E provides a context for research partners to come together during the course of the research process and to reflect on and discuss what they see as working well and what they think needs improving. Involvement in the PM&E process also generates greater awareness and understanding of the causal relationships between various factors and promotes stakeholders' commitment and shared ownership in the research activity.

3.4.2 Evaluating Research-Generated Technologies

Sustainable food security research should aim at generating new technologies and information that responds to specific needs or problems identified by the stakeholders. Consequently, rates of adoption and impacts, rather than academic publications, should be considered the key criteria for evaluating progress and outcomes of research.

When planning research on technological innovations, an assessment needs to be conducted prior to project implementation to address the following questions relative to the technology in question:

Once a technology has been developed and disseminated, the following variables will provide the basis for an evaluation of the research: access by resource-limited women and men producers; rates of adoption; benefits from adoption; and long-term benefits on society and environment. An excellent handbook on on-farm technology validation is Ashby (1990).

3.4.3 Assessing Impacts of Research

There are multiple definitions for what qualifies as an impact in agricultural research related to food security. Ultimately, outcomes of research must prove to effectively address felt needs and significantly improve conditions for the designated beneficiaries.

Attainment of research objectives and progress toward food security may be evaluated on the basis of both quantitative and qualitative indicators. What type of indicator is appropriate depends on the specific context and research objective in question. For instance, quantitative measures are more objective but data may be difficult to gather, especially in developing countries. Qualitative indicators are less rigorous, but add interpretative meaning. Qualitative data may be easier and less expensive to collect.

An evaluation framework that has been successfully used by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) (Bennett and Rockwell 1995; Bennett et al. 2000) organizes impacts into various levels of progress toward a higher scale impact. The model is composed of a multitiered hierarchy of outcomes and impacts. One possible adaptation related to capacity building is demonstrated in a modified three-tiered approach (Neely et al. 1999) in which the first stage or degree of impact is categorized as a change in people's involvement in or awareness of sustainable food security or issues affecting food insecurity. As these changes in attitude or awareness crystallize, they form the foundation for the next level of impact, a change in people's knowledge, attitudes, skills or aspirations. As these two levels of change solidify, they in turn provide the base for the most significant impact level, a change in practice, technology, or policy that results in increased food security, an enhanced quality of life or improved natural resource conditions.

3.4.4 Assessing Investments in Research

Governments and donors are raising the standards of accountability and cost-effectiveness in the use of funds they allocate to research programmes. Accordingly researchers and research administrators have to make decisions and weigh priorities on the basis of potential returns to money and time invested in the research process.

There is a rich literature on cost-benefit assessment of agricultural research (including but not limited to Alston et al. 1995). Mywish et al. (2000) have synthesized the state-of-the-art in impact assessment of agricultural research for research managers and conclude, "Good practice is that once every five years, each applied research programme should undergo a comprehensive external review of technical quality and an analysis of its economic impacts."

The use of ex ante impact assessments to inform research investments before implementation is becoming more prevalent. Ex ante assessments based on predictive models are being used to determine the expected impact on development of implementing a technology, practice or policy prior to its application (Pachico 1994; IFPRI 1999; ILRI 1999; Texas A&M 1999).

3.5 Extension and Outreach

Research in food security is ultimately measured by its impact on stakeholder groups. Despite having well-developed skills in research per se, researchers may not always have the skills or experience in conducting extension work or in speaking or writing in layperson's terms. Nonetheless, to extend research outputs, it is necessary to:

As discussed in earlier sections, partners who work at community level and interact closely with producers can play a vital role in extension and outreach. The participation of development workers, extension agents and farmer-trainers in information dissemination and technology transfer are especially critical. Outreach approaches should also be creative in taking advantage of unique opportunities and unconventional avenues, such as drama groups or entertainment events.

Information technology: building on experience
(FAO 2000b)

FAO gained experience with the use of information technology to enhance food security through its work in Latin America with FarmNets, which are electronic farm information networks established in the early 1990s. Based on local knowledge and farmer association information needs, the networks became a source for information on crop management, weather, markets and credit facilities.

FAO provided the FarmNets project with 1) the electronic network designs, basic equipment (computers, servers, modems and printers), logistical support coordination and technical backstopping; and 2) training in how to use the electronic information technology. An important component of the training for local extension and farm organization personnel was how to analyse and disseminate locally relevant information. Information centres were established within farmer organizations or NGO offices. The centres in turn distributed messages to individual farmers and associations using the technology appropriate to the setting (e.g. printed materials, faxes or Internet).

The FarmNet was quick to show success by enabling farmers to plan and market more effectively. By using the market information provided via the network, a farmer association was able to sell cotton for US$10 more per quintal over the price offered by local buyers. Information on future prices for both cereals and oilseeds helped one association determine the quantities of crops they should plant. FarmNet's weather service provided vegetable producers with information about climatic conditions faced by competitors in other regions and countries so they could plan accordingly.

VERCON pilot project in Egypt
(FAO, 2000c)

An FAO-funded project is establishing a Virtual Extension and Research Communication Network (VERCON) in Egypt to improve linkages between research and extension in four pilot centres as the basis for creating a national electronic agricultural knowledge and information network. Using Internet-based information and communication technologies, the national agricultural research and extension systems are being strengthened through capacity building for improved information exchange of agricultural knowledge. As administrative, physical and communication barriers are being overcome, the interaction among researchers and extensionists is being enhanced and subsequently farmers are gaining from this enhanced communication. The VERCON project is aimed specifically at ensuring a continuous flow between research and extension to address the priorities and meet the needs of resource-poor farmers.

3.5.1 Translating Research Results into Meaningful Information

NARS should develop a policy to actively seek the dissemination of results of publicly funded research through all suitable channels. However, access to research results is meaningless unless they are easily understandable. The message must convey information or advice addressing needs identified by stakeholders in simple and clear terms and the language must be appropriate for the audience (results may need to be translated in languages spoken by minority as well as dominant groups).

Extension can play a key role in this process by following up the direct dissemination of research findings work by means of hands-on interactive demonstrations that ensure two-way communication and skills practice instead of a traditional unilateral transfer of advice.

At the same time, insofar as possible, NARS should take full advantage of the opportunities offered by new communication and information technologies. These technologies may be used to make research results available in an electronic format, to reach those who have means of access to the Internet, CD-ROM and others (see below).

Testing appropriate technology's role in diminishing
seasonal food insecurity in the Gambia

(Silva-Barbeau et al. 1999)

For collaborative efforts towards sustainable food security to be successful, identifying and involving the right partners based on common needs and specific strengths is critical. Problem-solving by interinstitutional partnerships of research, development and community institutions was demonstrated when diverse technical expertise and institutional experience was rallied around a concerted effort to make women's work more profitable and to test sustainable technologies that would positively impact households' nutrition and income. While user groups played the primary role in identifying the problem to be addressed and in assessing the feasibility and sustainability of proposed solutions, NGOs were instrumental in transferring and adapting technology and in training users.

In the 1980s, the Catholic Relief Service (CRS) introduced sesame production to women farmers in the Gambia to provide a much-needed source of calories in both women's and children's diets. Sesame became popular immediately because it was drought resistant and enabled farmers to spread labour demands. Sesame is primarily grown by women on both communal and individual plots. Women process the oil for home consumption or sale at local markets and profits are partly reinvested in group activities and partly distributed to women growers.

Simultaneously, CRS also introduced diesel-powered oil expellers (or presses) that were to be managed by the Sesame Growers' Associations. However, eventually many expellers were out of operation because they were imported, spare parts were expensive and repairs beyond the skill of local mechanics.

CRS learned about a locally-manufactured manual ram press that had been developed by Appropriate Technology International (ATI) and was being used in Tanzania to extract sunflower seed oil. The manual press could be manufactured in the Gambia or in nearby Senegal and adjusted to press oil from sesame. Being small and inexpensive, each village could own and operate its own manual press. Women could be trained in operating and maintaining them as well as in record keeping.

To assess the impact of the manual press compared to that of expellers (motorized presses), research was conducted in 52 villages over an entire year, drawing on food intake recalls, anthropometric measurements and production data. Results indicated that oil consumption increased significantly among households using the manual press, either alone or in combination with expellers.

CRS and ATI wanted to document the project's impacts but lacked the needed scientific expertise. Virginia Polytechnical Institute and State University and Silva Associates were contacted and researchers from those organizations obtained grant funding for the impact study from the Thrasher Research Fund, USAID and a private foundation. When a political change impeded use of USAID monies, the Thrasher Research Fund provided additional support. The Gambia Agriculture Food and Nutrition Association (an NGO with links to CRS and to the Ministry of Agriculture) played a major role in implementing the study with technical assistance from the Virginia Tech/Silva Associates team. The unique character of the Gambian NGO, which benefited from highly trained staff with extensive research experience, made it possible to collect and analyse data on site, which reduced the cost of the study.

3.5.2 Employing Outreach Strategies

It should be recognized that the various actors and partners who have a stake in sustainable food security, have very different ways of learning and access to different kinds of media. It is imperative that outreach strategies match the diversity of target populations. Appropriate outreach efforts should be planned in advance and resources to make them possible should be built into research programme budgets. Potentially effective strategies include:

Agro-ecological approaches increase food security in Latin America
(Altieri 1999)

Since the early 1980s, NGOs and NARS in Latin America have promoted agro-ecological approaches that draw from local farming knowledge and techniques as an alternative to monoculture and dependence on chemical inputs. Scientists often assume that hand tools and draught animals limit productivity in local farming systems, but increasing evidence from more than 200 projects in the region shows that agro-ecological approaches can increase the productivity and stability of food crops as well as ensure restoration of soil fertility and biodiversity.

For instance, in Brazil, the State Government extension and research service EPAGRI1 promotes low cost soil and water conservation techniques such as grass barriers, contour ploughing, green manures and intercropping with cover crops such as velvetbean, cowpeas, oats and turnips. Since 1991, EPAGRI has reached 38 000 farmers in 60 micro-watersheds, has helped more than 11 000 farmers develop farm plans and supplied farmers with 4 300 tonnes of green manure seed. Cover crop usage has reduced labour demands for weeding and ploughing and increased yields, with maize rising from 3 to 5 t/ha and soybeans from 2.8 to 4.7 t/ha.

In Peru, farmers are reviving a technology that evolved in the Andes 3000 years ago. Archaeological evidence shows that ancient farmers throughout Latin America planted their crops in raised beds or ridged fields. The ridged field method developed in Peru ensured bumper crops even at an elevation of 4 000 metres. Several NGO and State agencies in Peru created Proyecto Interinstitucional de Rehabilitación de Waru-Waru (PIWA) to revive this technique, which proved to have positive temperature moderation effects and productivity impacts, sustaining potato yields of 8 to 14 t/ha compared to an average of 1 to 3 t/ha in non-ridged fields. In Southern Peru, PRAVTIR2 sponsors terrace reconstruction by offering peasants low interest loans, seeds and other inputs. Although high labour requirements are a constraint, communal work catalysed strong social cohesion at family and community levels. Labour investments are offset by advantages, including less risk from frost or drought, reduced soil loss, wider cropping options and higher and more stable yields. Yields for maize, barley and potato increased between 43 and 65 percent.

In Cuba, a non-governmental organization formed by scientists, farmers and extension personnel played a pioneering role in promoting integrated production systems. The Asociación Cubana de Agricultura Orgánica (ACAO) established pilot projects known as "agro-ecological lighthouses" in agricultural cooperatives in the Havana province. By introducing the use of crop rotation, polyculture, green manure, tree and crop covers, participating cooperatives realized significant improvements in productivity, biodiversity and soil quality within only a few months. Use of Crotolaria juncea and Vigna unguiculata as green manures proved to be equivalent to the application of 175 kg/ha of urea in squash and eliminated sweet potato weevil infestation. Yields for polycultures of cassava, beans and maize were 2.82 times higher than under monoculture conditions.

1 Empresa de Pesquisa Agropecunaria et Difuso de Technologie de Santa Caterina
2 Programa de Acondicionamiento Territorial y Vivienda Rural

3.5.3 Implementing Education and Awareness Campaigns

Educational and awareness-raising efforts on the following topics will assist in facilitating this understanding and commitment to collaboration:

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