Study on impact of farmer-led research and development

The first output of the collaborative work of Prolinnova and the CGIAR Research Programs for Aquatic Agricultural Systems (AAS) and Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) has been completed!


Many of the efforts to transform scientific knowledge into sustainable agriculture and natural resource management (NRM) have brought only limited benefits to smallholder farmers, including fishers, livestock-keepers and other resource users. Donors, policymakers and civil-society organisations (CSOs) are urging the formal agricultural research and development (ARD) sector to make its research more directly useful to smallholders. Several ARD institutions are seeking ways to engage more closely with smallholders and supporting organisations in the field in order to conduct research that is more relevant for and accessible to them. These institutions are open to learn from examples of ARD that is driven and co-managed by smallholders in processes facilitated by CSOs outside of the formal ARD sector, in what could be called “informal” ARD.

The CGIAR Research Program (CRP) Aquatic Agricultural Systems (AAS) is taking an approach that seeks to embed research in development processes and, in so doing, strengthen capacities of stakeholders to innovate and adapt. Similarly, the CRP Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) seeks to translate knowledge into action for change through social-learning processes. AAS and CCAFS have linked up with Prolinnova to explore the approaches, experiences, outcomes and impacts of “informal” ARD in the CSO sector.

The first output of this collaboration is a desk “Study on impacts of farmer-led research supported by civil society organisations” (see Based on 11 case studies from Africa, Asia and Latin America selected from over 100 cases identified, the study team assessed the extent to which farmer- or community-managed processes of research and innovation in agriculture and NRM led to improvements in rural livelihoods. It analysed available evidence on the impact of farmer-led approaches in terms of food security, ecological sustainability, economic empowerment, gender relations, local capacity to innovate and adapt, and influence on ARD institutions. It then drew lessons related to: the process of FL-ARD and supporting it; sharing and spreading results of FL-ARD; scaling out the FL-ARD process; scaling up FL-ARD as an approach; gender and other equity issues; roles of formal research, advisory services and education; roles of CSOs; and roles of funding agencies. These lessons provide guidance for better integration of “formal” and “informal” research in the midst of agricultural and rural development by smallholder communities.

A podcast in which Boru Douthwaite of AAS at WorldFish talks about the results of the study can be found under

A PPT and 4-page paper based on the study was presented at the Tropentag in Prague in September 2014 (see

The next step after this desk study involves delving more deeply into a few selected cases – also drawn from a longer list of promising cases for which little written evidence could be found – to make a more detailed assessment on the ground of the longer-term impact of FL-ARD approaches on smallholder communities and other ARD actors. This is likewise being done in collaboration with AAS and CCAFS.

A small study has also been made in collaboration with Jean-Marie Diop to explore grassroots perspectives on capacity to innovate: to find out what smallholder farmers regard as essential elements of this capacity and how these have been and could be strengthened. The results will help “formal” and “informal” ARD actors both to enhance innovative capacity and to measure and provide better evidence of this enhanced capacity in smallholder communities.