Study on impact of farmer-led research and development

In collaboration with CGIAR Research Programs for Aquatic Agricultural Systems (AAS) and Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), the Prolinnova International Support team made a study of the longer-term impacts of various farmer-led research and development approaches facilitated by civil-society organisations (CSOs).


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 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 smallholders. 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) was taking an approach that sought 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) was seeking to translate knowledge into action for change through social-learning processes. AAS and CCAFS linked up with Prolinnova to explore the approaches, experiences, outcomes and impacts of “informal” ARD in the CSO sector.


The initial output was a desk study report: Study on impacts of farmer-led research supported by civil society organisations”. 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 here.

A PPT and 4-page paper based on the study was presented at the Tropentag in Prague in September 2014; the links can be found in this news item.

An article summarising the study findings “Exploring the impact of farmer-led research supporting by civil society organisations” was published in 2015 in the journal Agriculture & Food Security.

After the desk study, a few selected cases were studied in more depth through on-the-ground research in order to make a more detailed assessment of the longer-term impact of FL-ARD approaches on smallholder communities and other ARD actors. This formed part of the study “Development Outcomes of Local Innovation” (DOLI). The two in-depth case studies for which Prolinnova was responsible were i) The “PTD+” approach of the PMHE project in Sri Lanka (51pp), conducted in collaboration with the Institute for Participatory Interaction in Development (IPID) in Sri Lanka, and ii) Participatory Technology Development and its impacts on farmersʼ livelihoods in Hoa Binh Province, Vietnam (study brief, 13pp).

A brief study was made in collaboration with Jean-Marie Diop to explore grassroots perspectives on capacity to innovate: to find out what small-scale farmers regard as essential elements of this capacity and how these have been and could be strengthened. The findings in the report Understanding ‘capacity to innovate and adapt’ from a smallholder perspectiveare meant to help “formal” and “informal” ARD actors to enhance innovative capacity in smallholder communities and to measure and provide better evidence of this enhanced capacity. A paper based on this study, “Small-scale farmers’ perspectives on what enhances capacity to innovate”, was presented at the International Farming Systems Association (IFSA) Symposium in 2016 in the UK.

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