Monday, April 23, 2012

Bridging this scientist–farmer divide through multi-stakeholder platforms (MSPs)

Scientists look at rice as a crop for research, while farmers look at it as a component in an agricultural system which can provide food and livelihood to their families.

A project supported by the European Union entitled “Realizing the agricultural potential of inland valley lowlands in sub-Saharan Africa while maintaining their environmental services (RAP)” has achieved initial success in bridging this divide.

“We are bridging this scientist–farmer divide through multi-stakeholder platforms (MSPs),” says Dr Joel Huat, coordinator for the RAP project. “Through these platforms we bring together all stakeholders from the rice-growing systems.”

The RAP project focuses on an innovation-systems approach to research. It involves a paradigm shift from the technological package approach to an integrated agricultural research approach. It aims at ensuring that researchers work together with smallholder farmers, pastoralists, extension agencies, the private sector and NGOs to achieve impact on the ground.

It is based on the understanding that the research and development challenges in the inland-valley lowlands are complex and diverse and cannot be handled by individuals or organizations working alone. These challenges call for integrated, collective and concerted action that includes multiple institutions, conducive policy framework and cost-effective technological options for sustainable production, processing and marketing.

During the first phase of the RAP project, MSPs were established at Dogbo in Couffo department and Houinga in Mono department in Benin, and at Doumanaba and Bamadougou in Sikasso region of Mali. These MSPs have the legal status of non-profit organizations and have been able to attract the attention of local leaders. For instance, the mayor of Doumanaba was a participant in the process of establishing the MSP there.

The MSPs facilitated activities aimed at increasing rice production, such as rice seed production in farmers’ fields in Benin; testing of NERICA-L 20 in Benin and Mali; and training on technical practices provided by the agricultural extension service. The RAP project works to increase rice production in the inland valleys, which are lowlands with high potential to increase rice production. In Benin, only 4% of the area of the inland valleys is used for cultivation, and in Mali only 10% of the area is used.

According to Huat, the focus is also on rice-based cropping systems to increase diversity and income for the farmers. “In this project, we focus on rice-based cropping system and not on rice alone. We have been encouraging the growing of vegetables along with rice so that the economic returns for the farmers are more. Vegetables can be grown during the off-season when there is insufficient water for rice cultivation.”

In Benin, the rice-vegetable cropping systems consist of growing leafy vegetables with rice in a production cycle. The yield of vegetable crops in rotation with rice is still low, but is moving toward a substantial productivity increase. In addition to the leafy vegetables, okra and pepper are also grown. At Bamadougou, the rice crop is rotated with potato, sweet potato or other vegetables.

The rice-aquaculture combination was also tried out as part of the RAP project in Benin. There is potential for much improvement in this system. The third unique feature of the RAP project has been the focus on a value-chain approach. “We found it very important to identify the bottlenecks from the production to the market and find ways to resolve them,” says Huat.

Working with the producers, traders, consumers and processors, the project identified the constraints and opportunities in the rice-vegetable value chains in inland valleys. The main constraints were the unavailability of good-quality rice seed; postharvest losses; poor storage methods for vegetables; high price of seeds and fertilizers; inadequate markets for local rice; poor access to credit; and lack of rice processing equipment.

The opportunity in the lowlands in Benin was the availability of water throughout the year, allowing for off-season production of rice combined with other high-value crops and fish. Since 90% of the farmers in these areas have access to mobile phones and radios, there is immense potential for building a communication network through this infrastructure.

During the first phase, the project partners were the Institut national des recherches agricoles du Bénin (INRAB), Institut d’économie rurale (IER) in Mali, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Wageningen University and Research Center (WUR) in the Netherlands, the International Center for Development Oriented Research in Agriculture (ICRA) in the Netherlands and France, and the Centre de coopération international en recherche agronomique pour le développement (CIRAD) in France.

Project partners realize that it is important to document this knowledge in scientific publications and produce tools that will facilitate decision-making, for example through videos, agro-socio-economic and geo-referenced databases on inland valleys, in partnership with development actors.

A 54-min video on the Multi-stakeholder Platforms and Processes (MSP) in inland valleys is produced by Moov-on for AfricaRice and its partners. Given below is a 5-min preview of this video.