The value of systems research—reflections from Africa RISING partners
Africa RISING – a research-in-development program –followed a ‘farming systems research’ approach in line with its objective of ‘creating opportunities for smallholder farm households to move out of hunger and poverty through sustainably intensified farming systems that improve food, nutrition, and income security, particularly for women and children, and conserve or enhance the natural resource base.’
During the first phase of the program (2011–2016), Africa RISING focused on building partnerships, identifying core challenges faced by smallholder crop-livestock farmers, validating technologies and innovations that would work for them.
‘In phase I, Africa RISING has provided opportunities for validation of existing crop and livestock technologies which have greatly enriched our knowledge of the productivity, economic and sociocultural benefits of some of the technologies. The database developed on different on-station and on-farm crop, soil and animal research trials and surveys, is another major contribution of Africa RISING to farming systems research.
Africa RISING phase I, through testing, validation and evaluation of technologies, has prepared a conducive environment in terms of database, knowledge and experience on what works, where and why, for the scaling of some of the technologies in phase II, given the focus of the second phase on development outcomes.’
Augustine Ayantunde (senior livestock scientist and East Africa regional representative, International Livestock Research Institute).
In this blog post, some of the key Africa RISING partners share their views on the value of a farming systems research approach and Africa RISING’s contribution in this regard.
‘The value of farming systems research is that it ensures that improved technologies offered to farmers are environmentally, economically and socially viable whilst at the same time helping them to address the productivity challenge. For this to materialize, researchers from a variety of fields need to collaborate in designing and carrying out the research. Africa RISING was able to do this, challenging as it was. Scientists in the program have collectively carried out studies that focused on key aspects of sustainable intensification including: economic growth (linking farmers to markets), conservation of natural resources (soil fertility, biodiversity, limited carbon-dioxide production, etc.), social inclusion and equity (‘pro-poor development’), and that of food and nutrition security.
Mahama Saaka (senior lecturer, School of Allied Health Sciences University for Development Studies, Ghana)
‘Our area is well known for its crop-livestock production system. This production system is based on poorly managed natural resources like soil, water and forests. To improve the productivity of the system as a whole, systems research is very important, instead of dealing with each component in the system separately. There is a research on soil fertility, soil and water conservation, improved water utilization, crop production improvement, animal husbandry, agroforestry (integrating fodder trees, avocados etc.) and so on. These will significantly contribute to improved outcomes for the livelihood of farm households in our area and I highly value their contributions.’
Tamirate Erijo (crop expert, Lemo Woreda Office of Agriculture)
‘Since crop-livestock farming systems research is a holistic research approach, it helps farmers to develop broader knowledge in the area of improved crop production and management, improved livestock feed production management and utilization, natural resource management, irrigated crop production, gender roles, nutritional value, sources of income, market linkages etc. that can contribute to improving rural livelihoods. It also creates an opportunity for various partners to come together to share knowledge, expertise and learn from each other, building team spirit among partners, leads to sharing of resources and working together for the diversification of farming system, income and nutrition. Bale area is dominated by cereal crops, mainly wheat. This monocropping resulted in poor household nutrition, soil fertility deterioration, weed infestation and wider disease prevalence, lack of improved livestock feed and feeding system. As a system research project, Africa RISING implemented different improved crop varieties testing as a participatory variety selection on individual farmer fields including pulses, cereals and tuber crops. The same practice has been implemented for livestock feeds both as irrigated and rain-fed systems so as to come up with possible solutions for those challenges.’
Ahmed Aliyi Umer (director, Madda Walabu University, University Industry Linkage and Technology Transfer Directorate)
‘System research helps smallholder farmers participate in diversified interventions/technologies. Integrated technologies help to increase production and income from different technologies and practices. For example, improved faba bean varieties and disease management increase the faba bean yield, improve soil fertility through nitrogen fixation and crop rotation. Oat-vetch mixtures increase feed biomass harvest and improve soil fertility, increase the livestock body performance and milk yield. Feed management (handling and feeding) reduces feed wastage, increases feed availability and quality, and promotes zero grazing. Africa RISING brought diversified interventions for farmers to choose, apply, validate and demonstrate.’
Gebregziabher Aregawi (head of office, Southern Tigray Agriculture and Rural Development Office)