Update postdoc project (subproject 4)

The postdoc project is in its final phase. A conceptual paper has been written and published in Science and Public Policy. In the paper, we reflect on complex agricultural problems as having four key features: (1) complex problems have different dimensions and can therefore not be fully understood by analysing these dimensions separately (multi-dimensional), (2) complex problems are embedded in multi-level interactions, (3) different stakeholder groups and organisations involved in exploring solutions (multi-stakeholder), and (4) complex problems are highly unpredictable which calls for more embedded and dynamic and action oriented research approaches.

Subsequently a systematic literature review was carried out with the objective to analyse the extent to which systems approaches to innovation (that take into account the above 4 features) are reflected in the crop protection literature. In the paper – published in Crop Protection – we concluded that:

  • Limited attention is paid to the institutional and political dimensions of complex crop protection problems as compared to biophysical, technological, socio-cultural and economic dimensions.
  • There is a focus on farm or national level, while multi-level interactions are rarely analysed.
  • Stakeholder involvement in analysing crop protection problems, and identifying solutions remains limited.
  • Innovation is narrowly defined as the successful development of technology by researchers, transfer by extensionists, and adoption and diffusion of crop protection technologies among the end users; farmers.

Research framework MarcAnother explanation for the limited application of systems approaches to innovation was the absence of operational methodological framework or integrated systems analysis (e.g. agricultural innovation systems analysis). We developed a participatory tool called Rapid Appraisal of Agricultural Innovation Systems (RAAIS) for ‘rapid’ systems diagnostics. RAAIS brings together researcher (outsider) and stakeholder (insider) systems analysis, and combines  multiple methods (workshops, questionnaires, interviews, secondary data analysis) to gather, triangulate and validate data. RAAIS can contribute to the development of coherent innovation strategies by identifying ‘specific entry points for innovation’ (directly related to problem under review) and ‘generic entry points for innovation’ (related to innovation capacity in agricultural system). RAAIS was applied across 3 study sites in both Benin and Tanzania where parasitic weeds in rainfed rice production are eminent. Both the methodological and the empirical paper are currently under review with Agricultural Systems. A brochure for RAAIS have been developed that provides an overview of “What is RAAIS?”, “When can it be used?”, “Where has it been used?”, etc. With RAAIS workshops being conducted across 7 countries already, we hope that at some stage we can do a meta-analysis of the results. The brochure can be accessed here.

At the moment, we are working on a comparative paper that builds on data gathered in Benin and Tanzania to demonstrate the importance of understanding the socio-organisational dimension of parasitic weed problems.

Capacity development activities

Between 29 April and 2 May 2014, Marc Schut co-organised a Capacity Development workshop was organised at the ILRI Headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. The workshop brought together multi-stakeholder platform facilitators and Humidtropics coordinators and other key-players of Humidtropics from east, central and west Africa, as well as from Nicaragua and Vietnam. Topics that were covered were different approaches to Agricultural Innovation, designing and implementing multi-stakeholder platforms, as well as capturing knowledge and learning in platforms and reflexive monitoring and evaluating of platforms. During the workshop, RAAIS was presented to the participants, and a mini-RAAIS workshop was held to demonstrate the methodology. In the Capacity Development workshop evaluation, RAAIS was evaluated as best workshop session by the workshop participants, and we got many question related to the availability of the RAAIS workshop protocols, guides and data analysis templates. More information on the Capacity Development workshop can be accessed online.

New postdoctoral researcher

As per the 1st of June 2014, Marc Schut will start working with the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), and will be based in Bujumbura, Burundi. Marc will work on the Humidtropics programme. We have recruited Dr Edmond Totin to take over Marc’s responsibilities in the Parasite project. Edmond holds a PhD of Wageningen University and has worked on the institutional dimensions of farmers’ water management and rice production practices in Benin. For Parasite, Edmond will contribute to initiating participatory research-for-development strategy to address parasitic weeds in rain-fed rice in Benin and Tanzania. The intended starting date for Edmond is 1 August 2014.