In drought-prone Marara, Central Mozambique, farmers struggling through crop failure and extreme weather patterns could rely on their goats, selling them for good prices at the livestock markets. Unfortunately, they remain mired in poverty due to lack of a structured goat market with a transparent pricing system; theft of goats within communities and unscrupulous traders in goat markets add to the farmers’ woes.
Against this background of enormous challenges, a joint project by ICRISAT, IIAM (Agricultural Research Institute of Mozambique) and BOKU (University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna) seeks to build farmers’ capacities, strengthening their networks in market-oriented agricultural production and thereby increasing the resilience and the profitability of crop-livestock systems. The project team collaborates with the Mozambique government, the private sector and development organizations to develop an ‘open’ Innovation Platform (IP) approach that would help farmers transition from traditional practices to sustainable livelihoods effectively (See box).
The open IP approach puts forward three interlinked leverage points as mentioned below. Designing learning activities around these points will benefit the farmer trying to adopt more sustainable farming and livestock options. (At the Innovation Systems for the Drylands Program at ICRISAT, locating such leverage points for technical and social innovation is a core research question of the MIND (Markets, Institutions, Nutrition and Diversity) group).
1. Healthier farms through improved farm management: When farmers, extension services and researchers work together to make farm health assessments, they trigger profound changes in the overall management of the farms, as compared to when technologies are introduced in isolation. For instance, when farmers tried out on-farm soil analyses, they detected nutrient deficiencies and came up with their own measures for improving soil fertility – testing manure and compost applications, converting more land from cereal cultivation to legumes, and developing alternative links to input suppliers for better access to seeds. Complementary training is a great support to the farmers.
2. New markets through satellite sales points: While the initial idea was to improve market structure at the existing central marketplace, the IP subsequently created alternative options for selling goats at numerous smaller sales points, closer to the buyers and sellers. This eliminates the need for them to travel far. Additionally, farmers avoid intermediaries by interacting directly with large buyers, and they also learn about meat quality and market requirements from the buyers. Next, the focus is on creating a transparent and quality-based pricing system in order to raise volumes and the quality of goats, bringing market-oriented farming to scale. Private abattoirs have already taken up this opportunity to provide a more reliable market to the region’s smallholder farmers.
3. Self-driven collaboration among farmers and with partners: With the use of communication technology, the IP provides opportunities to farmers and other stakeholders for discussion, joint experimentation and learning on topics ranging from production to marketing. At gatherings, model farmers act as change agents and coordinators for activities in locations where technical and organizational knowledge is extremely limited. Through joint implementation and evaluation of IP activities, farmers have started to take ownership, build social capital and gained skills that had been earlier buried by weak social cohesion.
“Nudging sustainability transitions,” as Mr Gopane, a farmer from Marara, said at the project inception workshop, “is like gentle encouragement for IP members to learn and grow as AAPACHIMA farmers, organizing ourselves to explore real challenges and nudge others. Once IP members capture opportunities, the IP itself can evolve and become more functional.”
‘Open’ Innovation Platform: A mechanism for ‘nudging’ sustainability transitions
Innovation platforms (IPs) aim at facilitating desirable change in local agricultural value chains. Stakeholders identify and revise bottlenecks, and discover opportunities around which new ways of collaboration are built. The ‘open’ IP approach is purposefully flexible in addressing complex challenges that farmers face, while finding simple mechanisms that support the overall systems. Research into open IPs brings out multiple emerging issues; by addressing those, we actively solve, not just ‘fix’, the constraints to improved farming, e.g. sustainable seed systems, livestock theft control, access to information and markets for the poorest.
Open IPs are necessarily inclusive in order to capitalize on the diversity of skills, knowledge and interests of all stakeholders. Therefore, they work in a decentralized manner: using, integrating and expanding existing initiatives, rather than creating new structures. Open IPs build farmers’ capacity to find solutions by fostering learning and encouraging self-organized, vertical collaborations. We have observed that when the actors in a value chain have a strong capacity to self-organize their activities and responsibilities in normal years, they also attain a greater capability to respond positively during drought years.
In order to create and test sustainability ideas and solutions, besides creativity, confidence and analytical skills, financial backup is critical. In the presented IP, an investment tool – Innovation fund (I-fund) – was created to finance experimental test runs of (possibly risky/expensive) ideas. The I-fund matches contributions from farmers and other actors with contributions from the project budget.
Under the current IP for this project, different measures – alternative supply of legume and forage seeds, satellites for collective goat sales, smartphones for information – are being considered. They will then be jointly evaluated and the results will be integrated into plans future activities.
About the authors
Innovation Systems for the Drylands Program
Centre for Development Research at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU/CDR), Vienna