Lessons from an integrated systems research program in Central Mekong

A new book offers insights and recommendations to support researchers targeting smallholder farmers with integrated agricultural systems innovations.

Researchers sharing results of discussions at Humidtropics Central Mekong Action Area 2016 planning meeting in Hanoi, Viet Nam, November 2015. Photo by Lisa Hiwasaki/ICRAF

Researchers sharing results of discussions at Humidtropics Central Mekong Action Area 2016 planning meeting in Hanoi, Viet Nam, November 2015. Photo by Lisa Hiwasaki/ICRAF

Innovations for agricultural intensification—for instance adding fruit trees to farms and intercropping—can sustainably increase smallholder farmers’ production.

But for greater adoption and development impact, the innovations should be introduced alongside activities that generate short-term additional incomes for farmers. Besides, they must not require heavy initial investments from farmers, and they must contribute to the long-term conservation of natural resources (e.g. water and soils).

In order to realize sustainable positive impacts on the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, such innovations need to be complemented by actions that strengthen farmers’ roles in the value chain. Actions that we can focus on include:

  • connecting smallholder farmers to markets,
  • supporting entrepreneurship and agribusiness development,
  • building social networks for agribusiness, and
  • improving the farmers’ capacities to improve product quality and processing.

These are among the key recommendations published in a new book, “Integrated Systems Research for Sustainable Smallholder Agriculture in the Central Mekong: Achievements and challenges of implementing integrated systems research.

Published by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) as an output of the recently concluded CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics  (‘Humidtropics’ for short), the new book offers insights and recommendations to support research on integrated agricultural systems targeting smallholder farmers. Its lessons are gleaned from Humidtropics program research in the Central Mekong ‘Action Area’.

Implemented in five countries (Cambodia, Laos, southwest China, Thailand, and Viet Nam) between 2013 and 2016, the program involved eight international research organizations (including six CGIAR institutes) working in close partnership with national governments and research institutes in each country.

We found that in order for agricultural research for development to empower women, youth and marginalized groups, inequity needed be addressed, not just in agricultural development, but also in how research is conducted. Special attention, in particular, should be devoted to increasing the capacity of women and ethnic minorities to adopt appropriate agricultural innovations. And throughout, researchers must remain cognizant of how policies and biophysical constraints negatively or positively affect people’s development.

We found that while bottom-up, participatory approaches are often perceived as the most promising for innovation and scaling of innovation, they may not be sufficient; this is because in some situations, people have only a partial view of the range of technical and institutional options that could help to improve their livelihoods. We therefore recommend that research for development borrow the best from local knowledge and scientific knowledge and innovations.

Another key ingredient for sustainable positive impacts of research is time. Long-term involvement with communities is needed, and it takes effort to build trust and nurture relationships with local implementing partners and farming communities.

Humidtropics was designed to work with rural farm families across tropical Africa, Asia and the Americas to boost their income and livelihoods through agricultural development, using participatory and collaborative approaches. The program, originally designed as a 15-year engagement, adopted a multistakeholder approach that focused on bringing research, government, development and business partners together to identify key constraints and to prioritize, design and implement innovative approaches to overcome them.

We hope that the new book—with its important insights from Humidtropics’ four years of work with upland smallholder farmers in the Central Mekong—will be useful for agricultural researchers and local partners working to apply sustainable agricultural innovations improve farmers’ livelihoods.

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Download the book in English and associated briefs in 3 languages: Lisa Hiwasaki, Adrian Bolliger, Guillaume Lacombe, Jessica Raneri, Marc Schut and Steve Staal. 2016. Integrated Systems Research for Sustainable Smallholder Agriculture in the Central Mekong: Achievements and challenges of implementing integrated systems research. 160 pp.

For more information contact: Lisa Hiwasaki, Humidtropics Central Mekong Action Area Coordinator.
E-mail: L.Hiwasaki@cgiar.org

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Blog edited by Daisy Ouya

See related blog: Engaging marginalized groups in the Greater Mekong region through action research

 

 

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The publication is an output of Humidtropics, a CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics.

 

 

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