Food System Actors engaged in the cocreation of agroecological innovations - Results of Year 1 engagement in seven countries

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Authors: Simone Staiger-Rivas and Gabriela Wiederkehr (both Alliance Bioversity-CIAT), based on initiative country reports

The CGIAR initiative “Transformational Agroecology Across Food, Land and Water Systems” is actively engaging with food system actors (FSA) in seven countries (Burkina Faso, India, Kenya, Lao PDR, Peru, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe) to codesign, test, and adapt agroecological innovations, both technological and institutional, from food production to consumption. At the core is the necessity to generate scientific evidence that shows how agroecological principles applied in different socio-ecological systems are better able to provide equity, productivity, economic and environmental benefits than alternatives, including the status quo. 

The engagement takes place in Agroecological Living Landscapes (ALLs) that are formed in selected territories of each country with diverse stakeholders, including farmer associations or communities, researchers from multiple disciplines, extensionists, private companies, international and national non-governmental organizations as well as local, regional, and national policymakers. The establishment of ALLs does not follow a standard methodology: Each country’s context leads to a different agroecological transition pathway(s) and multi stakeholder approaches. (Read overall reflections on the Initiative engaging with stakeholders and establishing Agroecological Living Landscapes)

Jointly, people who act along the food value chain assess and demonstrate which agroecological innovations (practices, business models, and institutional arrangements) work best, where, why, and for whom. They identify business opportunities and financial mechanisms for local enterprises to deal with agroecological innovations. They develop strategies and action plans that encourage and support sustainable behavior change oriented to agroecological principles and transitions, and they determine the most suitable policies and mechanisms of policy integration for promoting effective and sustainable agroecological transitions. 

At the current stage, FSA are engaged in the creation of the Agroecological Living Landscapes, assessing contexts and envisioning possible agroecological transitions with stakeholders that will allow the codesign of agroecological innovations. The analysis of collected data on the total of 1,346 FSA who have been engaged to date in seven countries reveals valuable insights.  

  • From the 1,346 FSA engaged to date, 42% are female and 58% are male. 
  • Tunisia has engaged the most FSA (532), followed by Kenya (299), Zimbabwe (228) and India (123) 
  • Farmers are the biggest group of FSA (622), followed by NARS (170), Private sector (145) and extensionists (85)  

Country-specific analysis show differences, such as Zimbabwe with strong engagement with NARS; Peru with a targeted engagement around a specific value chain that includes policymakers; Kenya, with a majority of female FSA and a first engagement around agroecological business models and financing strategies.

The initiative is effectively engaging the private sector and policymakers and will most probably surpass its targets. More researchers from NARS need to be involved in some countries. As far as the target for farmers is concerned the recent selection of territories will require a thorough assessment of the potential numbers of farmers who can be engaged and the most suitable scaling strategies.
Tunisia and Kenya have engaged the highest number of FSA. Tunisia, India and Zimbabwe had a series of on-farm demonstrations and trials that involved a significant number of farmers who have been engaged from previous and current agroecology projects. Kenya has implemented a thorough engagement process, while Peru builds up on past engagement from other projects with a focus on a more targeted group of food system actors related to the cacao value chain. The engagement process in Lao started only recently and in Burkina Faso political turmoil slowed down significantly initiative activities.
Regarding gender balance, 42% of the FSA engaged are female, 58% are male.
Almost 50% of the 1,346 FSA engaged are individual farmers or members of farmer associations. Private sector actors are well represented.
Zimbabwe had engaged 228 FSA by end of 2022, representing a broad range of actor types, with dominance of NARS representatives. Engagement was done through kick-off meetings and focus group discussions, key informant interviews, and community visioning exercises.
Peru built on previous engagement through past and ongoing projects in the ALL, which helped in the mapping of the 66 stakeholders engaged by the end of 2022. Member farmer associations and policy makers are the primary actor types from the wide range of stakeholders engaged through the kick-off meeting, workshops on visioning exercises and evaluation of business models, as well as key informant interviews for various work packages.
The Kenya team prioritized a systemic, and inclusive approach to build trust and foster positive relationships with FSA. It included appreciative interviews with numerous relevant stakeholders, the identification of a ‘core partner’ who created a ‘community of place’ and conducted sustainability planning and visioning workshops involving stakeholders who participate in the development of an agroecology policy in Kiambu County.

The current engagement process in the seven countries benefits from prior efforts and extensive dialogues with partners, including the private sector, national research centers, farmer cooperatives, and international organizations that led to the creation of the Agroecology initiative. Country teams have been well suited to involve national and local FSA as well as partners for scaling and impact according to their specific contexts focusing not only on technical solutions but also on the socio-political dimensions beyond the farm level that are needed to positively affect food systems. 

Progress to date with the engagement of FSA confirms the premise that to be successful, rather than offering prescriptive approaches, agroecology must be flexible with solutions tailored to specific environmental, socio-cultural, economic, and political contexts. It must also combine local and scientific knowledge and build strong local partnerships as a key factor of success for sustainable and scalable innovations.  

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