Leveraging agroecology transitions: Central messages from Initiative partners and stakeholders

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As the CGIAR Agroecology Initiative nears the start of its third year, those who have supported and participated in this work have much to show for their efforts. Through their work in distinct territories referred to as “agroecology living landscapes” (ALLs), they have charted multiple pathways toward an agroecology transition in eight countries of the Global South. The Initiative has also made good progress in laying the foundation for future initiatives to implement agroecology on a large scale.

This was the central message of a webinar held recently by the Initiative – with 170 participants connected – to provide an update on progress in the field (through reports from three contrasting countries) and to show how the Initiative is assessing progress.

Marcella Quintero, Ieader of the Initiative, explained how it integrates diverse scientific and other capacities at multiple levels to pursue agroecology transitions in different contexts. Starting with vision-to-action processes, the Initiative has begun testing agroecological practices as well as designing suitable business models and financial mechanisms. It is also participating in strategic policy discussions at the national and regional levels and has joined existing networks and working groups. In addition, options have been outlined for behavioral change approaches.

Burkina Faso: Innovations in the dairy value chain

In western Burkina Faso, the Initiative aims to strengthen the dairy value chain, which has high potential for an agroecology transition but also faces many problems, such as difficulties with milk collection and quality as well as stiff competition from imported milk powder. In response, explained country focal point Eric Vall, with the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD), the Initiative is working with value chain stakeholders to co-create innovations at three levels: (1) improved cow feeding through more efficient use of on-farm resources, (2) enhanced milk distribution by enabling collection centers diversify their services to dairy farmers and processors, and (3) increased equity through greater inclusion of women, youth and the elderly in value chain governance.

In describing what his organization has gained from its involvement in these efforts, Souleymane Sanogo, team leader for the Centre International de Recherche-Développement sur l’Elevage en zone Subhumide (CIRDES), explained how they have expanded their collaborative networks and strengthened their ability to support the country’s dairy value chain.

“We participate in all the initiative’s work packages, starting with the implementation and launch of the agroecological living landscape, involving the actors of the dairy chain, and paying special attention to youth and women, but also older individuals who are often excluded. Everyone should be able to have something in their pocket in this milk value chain.”

Souleymane Sanogo, Team leader, CIRDES

Read our country profile of Kenya 

Kenya: From local innovations to national strategy

The Initiative builds on much previous experience with agroecology in Kenya, making a “meaningful contribution to what’s already happening,” said country focal point Lisa Fuchs. To that end, the Initiative has aligned its research with the work of several national and landscape-level partners in a “full co-creation process,” whereby they have “jointly defined priorities and approaches.”

Through this process, the Initiative has identified three entry points for the agroecology transition. The first concerns practices (now being tested in 60 on-farm trials) that address problems of water stress, soil erosion and pests. The second entry point is economic, involving improvements in business models and value chains, specifically for mango and leafy vegetables. The third consists of helping formulate and implement a national agroecology strategy.

Commenting on her experience with the Initiative, Esther Kagai, director of the Community Sustainable Agriculture and Healthy Environment Program  (CSHEP), noted that it had already helped “transform the mindset of many people.”

“At CSHEP” we have been working on organic farming with communities for more than 10 years. This initiative gives us the opportunity to participate in research and learn together to improve our approaches”.

Esther Kiruthi Kagai, Director CSHEP

Read our country profile of Kenya

Peru: Going organic in cocoa farming

Here the Initiative focuses on cocoa production, a key farming system in the country’s Amazonian region. Cocoa presents important opportunities, explained country focal point María Claudia Tristán, particularly a shift to organic production and agroforestry. The Initiative seeks to realize this potential in collaboration with producer cooperatives. Entry points for the agroecology transition include testing of technical innovations, improvements in the business model, and support for development of the Regional Strategic Plan for BioTrade, with an agroecological approach.

In sharing his experience with the Initiative, Carlos Pérez, general manager of the Agricultural Cooperative Banaqui Curimaná, underlined the importance of involving youth in the agroecological transformation of cocoa production to strengthen family food security and boost incomes.

Together with the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, we were able to strengthen our work with cacao producers changing our mindset to allow an agroecological transition that is sustainable and profitable, while improving the quality of cocoa.”

Carlos Pérez, general manager, Curimaná

Read our country profile of Peru

Assess performance to achieve widespread implementation

All of these country reports demonstrate the high potential for agroecology transitions. But only proven performance will stimulate the investment needed to achieve widespread implementation. For this reason, the Initiative is developing a holistic localized performance assessment (HOLPA) framework, which can work reliably across highly diverse contexts, building solid evidence of agroecology’s ability to deliver sustainable livelihoods.

To ensure that data collection is manageable, the team defined four key themes – the environmental, economic, social, and agricultural dimensions of food systems – and then developed performance indicators for each. In the spirit of co-creation, they further developed a participatory process for defining local indicators with stakeholders that reflect their goals and vision for agroecology. So far, data has been collected from about a thousand rural households.

A critical shift: Stakeholder comments on progress

In the webinar’s final segment, a panel of agroecology supporters shared impressions of the Initiative’s progress. Bernard Hubert, chair of the French Committee for International Agricultural Research, noted the high priority that his country assigns to agroecology and the importance of a “critical shift” in this direction at the global level to help address problems of food insecurity, biodiversity loss, and climate change.

Guy Faure, senior policy officer in charge of research and innovation, European Commission, DG INTPA, noted how the Agroecology Initiative is “really taking onboard the system dimension, which is not only about farming systems but also markets and food systems.” Manfred Kaufmann, a program manager with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), said he was impressed by the Initiative’s “co-creation approach” to research spanning the whole food system. He also affirmed the importance of its effort to inject new evidence into the “very polarized” discussion of agroecology. Alexander Schoening, with the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) and advisor at the Fund International Agricultural Research (FIA), also commended the Initiative for its work and stressed the importance of communicating with a wider non-specialist audience. Oliver Oliveros, coordinator of the Agroecology Coalition and head of the Coalition Secretariat, referred to the country reports presented as “important beacons of hope.”

In bringing the webinar to a close, Chris Dickens, with the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and co-lead of the Initiative, reinforced its holistic character, addressing agriculture’s social, economic, and environmental dimensions in an integrated fashion.


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