Making agroecological transitions happen: Pause and Reflect workshop of the Agroecology Initiative

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More than 50 team members of the Agroecology Initiative gathered in Tunisia in March 2023 for a Pause and Reflect workshop. This activity was part of a CGIAR guided adaptive management process and efficiently co-organized by the enthusiastic ICARDA initiative team based in Tunisia.  

The event was also the opportunity for participants who represented eight country teams to adjust work plans in synergy with the 5 work packages of the initiative.    

Celebrating achievements: Five highlights of 2022  

The team celebrated the advancements made in the first year.  

  1. All countries have selected Agroecological Living Landscapes (ALLs) to provide diverse settings for the generation of science-based evidence on the effectiveness of agroecological innovations, which is vital for promoting widespread adoption. In most ALLs, the initiative relies on existing multi-stakeholder platforms, choosing implementing partners with capacity to strengthen farmers’ agency and influence local institutional arrangements, business models and policies. Country teams have engaged with national and local partners, paying attention to their interests in agroecology, socializing initiative objectives and assessing the agroecological context to identify territories that can serve as ALLs. The initiative has engaged so far with 1,346 individual food system actors (42% female, 58% male) in seven countries. These individuals come mainly from farmers or other grassroots organizations but also a wide range of other public and private organizations. Read more 

“We are starting to see impressive activities in the ALLs and this is the best time to start thinking how initiative activities can reach 200+ farmers.  We need to make sure that the ALLs do not just revert to small demonstration efforts.” Chris Dickens, co-lead of the initiative.  

  1. To better understand this diversity, initiative researchers have devised tools for stakeholder mapping, value chain assessment and assessing multi-stakeholder initiatives already underway. In parallel, they are inventorying current policies and institutions relevant to agroecology, with the aim of tracking innovation in these areas. In several countries, they have analyzed key agricultural value chains and their potential for the enhancement of business models aligned with agroecology principles. In addition, country teams have begun characterizing the ecological, economic, social and political context of their work. Such analysis is critical for enabling the initiative to generate science-based evidence on the performance of agroecology.  
  2. Several outcomes have already begun to emerge, including the decision of commercial allies of organic cocoa farmers in Peru to explore carbon markets as an alternative financial mechanism that complements current assistance to cacao producer cooperatives. In Kenya, the country´s Inter-Sectoral Forum on Agroecology and Agrobiodiversity has asked the initiative to support national policy implementation. In Tunisia, partner organizations are refocusing their priorities on input reduction along the livestock value chain and solidarity-based economy principles for honey production. 
  3. International learning is a prerequisite for scaling agroecological innovations. This initiative is closely related to the Transformative Partnership Platform on Agroecology. It cooperates with other partners for scaling and impact, including GIZ GmbH and Biovision and also engages with INTPA and the joint France-CGIAR Initiative to map capacities and evidence generated around agroecological principles and their efficacy. The initiative participates in the Agroecology Coalition, the Alliance Bioversity-CIAT hosting the coalition’s secretariat and participating in the research working group that will inform policymaking. Read more 
  4. Portfolio linkages and impact pathway integration for the Agroecology Initiative are being developed around concrete ideas for collaboration with other initiatives and bilateral projects. Three initiatives are collaborating to strengthen their common understanding, linkages, and collaboration: Nature- +, Sustainable Intensification, and Excellence in Agronomy. 
Pause and Reflect 2022 Agroecology: Workshop moments
Towards holistic approaches in countries  

The workshop was a welcomed opportunity for country teams to incorporate work package guidance consistently into their work plans.  

Finalizing the assessment of the agroecological contexts in each country, an assessment framework provides the second key element required for generating evidence on the effectiveness of agroecological principles. The Holistic Localized Performance Assessment for Agroecology Framework HOLPA, currently under development, includes a set of performance metrics to facilitate the evaluation of agroecological approaches across the food chain and down to the farm level. The framework encompasses environmental, social, economic, and political aspects as well as indicators that are sensitive to agroecological principles. Some of the indicators are global, intended for application to every ALL, while others are local, aimed at capturing nuances appropriate to each ALL. This combination of global and localized indicators makes the assessment framework innovative and context-based as part of a comprehensive approach for gathering science-based evidence.  

Participants got familiarized with HOLPA, discussed its implementation and options for simplification of the tools. Countries drafted implementation plans of HOLPA for each ALL. A pilot study will be undertaken in one country before global deployment. Also, a train-the-trainer workshop for the implementation of HOLPA is planned, and one person from each country has been nominated to participate. 

A half-day workshop facilitated by the work package team on “Understanding and influencing agency and behavior change” aimed at integrating behavioral change into the initiative. According to a 2022 brief co-authored by initiative researchers, empowering women and other marginalized stakeholders is critical for enabling agroecology to improve social well-being. The initiative conceptualized the drivers of behavior change and agency, aimed at identifying what can trigger actors to behave differently in support of agroecological transformation. Experience in target countries underlines the importance of (1) transparent behavior assumptions in Theories of Change, (2) institutional innovations in sustaining behavior change, and (3) gender equality and social inclusion considerations supporting change across diverse groups. The workshop helped country teams to formulate Theories of Change for their ALLs, and think about desired behavioral changes of key actors, including possible enables and barriers for such changes to occur.  

Shorter sessions allowed to:  

  1. Deepen the work on business models that can link agroecological innovations to markets and on the co-design or adaptation of financial mechanisms that support agroecological innovations. 
  2. Discuss best options to co-develop and promote recommendations to effectuate policy integration and strengthen or adjust current local institutions and governance mechanisms with the aim to mainstream agroecological principles and support agroecological transitions.  
  3. Gather input to 2023 impact assessment work, Monitoring and Evaluations as well as communications plans.  
Women of the Agroecology Initiative celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8 during the workshop
Agroecological Living Landscape in Tunisia- A field trip 

During a one-day field trip, participants visited 2 sites of the ALL situated in the transect El Kef Siliana  

Pathways to Stimulate Agroecological System Transformation in El Rhahla Community 

Newly established in January 2022 in the county of Gaafour, in the semi-arid governorate of Siliana in northwestern Tunisia and is part of the Tunisian Agroecological Living Landscape – The Mutual Society of Agricultural Services (SMSA Ankoud El Khaier) is a 27-member-strong cooperative serving more than 150 crop livestock farming households in the village of El Rhahla and its neighboring villages. It started providing essential services, from facilitating access to agricultural services and inputs (forage/legume and cereal seeds, fertilizers, feed (barley, wheat bran, concentrates) to promoting soft-smart agricultural practices, and offering mechanical cleaning and treatment of seeds, shopping of crop residues to reduce external inputs, e.g., reduce feed concentrates through valorizing agro-industrial and agricultural by-product and feed pelleting for their small ruminants. 

In El Rhahla, ICARDA has linked its activities with the GIZ PROSOL program, which supports farmer communities in designing socio-technical bundles of innovations relevant to their mixed crop-livestock systems (small ruminants and cereals). The Agroecology Initiative supports the enhanced design of these packages with an agroecological lens. It also supports impact assessment and indicators development for PROSOL interventions.  The Tunisian initiative team works with the SAPLING initiative in supporting enhanced packaging of agroecological innovations in relation to animal health and alternative feeding strategies that are being designed with farmers. 

Livestock is an important safety net. In Zimbabwe cattle are the main safety net, in Tunisia it seems to be sheep. Animal feeding and health are critical to ensure resilience during times of shock, such as we witnessed. Thanks for the opportunity to attend as a partner.” Partner participant from Zimbabwe 

Above, landscape at SMSA Ankoud El Khaier. Below, honey and figs products sold by Kouzira farmer organization. Olive oil and sheep.
Promotion of Local Agricultural Product as Paths of Diversification with a Focus on Honey, Figs, and Carobs – The Case of the Farmer Organization “Kouzira” 

The farmer organization (FO) “Kouzira” (fender mixed cooperative) was created in 2020 and is based in Kesra, Governorate of Siliana, Tunisia (semi-arid area). It has 114 adherents, with 70% women and more than 40% adherents being less than 35 years old. About 250 farmers are benefiting from their provided services in Kesra. Main farm activities of adherents are the production of figs, olives and cherries, the growing of cereals and beekeeping for honey production. Most of adherents own between 0.5-5ha (diversified family farming). 20% of adherents have more than 5ha; all have access to irrigation (natural spring in the village). The olive trees are planted in collective land.  

Optimizing workflows  

As a step towards consolidated implementation plans for year 2, country teams used “ideal workflows” that work packages had proposed to develop country-specific workflows with focus in detecting efficiency gains by crosslinking activities between work packages.  

This workshop allowed me to better understand the content, the meaning and the links between the work packages to co-design agroecological changes with the ALL”, workshop participant 

Adaptive management to guide Year 2 implementation 

Marcela Quintero, Director of the initiative summarized next steps and decision points that will guide year 2 implementation: 

  1. Inclusion of Senegal as a new focus country: The critical political situation in Burkina Faso has made it difficult to work in both selected territories. While national partners will continue some activities in Burkina Faso, others are expected to start in Senegal. A detailed work plan is under development by CIRAD with selected national partners. 
  2. Activities in ALLs: The initiative team will pay particular attention to ensuring that activities with partners reflect the core values and holistic principles of agroecology, going beyond small demonstration plots. Decisive steps to build an international network of ALLs considering and engaging with other efforts happening outside of the initiative. 
  3. Simplification of the agroecological assessment tool HOLPA: The tool will be simplified and piloted in a country before being deployed. 
  4. Gender, youth, and social inclusion: To address the research question “what opportunities exist in the context of the ALLs specifically for young women and men?”, the initiative expects to conduct diagnostic studies in a few ALLs and with its members to support them in identifying potential opportunities to co-design innovations with youth in subsequent years. 
  5. Capacity development: Based on the input received from participants during the Pause and Reflect workshop, a plan will be proposed by the management team for discussion. 
  6. MELIA: Three baselines will be conducted this year for the quantitative analysis. Quarterly country and work package updates will provide input to outcome evidencing efforts led by the MELIA team. Initiative targets will be adjusted.  

Among the positive feedback received from participant’s workshop evaluation were the high level of engagement and commitment, rich discussions, and interactions and the space to learn and share our experiences from different contexts of farming systems. Suggestions for improvement include a less ambitious program that would allow more in-depth discussions and include more windows to interact among countries. More partners should be brought to the next meeting and the agenda could be discussed and adjusted before the gathering.  

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