Supporting policy and institutional decision making towards agroecological transformations: Initial activities of the Agroecology Initiative

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Authors: Aymen Frija (ICARDA), Ruth Meinzen-Dick (IFPRI), Frank Place (IFPRI)

Agroecology calls for doing things differently. That includes not only farmers changing their agricultural practices but changing whole systems to support agroecological practices at the farm, community, regional, and even national level. Government set prices, taxes or subsidies  for agricultural inputs and outputs can affect the incentives of farmers and other market agents to adopt agroecological practices. Institutions such as farmers’ organizations can help smallholders accessing the resources they need.

The CGIAR Initiative on Agroecology aims to provide evidence in support of national and local change agents in their pursuit of an agroecological transformation.  Because of the critical role that policy and institutional change are expected to play in fostering the transformation, one of the initiative work packages is devoted to this topic.  Indeed, a recent paper by several  researchers from the initiative demonstrates the importance and effectiveness of strategies, policies, programs and other mechanisms in promoting agroecology in pursuit of nutrition, environmental and other objectives. It also shows that certain policies and institutions [such as input subsidy programs] inhibit the wider practice of agroecology.  The paper emphasizes that individual countries and localities will have their own visions for future food and agricultural systems and will be at different starting points on their transformation.  Consequently, the types of policies or institutions that are likely to work best to support an agroecological transformation will also vary from one place to another.

In one of the sites in India where the initiative works, the state government of Andhra Pradesh is embarking on a massive initiative to assist farmers to transition from conventional high chemical input agriculture to ‘natural farming’ which aligns strongly with principles of agroecology.  The impetus for this shift was recognition of low profitability of conventional agriculture, particularly due to the high cost of inputs, and deteriorating soil health.  The means through which this is being accomplished is the commitment to sustained and significant investments in the Andhra Pradesh Community Natural Farming program that works with communities throughout the state to generate and transfer knowledge on natural farming practices.

In, Kenya, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development established the Intersectoral Forum on Agro-Biodiversity and Agro-Ecology (ISFAA) which has identified the development of a national agroecology strategy as a priority for advancing agroecology.   Other countries and localities where the initiative is working similarly have their unique circumstances and ambitions.  Given these varying circumstances, the types of analytical support provided by the initiative will differ across country and locality.

Along with other initiative work packages, the policy and institutions work package follows closely two of the 13 core agroecology principles in its approach to research:  co-creation of knowledge and participation.  Researchers do not presume to know what types of results are most important for the localities or countries we are working in.  Through participation, we learn this; and through co-creation of knowledge, we can better ensure that scientific evidence produced is of priority to their needs.  Therefore, our first-year activities are centered around identifying partners and engaging with them to identify policy and institutional modifications and the priority areas of research needed to support them.

Initial steps of the policies and institutions work package include the following activities:

  • Desk reviews of the policy and institutional context in our target localities and countries to be able to have informed engagement with partners and other stakeholders
  • Mapping of local and national stakeholders according to how they are currently involved in policy and institutional decisions, including their interest and influence in relation to agroecology
  • Stakeholder consultations at local and national levels to identify key policy and institutional support needed and to chart the way forward in collaborative evidence generation
  • Development of a tool to track progress of the initiative’s support for policy and institutional reforms

In 2022, some interesting advances were generated for each of these four activities.

Policy and institutional analysis.  Tools were developed to compile and analyze policies and institutions, tailored to local needs in India, Peru and Zimbabwe.  In India, the team compiled a list of programs and missions that were most closely aligned with agroecology and could help communities to support agroecological transitions towards at least one of the 13 principles. In the document, the geographical focus of these programs is noted along with the level of investment from the government.  Analysis shows that the government invests significant funds for broader based food security programs and for improving water management, but relatively less on sustainable agriculture or organic farming.  In Zimbabwe, the team found that there were many strategies, policies, laws and programs with relevance to advancing the practice of agroecology, but coordination was lacking in order to bring forth more powerful incentives to support agroecology. In Tunisia, the team re-traced the history of “development-oriented policies” and how they relate to agroecology. They found that the current policy approach the Tunisian government is using for implementing investment projects is based on only a few agroecology principles, including participation, economic (agricultural) diversification, and co-creation of knowledge. Connectivity, fairness, social values and diets, remain among the aspects poorly targeted by the national policies.

Policy stakeholder mapping: This work builds upon a broader stakeholder mapping undertaken by the work package “Transdisciplinary co-creation of innovations in Agroecological Living Labs”

 In Tunisia, results showed that of the more than 500 stakeholders who have been in discussions with the initiative to develop the workplan, more than 60% do not have any involvement in policy decision making and fewer than 5% stated that they have a direct effect on policy making.  This suggests that there may be opportunities for the initiative to work with partners to increase the involvement of various stakeholder types (e.g. farmers through associations) in political discourses and processes.

In Zimbabwe, participatory workshops were held in Mbire and Murehwa Districts to identify key stakeholders or agroecology decision making as well as their levels of interest and influence.  The combined result of that exercise for both districts is shown in the figure below.  It shows that participants felt that most stakeholders had a high interest in decisions related to agroecology but that those with high influence were mainly government agencies. These studies will be used by the country teams to set their policy-oriented stakeholders engagement plans for the next year of the project.

Identification of key stakeholders and agroecology decision making in Zimbabwe, results of participatory workshops in Mbire and Murehwa Districts.

Stakeholder consultations. The initiative held consultations with policy stakeholders in all countries, with some examples noted above for Kenya, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe.  In Peru, ongoing engagements with the Ucayali regional government led to an invitation to the research team to contribute to a revision of the regional strategic plan on bio trade, which was later enacted.  The initiative’s Peru team also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the regional government to conduct research and support policy efforts in relation to agroecology.

Policy tracker: The policy tracker is designed to capture policy and institutional objectives for the initiative and the progress it makes at both the national and living landscape levels.   As such it serves as a monitoring tool for the initiative. Policy and institutional objectives can be expressed at the level of agroecology principle or as more general objectives.  Key sections of the tool are 2030 objectives, 2022-2029 milestones, baseline situation, annual project achievements, and key external changes in the policy and institutional environment.  Participatory consultations with stakeholders are necessary for filling in the policy objectives and milestones for the initiative.

In 2023, all seven countries of the initiative will have progressed through each of these activities and will have launched priority research studies in collaboration with research and other partners.

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