This report provides highlights of our ongoing activities with partners in business, development, research and education.
In 2015, we spent a lot of time further evolving our strategy, so ICRA can continue to play an important role in supporting the capacities of smallholder farming to innovate. ICRA’s strategy describes our refocused objectives, how we will achieve impact at scale, how we integrate learning with doing, and how we will integrate the knowledge and agribusiness value chains.
ICRA was instrumental in designing and launching a new global initiative in Capacity Development for Agricultural Innovation Systems (CDAIS), with pilot activities in eight countries. In the 2SCALE project, we continued to support agribusiness development through public-private partnerships, focusing on the training of national trainers and local agribusiness coaches in 24 value chain partnerships in seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa. We deepened our support to local innovation processes in Cuba and Bolivia, enabling local partners to develop bankable business plans and profitable agricultural enterprises. We continued to work with regional partners to strengthen innovation platforms of the West African Agricultural Productivity Programme in Ghana, Mali and Benin; to support the Platform for African-European Partnerships in agricultural research for development; and to increase incomes of cotton producers and processors in four countries of West Africa. With our partners in the region, we developed a tailor-made training programme to support the integration of research and extension in Lesotho. You can read more about these and other projects on our website.
In 2015 ICRA also continued our well-established courses in the Netherlands on linking research and higher education to development. Further developing the links between higher education and local agribusiness, and with partners from the Netherlands and France, we continued activities to strengthen agricultural faculties in the Universities of Gulu and Segou in Uganda and Mali, respectively, and the ATVET in Holeta, Ethiopia. ICRA’s busy agenda in 2015 required new staff, and we welcomed new faces to our team: Myra Wopereis Pura to coordinate the CDAIS project, and Mundie Salm to strengthen our learning and outreach work in Higher Education. Our activities rely on a growing number of ICRA trainers and local ‘associate professionals’, without whom we could not reach the needed scale to make a significant impact.
countries where ICRA is active
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people trained by ICRA staff and ICRA associates
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“I appreciate the tool box of skills I got at ICRA. It has helped me to effectively and efficiently share with others and unleash my potential. We have developed a regionally coordinated curriculum (...) which was directly inspired by the ICRA course I attended.”
- Fred Kabi, senior lecturer and researcher at Makerere University, Uganda
“ICRA’s course has changed my life. At last, I have found a perfect method that suits my students’ needs. I learned how to design and develop a labour market-responsive curriculum.”
- Mrs Syatrawati, lecturer extension and community services, Pangkep State Polytechnic of Agriculture, Indonesia.
“…We are learning a lot! In fact I have now realized that there are many things we never considered important in building healthy business relationships with the producers; it is this training that is opening our eyes to them.”
- Ifeolu Bamgboye, Coordinator, PIL Extension Unit, Nigeria
“ICRA changed my working style. I can now work more effectively using the skills I acquired. The course changed my approach to the way I do business. I now tell farmers that it's for them to tell us what we should research. In training I put these participatory skills to work, and farmers enjoy using participatory approaches because they share their experiences.”
- Caleb Mahoya, research officer, Coffee Research Institute, Chipinge district, Zimbabwe
ICRA believes the services that small farmers and local agribusinesses receive – inputs, technical, organizational, business and financial advisory services – can be greatly improved. Above all, we believe that the functional linkages between farmers, agribusiness and the services they receive can be improved. We therefore seek to add value to development programmes by bringing farmers, entrepreneurs, and these services together into clusters to jointly improve their businesses.
ICRA’s growing team of skilled facilitators and coaches support the linkages between farmers, agribusiness and services. By training trainers, who then train coaches and a wide range of actors, ICRA’s work effectively reaches out to many thousands of people and helps to improve rural livelihoods.
To achieve impact at the scale, several things are required to make a difference:
ICRA has developed a proven approach that leads multi-actor groups through progressive phases of joint action that lead from the identification of an innovation opportunity to the achievement of mutual goals. The ICRA approach, which was further elaborated and refined in 2015, consists of four phases:
Knowledge services play a vital role for improving the livelihoods of farmers and rural entrepreneurs. Innovation in rural agriculture and agribusiness depends on the interface between two types of value chain – the knowledge value chain and the business value chain. Our focus is on improving the linkages and interaction between the different actors in both of these two types of value chains.
The knowledge value chain includes the three broad areas of research, education and rural advisory services. Each of these has its own networks, ways of working, and even mindsets, which often hinder rather than help the application of knowledge by actors within the business value chain, who in turn have their own networks and culture.
In this annual report you can read more about how ICRA has put these ideas into practice in 2015.
2015 saw the launch of Capacity Development for Agricultural Innovation Systems – or CDAIS. This international project represents an innovative four-year partnership between Agrinatura – a grouping of prominent European research and education organizations – and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), with support from the European Union. ICRA played a prominent role in the development of CDAIS, and now coordinates the project on behalf of the Agrinatura European Economic Interest Group (Agrinatura EEIG). The overall objective of this project is to make agricultural innovation systems more efficient and sustainable, in order to meet the demands of farmers, agribusiness and consumers.
The CDAIS partnership works both at global and national levels. Globally, the project supports the Tropical Agriculture Platform (TAP) in developing a common framework for capacity development in agricultural innovation systems, a mechanism for exchange of experience, and the brokering of capacity development services. In each of the eight pilot countries, the project is developing a vision for capacity development in agricultural innovation systems, analyzing capacity development needs, and developing a core team of trainers who can strengthen functional capacities both locally and nationally. Results and lessons learnt are shared not just among key actors but also with decision makers within each country.
In 2015, CDAIS established project teams at international and national levels, conducted scoping studies, and engaged national partners through inception workshops. By the end of 2016, needs analysis will be completed, and national trainers will be mentored to support selected innovation partnerships and national platforms in the eight countries.
As well as the overall coordination of CDAIS, ICRA also implements activities in Ethiopia. Agrinatura partners CIRAD (France), NRI (UK), AICS (Italy), and IAS (Portugal) implement activities in Burkina Faso, Laos, Bangladesh, Rwanda, Guatemala, Honduras, and Angola.
ICRA continues to support agribusiness development through public-private partnerships in sub-Saharan Africa under the 2SCALE project - Africa’s largest agribusiness incubator. ICRA’s specific role in this initiative is to develop local networking within agribusiness clusters, linking farmer groups, services, traders, processors and other agribusiness actors. These local-level collaborative arrangements are vital in building public-private partnerships and profitable commodity-based value chains. After a major review, the project was realigned in 2015 to focus on 53 value chain partnerships in nine countries, with ICRA’s training programme refocused to provide tailor-made training support to 24 of these partnerships in seven countries.
Trained and supported by international ICRA staff, a community of certified national business trainers now train and mentor local business coaches, who go on to support farmer groups and agribusiness clusters in a variety of ways. These include building business relationships, developing business plans, negotiating prices and loans, organizing collective storing and marketing, and developing new products and brands. The ultimate aim of ICRA’s training and mentoring is to integrate functional capacity for innovation within technical and economic business settings. This encourages investments, increases market volumes, business and profitability, and contributes to inclusive growth that benefits smallholder farmer communities.
In 2015, ICRA designed and implemented 15 capacity strengthening plans comprising 43 learning cycles for business coaches and thousands of cluster actors. For each learning cycle, trainers have developed tailor-made modules comprising facilitators’ guides, exercises and reference sheets. ‘Review and capitalization’ workshops have documented impressive examples of how agribusiness coaching really makes a difference. In Nigeria for example, farmers who sell cassava to the Psaltry processing factory, which then sells starch to Nigerian Breweries, improved their negotiation skills, resulting in the reduction of transport costs and significantly lower interest rates, so improving the overall competitiveness of the value chain. In Benin, coaching on building business relationships led to new business deals between traders and women groups producing parboiled rice for national markets.
2SCALE is consortium of the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC), BoP Innovation Center and ICRA.
Since its inception in 2007, ICRA has supported the Local Agricultural Innovation Programme in Cuba, known as PIAL (the Programa de Innovación Agropecuaria Local). The innovation processes led by local actors in PIAL built on ICRA’s ‘interactive learning cycle approach’, engaging those who commonly face innovation challenges and who can benefit from joint learning and action. For an action learning cycle to be successful, it requires ‘champions’ to bring all actors together and keep them oriented towards mutual goals.
In previous years, ICRA trained those champions through such learning cycles. Then in 2015, ICRA coached 20 of them to become trainers themselves and to train a further 35 new champions through additional learning cycles. There are now 55 trained champions in PIAL, of which 46 are women. They work at two levels: directly improving the entrepreneurial capacity of actors in agrifood chains, and working through education research and local government organizations to disseminate best agricultural practices through the PIAL innovation network. This network now supports more than 50,000 small-scale farmers in Cuba.
Inspired by these successes, ICRA built on these experiences to support innovation processes in Bolivia. Using a similar methodology, ICRA conducted a series of learning cycles with participants from different organizations linked to the National Agriculture and Forestry Innovation System. In 2014, 52 participants reviewed local needs and developed business ideas. In 2015, individuals from this initial group facilitated 261 farmers from eight municipalities to further develop concrete business plans and submit them for funding by local commercial and development banks.
In total, 70 business proposals were developed, that has allowed small-scale farmers to access finance, and so facilitate a move from subsistence farming to a more entrepreneurial approach.
In 2015, ICRA completed two projects in South Africa with European and local partners. One strengthened agricultural extension, the other supported transformation processes at agricultural training institutes, both supported by Nuffic, the Netherlands’ organization for internationalization in education.
The project Strengthening agricultural extension services in South Africa aligned and accredited learning resources developed to upgrade the competence of extension staff. These training materials known as the ‘Big five extension modules’ covered the five action domains of extension approaches: the economic viability of production activities of rural households, the skills and motivation of extension workers, group dynamics and leadership, and effective management of extension services. During the project, 15 trainers were certified in the use of the modules and two ‘big five’ extension courses were implemented with 141 participants in Limpopo Province. This extension course is now available in South Africa as a skills learning programme at the national Agricultural Research Council.
The project Transforming agricultural colleges into agricultural training institutes developed the concept of Communities of Learning and Action (COLAs) as a means to promoting change in 11 training institutes. COLAs allowed staff from different training institutes who had never met before, to come together and discuss specific challenges related to transformation processes at their colleges. They shared ideas and practices for quality assurance, competence-based learning, rural wealth creation and gender mainstreaming. This led to a shared and common understanding and the production of concrete products tailored to the characteristics of each institute and their clients. The experiences, outcomes and lessons learnt were compiled in the book that can be downloaded from ICRA‘s website.
Lecturers from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Ghana were emphatic that support from ICRA has improved their teaching practices and postgraduate programmes.
Together with 15 lecturers from the Faculty of Renewable Natural Resources of the University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), ICRA designed a training programme to improve the MPhil programme in Natural Resource and Environmental Governance (NREG). The NREG programme is distinct in three main ways. It is interdisciplinary and engages practitioners, it focuses on the development of meta-disciplinary skills and of attitudes and mindsets, and it requires the use of interactive learning and the creation of authentic learning environments for graduates to attain the competences needed.
ICRA’s tailor-made training focused on facilitating effective group work among students with different disciplinary backgrounds and levels of experience, on assessing group work, on strategies for teaching meta-disciplinary skills, and on strategies for creating hands-on, field-based, practical learning experiences.
According to the lecturers involved, this training programme enhanced their skills in course delivery, and improved their ability to initiate changes in teaching methods and incorporate ‘real life’ learning and critical reflection. These changes contributed to the Faculty’s vision of becoming a centre of excellence in the training of students for responsible natural resource and environmental governance in Ghana and the region.
In 2015, we continued to offer our international courses in Wageningen, the Netherlands, giving participants from all over the world the opportunity of hands-on and challenging learning from workshop sessions and field visits.
In the course on Interactive learning, action research and outreach in higher education, participants discovered how to create synergy between real-life learning opportunities for students and meaningful service delivery to the community. They learned how to develop labour market-responsive curricula that enable students to practise the competences they need in future jobs. Field trips exposed participants to how research is organized in the Netherlands, with the aim of benefiting producers and agribusiness. A new element introduced in 2015 was the ‘flip the classroom’ session where participants make their own learning materials in the form of short videos.
The Linking research to local rural innovation course enabled participants to create and support effective collaboration and dynamic stakeholder networks. Participants explored topics such as rural innovation, drivers of change, multi-stakeholder processes, facilitating resourcefulness, and learning.
ICRA’s achievements in 2015 would not have been possible without fruitful partnerships with a wide range of organizations and institutions across the world. We would like to thank:
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