Decades of scientific research related to agriculture and natural resource management have brought limited benefits to smallholder farmers, including crop farmers, fishers, livestock keepers and other resource users. Therefore, donors, policymakers and civil society organizations (CSOs), such as farmer organizations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), are urging the formal research sector to make its work more useful to smallholder farmers. Many institutions of agricultural research and development are now seeking ways to engage more closely with smallholders in order to conduct research that is more relevant for and accessible to them, and are seeking examples and good practices as sources of learning. Some examples of research that is focused on smallholders and in which the process is co-managed and driven by smallholders can be found in “informal” research initiatives — specifically, those which are facilitated by CSOs. However, information on these initiatives rarely finds its way into the realm of scientific literature and is therefore not readily accessible to formal research institutions. The purpose of this study was to identify such examples of informal agricultural research and development that could be documented and thus made accessible to formal researchers.
The CGIAR Research Program on Aquatic Agricultural Systems (AAS) pursues an approach that involves embedding research within development processes and strengthening stakeholders’ capacities to innovate and adapt. The AAS program, together with the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), asked Prolinnova1 — an NGO-led multistakeholder international network that promotes local innovation processes in agriculture and natural resource management — to help them explore the approaches, outcomes and impacts of informal research and development facilitated by CSOs. Basing their research on 11 case studies from Africa, Asia and Latin America, which were drawn from over 100 cases that were identified and vetted, the study team assessed the extent to which farmer-led processes of research and innovation in agriculture and natural resource management led to improvements in rural livelihoods.
This report describes farmer-led research findings and their dissemination, and analyzes available evidence on the impact of farmer-led approaches to agricultural research and development2 on rural livelihoods, local capacity to innovate and adapt, and influence on governmental institutions of agricultural research and development. It then draws lessons for pursuing this type of approach and for future partnerships between actors in both formal and informal agricultural research and development who seek common goals in serving smallholder communities.