9 November 2015
Last month, WYG and Natural Resources Institute (NRI) launched the call for concept notes for the Sustainable Agricultural Intensification Research and Learning Programme in sub-Saharan Africa (SAIRLA) research opportunity.
With the deadline for submissions approaching on the 19th November, we find out more about the project with Professor Jeremy Haggar and Richard Lamboll from Natural Resources Institute following a recent interview.
Why is the SAIRLA programme important?
Jeremy: Africa has the challenge to balance the needs of a growing population with a growing economy; especially providing sufficient and nutritious food, a healthy environment and social equity for that population. SAIRLA aims to generate the evidence base for decision makers (particularly policy makers and investors) that can contribute to maintaining that balance.
What approach is the team using to try to make sure that the research really makes a difference to the issues the programme is addressing?
Richard: Through facilitating the development of Learning Alliances, which will operate at national and continent levels, we hope to bring together researchers with decision makers from public, private and civil society organisations to discuss evidence and analyse how policies, investments and development practices can improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and especially women and youth.
In a context broader than that of SAIRLA, what in your opinion do we need to be doing to address food shortages?
Jeremy: Food shortages are not just about producing more food, indeed there is enough food to feed the current world population, but it is not equitably distributed. But population growth which will be greatest in Africa will require more food to be grown. The challenge is that food must be produced in an environmentally sustainable fashion, otherwise we will not be able to grow the food needed by future generations, and it must be accessible to those that need it.
During your time working on projects in Africa, have you come across farming techniques or local ways of addressing food shortage that you have found either genuinely innovative or refreshing?
Jeremy: The challenges are often not so much the lack of knowledge about which techniques might improve production, but achieving the integration of knowledge between researchers and farmers, who come from different social backgrounds. Some NGOs seem to be able to bridge this gap more readily; one NGO in Ethiopia I met with insisted that their success was due to working closely with the poorest farmers, understanding their local context and providing the skills and confidence which allowed them to believe it was possible to change their lives. The result was that women started to produce vegetables in their home gardens using compost from composting vegetative matter in their kitchen gardens. Moreover they did not just sell the vegetables to buy staple foods, but ate the vegetables themselves; something the agronomy researchers told me culturally people were not prepared to do.
What other programmes have you worked on recently and can you apply any lessons learned to from those to the SAIRLA programme?
Richard: I worked with the Climate Change Adaptation in Africa programme jointly learning how to strengthen adaptive capacity in agricultural and food systems. A key lesson was that when addressing complex challenges, such as more equitable SAI, there are rarely silver bullet solutions. Multi-stakeholder interaction and social learning processes can open up fresh opportunities for innovation and change, but require effective facilitation, robust analysis, adequate resources and commitment.
The deadline for submissions is 19th November 2015. Short-listed applicants will subsequently be requested to submit full proposals in 2016.
Further information including full research questions, application procedures and FAQ’s are available on the SAIRLA website.