From research to impact: the stories behind the successes

ID-100133984A recent Montpellier Panel Briefing Paper, Innovation for Sustainable Intensification in Africa, highlights the need for change in the way we innovate and do research if we are to increase food production while protecting natural resources (in other words sustainable intensification). Added to this need for change is the increasing focus of donors and civil society to measure success as the level of impact. International aid has come under criticism for failing to ensure long-term impact of research investments.

In a new report by Joanna Kane-Potaka of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) entitled The Story Behind the Success, 10 case studies are presented, which exemplify how research for development (R4D) can be translated into real results and uptake by people on the ground.  Some broad lessons from the case studies were the need for monitoring and evaluation to feed back into the uptake planning process, the need to design a proactive uptake strategy that is informed by and informs the research itself, and the need for effective engagement, ultimately aiming for stakeholders to take ownership of the research and become ambassadors for the outputs. Effective communication and the integration of cultural factors in uptake planning were also important.

In one case study, farmers in Northern Thailand who use termite mounds on poor quality soils to help them retain water and nutrients, were looking for an alternative as natural termite mounds began to become scarce. International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and Khon Kaen University scientists began trialling the use of bentonite clay, found by Australian researchers to help conserve water and nutrients in soil. Researchers found that in Northern Thailand the use of bentonite clay helped reduce crop failure due to drought and increased crop yield by 73%. Three years after the trials around 600 farmers in Thailand and Cambodia had adopted the practice and increased their yields by an average 18%. In this case adoption took a long time but was driven largely by targeting early innovator farmers, in particular members of the Farmer Wisdom Network (FWM), which individuals at Khon Kaen University had previously built a relationship with. Another key relationship, between IWMI and the Thai government, built over time, aided in the early trials, which were conducted on government experiment stations. The government is now developing a plant where waste bentonite from the production of vegetable oils is converted to composting for use on soils. This product is to be free (excluding transportation costs) to farmers. Farmer field trials and Farmer Field Schools were not only used to communicate the technology but to obtain feedback used in the research process. Identifying early innovators, building strong relationships with local farmers and partners and having meaningful engagement with them were key to ensuring this solution actually had impact. [Read more…]