Democratic and partnership-based cooperation between elected organic farmers and national agricultural researchers from the three countries of Mali, Burkina Faso and Benin test innovations that will and can contribute to food security and climate change adaptation. Organized within a EuropeAid-funded research for development program organized by the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FIBL), the tested results are spread through Bluetooth technology and mobile phones in order to reach at least 100’000 farmers with hardly any extra costs. The experience is a clear sign that willingness and knowledge are available in order to succeed in transforming unsustainable forms of farming and wealth creation into resilient and more just systems from local to global level.
Fibl- Research Instute for Organic Agriculture – FRICK Switzerland - SwitzerlandLead applicant
FiBL is one of the world’s leading research and information centres for organic agriculture and employs over 135 experts. The close links between different fields of research and the rapid transfer of knowledge from research to advisory work and agricultural practice are FiBL’s strengths. Outside Switzerland the Institute’s competence is also sought after, and FiBL is involved in numerous international projects – not only in research, consultancy and training but also in development cooperation.
Malian Organic Movement - MaliInitiative partner
MOBIOM, a project initiated by the development organisation Helvetas to promote organic farming in Mali, emerged as an independent ‘movement’ made up of converted organic farmers and their field agents. MOBIOM is now a federation of 84 organic farmers’ cooperatives comprising more than 9,000 certified organic farmers. MOBIOM members produce different crops such as cotton, sesame, shea butter and hibiscus on a total of 8,189 ha. MOBIOM has adopted a growth strategy that brought organic seed cotton production from 796 mt in 2007 to 2,034 mt in 2011 (approximately 155% increase). Many farmer members of MOBIOM also own cattle. This represents not only an investment for their family but also a means to produce organic matter for soil fertilization. It also provides the animal power for pulling.
Union of village associations for the management of wildlife reserves - BeninInitiative partner
The Union of AVIGREF is a ridge tile structure based in Tanguiéta (northern Benin) having legal recognition as an association since 2001. The NGO has 27 village associations located in the outskirts of the Biosphere Reserve Pendjari (www.pendjari.net). The mission of the U-AVIGREF is to balance the needs of the local population with conservation requirements and its vision is to make this a protected co-management model and the engine of sustainable development in the region. UAVIGREF objectives are to: (i) participate in the sustainable management of the Biosphere Reserve Pendjari (RBP) with the management of the National Park Pendjari (DPNP) and (ii) reducing the pressure of population on the reservation the implementation of income-generating activities.
National union of cotton producers of Burkina - Burkina FasoInitiative partner
Established in 1998, the National Union of Cotton Producers of Burkina Faso (UNPCB) is the supreme organ of Cotton Producers Groups (CPGs) that are intended to facilitate the supply of agricultural inputs and equipment, good credit management and increasing production. These GPC form departmental unions which are in turn grouped into provincial unions. The elected representatives of the various cotton provinces are gathered in the General Assembly to form a national union. UNPCB aims to improve productivity, of the marketing of seed cotton of its members and improving their lives. The main activity is the promotion of cotton production and all activities related thereto both upstream (and technical factors of production) and downstream (organization of the sale of seed cotton and equitable distribution among the members of loads and resources).
Institute of Rural Economy/ Regional Center for Agricultural Research - MaliInitiative partner
IER is the leading research institution in Mali for the implementation of the national agricultural research policy. IRE”s mission is to contribute to agricultural productivity through research best suited to the needs of rural areas, conserve natural resources, increase food security and income of farmers and ensure sustainable rural development.IRE’s main activities include: technical studies technical studies in all areas of the rural sector: agriculture, livestock, forestry and fisheries resources, agricultural economics and rural systems, planning production; Rural Council through technology transfer; staff training and supervision of research, GIS.
National Agricultural Research Institute of Benin - BeninInitiative partner
INRAB’s mission is to produce technologies for rural communities that protect natural resources and contribute to the development of science. INRAB’s main activities are focused on forestry, livestock, fisheries and climate change, policy research and analysis, education, service delivery and consultancy. Main themes explored are fertility, fertilizers, pest control, conservation and improvement of plant genetic resources (seeds), economic and financial profitability and forest research.
Institute of Environment and Agricultural Research - Burkina FasoInitiative partner
INERA is a research institute whose mission is to develop, execute, and coordinate environmental and agricultural research programs in Burkina Faso. The work of the Institute is carried out by 4 departments that focus on 16 research programs in total. The departments include: Management of natural resources and systems of production; Vegetable productions, Livestock and Forestry.
Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation - SwitzerlandInitiative partner
With the assistance of researchers, extensionists and market brokers, small scale farmers identify and test their own innovations and technologies towards improved cereal-cotton farming systems and chains to increase their incomes, enhance food security and resilience to climate change. The joint development and evaluation promises readier adoption of effective new techniques by farmers. The institutional mechanism of generating locally adapted innovations is presented. Even as developed by organic farmers from West Africa, this innovation promises solutions as well for the millions of conventional farmers. The needed transformation of agriculture and rural society towards resilience, market integration and justice has become more probable.
In the center stands the generation of a mechanism to reproduce farmer-led climate smart technologies at village level, which ultimately will improve food security. The mechanism is developed for the cotton belt in West Africa and applied with organic farmers from three countries. A key feature is the close cooperation between organized farmers responsible for the on-farm trials, and accompanying researchers, extensionists and market actors.
The institutional set-up was developed in an action-research program and is based on three core social levels (farm, village/district and nation), which are tied together through trans-disciplinary communication processes. Local and scientific knowledge is generated in innovation platforms in order to jointly produce technical and institutional solutions for hunger, rural poverty and environmental problems. This decentralized mechanism and institutional innovation can be applied for all agro-ecological regions and domestic and global value chains.
The program is active the three West African countries of Mali, Burkina Faso and Benin, where cotton is a major cash crop with important political and economic stakes since colonial times. The participating farmers are small-scale organic cotton producers, both men and women, competing on the global cotton market. Moreover, cotton stimulates food crops like maize and sorghum through the infrastructure and services provided by its industry. The fertility of the soils has significantly declined over the last decades, leading to stagnating yields of cotton and food crops grown under rotation.
The farmers participating in the program were selected by their cooperatives from 10 different areas, spread over the three countries. They are all part of the organic cotton value chain promoted by Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation. All farms use draught animals and very modest and low-capital inputs, technology and equipment. Poverty, hunger and weak civil and state institutions are common features.
After four years, the initiative has proven that organic cotton production is a promising option for small farmers with less than 10 ha of arable land. The micro-economic benefit can be comparable and even competitive with conventional farms. Conventional cotton production, known as highly destructive for environmental and human health, can thus be improved or replaced with proven ecological and organic practices.
Furthermore, our initiative has shown that farmer-research networks built around concrete innovation projects can produce solutions more efficiently and effectively than the classical, researcher-driven approach. Farmers and particularly women are empowered through participatory research, facilitating the emergence of locally adapted solutions in both production and adaptation. Finally, interdisciplinary research guided by social science can master the complexity and diversity of the natural environment- society -market systems without getting lost in academic exercises.
The initiative targets the small-scale organic cotton farmers in the West-African cotton belt. This group innately comprises a large share of young, female and/or poor farmers which are often situated on eroded soils. They are seldom served by public extension, marketing support and rural finance services. Organic production methods give them a possibility to grow cotton without costly external inputs, while the customary premium provides welcome additional income.
Apart from improved food security, farmers mention better farmer health and less debt thanks to low-capital solutions, as the big contributions by the research program. Finally, the gained self-confidence and the empowerment of farmer communities provide strong answers to the societal needs.
Equally, extensionists benefit from their active participation in the development of new techniques. The close collaboration with farmers, market actors and researchers improves their work and strengthens the value chains involved.
10 groups of farmers comprising of 10 individual farmers, acting as on-farm researchers, were guided by 20 extensionists, technicians and market brokers from farmer organizations. Together with FiBL, the lead research organization, 10-20 researchers from national research institutes accompanied the on-farm tests and conducted parallel on-station trials to confirm findings. The project office of FiBL with 5 project managers and their assistants (various specialists and administrators) coordinates the activities and assures the communication.
The main actors remain the 100 elected farmer-researchers, of which 40% are women. They are all selected due to their dependence on cotton, skills, motivation and sense for responsibility. Their farms are considered as models. They are reporting back directly to their over 2’500 colleagues in the multiple villages.
One of the main concerns proved to be effective communication. The cultural distance between actors with different frames of reference proved to be challenging. An active exchange - be it between stakeholder networks of different countries or between actors at national level - needed frequent stimulation.
In the present concluding phase of the initiative, it proved difficult to ignite innovative potential among researchers and extensionists to stray from well-known dissemination paths and to conceive new efficient and economic ways to spread and scale up technologies. Persistence and good networking helped to overcome this obstacle at least partially.
Finally, the relatively poor self-organization capacities of the farmers reduced the effectiveness of the communication and the response by the farmers, which are still heavily dependent from the outside stakeholders (industry, support organizations, input suppliers).
Applying the organic principles - health, ecology, fairness, care - in agricultural production proved to harmonize resource sufficiency and environmental functionality with productivity and income generation. Implementing organic cotton cultivation reduces environmental degradation by applying nature conservation techniques. By abandoning harmful chemical inputs and stimulating functional biodiversity (beneficial insects and plants in plant protection) biodiversity at landscape level increases. Organic practices support erosion control and thus combat desertification processes. Decreasing external input dependency and efficient, ecological management of the soil nutrients indirectly saves energy and resources. By building up soil organic matter the surrounding water household is improved.
Only a transformation into resilient and soil fertility enhancing systems, as demonstrated by the research program, will ensure resilient product life cycles in the West African cotton-cereal systems.
The results of the innovation just started to spread and the long lasting effects need some time to become visible. However the established collaborative networks of farmers, extensionists and researchers implemented as decentralized innovation platforms under the leadership of the national agriculture research institutes have been endorsed and will serve as examples and models within and outside the participating countries.
The need for adequate research infrastructure and resources in order to cope with challenges, particularly declining soil fertility and rural poverty, is starting to influence decision makers in both politics and industry. Organic cotton production is now considered as a viable option and a sound strategy for small-scale farms. The high response from “conventional” farmers towards the innovations promoted by their “organic” colleagues participating in the program is an indication that many of the 2 million cotton farmers of West Africa can profit from the findings.
The tested and selected innovative technologies are documented on video. The originating short films are intended to be watched and shared on mobile phones. Our approach to use mobile phone technology for both farmer-researcher communication as well as for spreading and rolling-out new technologies has found recognition and will ideally soon be picked up in other regions and contexts. With this grass-roots based approach the essence of the results will find a broad outreach within the farmer community. This will be supported by an active engagement of farmer organizations, industry and state actors from both research and extension.
For civil society a film for public screening at the national TV programs has been shot. This film will contribute to a continuous dialogue on the role of small-scale farmers within society and economy. Furthermore, efforts of national extension programs, private and farmer initiatives to set up joint programs at national level will continue.