Last week the CGIAR Humid Tropics research program held a planning Workshop in Nairobi. Alan Duncan, ILRI’s contact person for the program shares his reflections on the design of the program:
One could argue that the ‘integrating’ systems research programs like this one are what CGIAR reform was meant to achieve: Different centers pooling expertise, thinking about links between different system components and fitting technical work such as crop breeding into a wider social and systems context. This integration is key to the sustainable intensification of mixed crop livestock systems which are home to the majority of the world’s poor. A successful Humid Tropics research program in the coming 15 years could have real impact on the livelihoods of millions of poor people.
The meeting was lively and there was some good thinking over the course of the week. Some highlights:
- We spent quite some time thinking about the core concept of the program: It is built around the idea that as systems intensify different locations follow different paths. In some places natural resources are heavily degraded but people have graduated out of poverty. In others, natural resources are still in reasonable condition but poverty is widespread. These different starting conditions require different interventions to move smallholders towards a ‘golden quadrant’ where poverty is overcome while natural resources are maintained. At the meeting we introduced a further variable into the core concept: Markets. These had previously been a bit of an add-on and their inclusion in the core concept brings much more coherence to the thinking.
- We also spent time working out a protocol for action site selection. We developed a draft study design and some criteria to select sites based on the three main variables in the core concept: natural resource condition, poverty rates and market access. This site selection protocol will allow a common approach to site selection across the four Tier 1 Action Areas (Central America, West Africa Humid Lowlands, East and Central Africa Highlands, Greater Mekong). A strong study design will make drawing lessons from the program about how to catalyse sustainable intensification of systems much more powerful.
- We had an excellent debate about the overall structure and content of the so-called SRTs (Strategic Research Themes). In the last iteration of the proposal, institutional issues had been lumped into SRT3 on Scaling Out. Many in the group argued that institutional issues needed to be much more embedded in SRT2 (production, NRM, markets) and this view prevailed. We rejigged the program by including institutional issues together with markets in SRT2.
- We talked a lot about ‘R4D platforms’ and what we really mean by this term – are they different to the ‘innovation platforms’ that ILRI often works with? These terms mean many different things to different people but by the end of the meeting we had come up with a concept that most were comfortable with. R4D platforms will be convened at various scales, notably at local ‘action site’ level. They will act as a forum to bring together relevant stakeholders to catalyze innovation around agreed ‘entry points’ toward sustainable intensification.
The Humid Tropics program has been ‘in the kitchen’ for quite a while but last week saw a good deal of progress. The team gelled well and there was a good sense that participants had signed up to revise the proposal and get it in good shape to be resubmitted to the CGIAR Fund Council in August 2012.