Crop-Livestock / Diagnostics / Humid Tropics / HUMIDTROPICS / ILRI / Innovation Systems / Intensification / Interview / Livelihoods / Research

ILRI in the Humidtropics research program: Interview with Alan Duncan

Alan Duncan Humidtropics program focal point at ILRI

The Humidtropics research program held a Strategic Research Theme (SRT) Meeting from 5 to 8 February, 2013 in Nairobi, Kenya.  The main objective of this meeting was to develop a research framework for each of the SRTs. After the meeting, the five SRT Leaders were interviewed. We asked Alan Duncan, ILRI focal point for the program and leader of the SRT on systems analysis and synthesis to share some insights about the workshop, its overall added value and how ILRI and Humidtropics are linkedr.

What did you expect to achieve with this workshop and how far have you managed to get?

We’ve talked a lot about the proposal development in an abstract sense. It’s time to get to implementation. That is much harder because we need to think carefully about what needs to be done where, by whom etc. My expectations for this workshop were to translate these considerations into practical ways. We have gone a long way. In strategic research theme 1, we have had a very good group, we have defined six major elements to that SRT. We did some good brainstorming about methods to use, contributions from different centres to that situational analysis and we have clearer ideas on the purpose of this situation analysis, which will guide other SRTs in the early phase of this program.

What have been the main decisions made or insights gathered throughout this workshop?

Despite the many conversations we haven’t yet reached the level of clarity needed.

There is a matrix structure with SRTs as vertical pillars and action areas as horizontal rows of the Humidtropics program. The practicalities of how those two mesh has not been fully worked out yet.

We’ve realized that there’s strong integration among all SRTs and early on in the program it’s likely that most activities contribute to this situational analysis (i.e. across SRTs). Until that is done we can’t go too far on developing research for development (R4D) platforms and research activities.

What are the crucial challenges that you think this program will be grappling with next?

We have realized that there are structural problems with how the program is structured: Each centre gets a budget related to a specific block in the program. It immediately creates silos and discourages integration of activities between centres. It is a serious issue – and one that is inherited in all CGIAR research programs but it is particularly problematic in the system ones (Drylands, Humidtropics and Aquatic agricultural systems) since these have to bring centres together but work against financial structures that can seem to prevent this integration.

What do you think is the added value of this program?

The added value of this program is its integrating function. In some ways the three system programs are really the flagships that try to break down the commodity thinking of CGIAR, without which sustainable intensification is not going to happen. We need to think about different system components (crop, livestock, trees) about the linkages between commodities and markets or policies. It’s exceedingly challenging but it is the way forward.

What is the role of ILRI in this program?

Our main role is in leading SRT 1. However, being a livestock-focused centre, we have strong incentives to contribute to livestock issues and discussions across the program.

One of the things ILRI brings is its ‘systems’ thinking and approach. ILRI always had to take a systems perspective because of the embedded role of livestock in agricultural systems. Crop systems can develop new varieties but livestock production is always closely related to crop production (nutrition for livestock, contribution to draft power, manure etc.). In this sense ILRI always had to work in a systems mode. This history is valuable to the Humidtropics program.

In terms of opportunities for ILRI, Humidtropics provides a great laboratory for our thinking, for the application of innovation theory; it offers us a lot of opportunities to test our household modeling approaches and a lot of scope to bring in a market perspective to this CRP. It is a lab for a lot of different areas we are working on.

This is a very challenging program but there’s huge potential in this program to get away from the old component-focused approach of CGIAR and to work in a much more integrated manner.

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