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Joining the PARADE: Lessons on participatory agricultural research by a livestock economist

I joined the PARADE workshop from 9 to 11 December 2013. PARADE stands for Participatory Agricultural Research: Approaches, Design and Evaluation. The PARADE event held this week was an expert meeting at Saint Anne’s College, Oxford, United Kingdom. It was sadly not a vibrant, colourful and noisy display of human diversity…

Then again, perhaps it was.

The PARADE expert meeting involved over 40 researchers active in participatory agricultural research for development. The event was organized by Africa RISING and the CGIAR Research Program on Humidtropics with local support from IIED and Euforic Services. The broad aim of the meeting was to identify more systematic ways of using new methods and tools (individually or in combination) to ensure that agricultural research for development become more effectively targeted on development outcomes.

As an agricultural economist working in the Policy, Trade and Value Chains Program of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and not necessarily familiar with tools for participatory agricultural research, I joined the PARADE because my main interest was to discover approaches and tools to make economic analyses of livestock value chains more relevant to the issues faced by the expected beneficiaries of our projects. In a nutshell: connecting the numbers in our data bases with the  real-life people hiding behind the numbers.

The fourth imGoats Inhassoro innovation platform meeting

Participants at the fourth imGoats Inhassoro innovation platform meeting held on 15 March 2012 at Manusse, Mozambique (photo credit: ILRI).

I now see real potential to use tools from participatory agricultural research to make livestock value chain and policy analyses more directly linked to the issues that are important to stakeholders in livestock development.

Participatory identification of the research problem

Some tools I’ve learned about are particularly adapted to identify the various constraints faced by different stakeholders of livestock development. Many of the tools presented during the meeting involved multi-stakeholder platforms which can help identify and rank the importance of problems in a participatory manner. I thought these would be really useful for livestock economists like me to gather research questions that are relevant to real-life people striving for livestock sector development. To my mind, undertaking such a meaningful analysis would be much more gratifying than poring through databases of numbers to try and identify trends that might eventually be of some interest to an unknown somebody somewhere.

Participatory validation of sampling methods

Choosing samples of respondents to collect statistically robust data is crucial to obtain equally robust economic results. It is often a big problem faced by economists working on livestock systems in developing countries because the total population of livestock farmers or traders from which to sample, and their characteristics, is often not well known. Using some tools from participatory agricultural research can help economists consult informed stakeholders in the area under study so as to identify the main elements that characterize the local population, which will inform the constitution of a statistically robust sampling method. This will thus help make the ensuing results fit better with the reality of local populations.

Participatory interpretation of economic analyses

The experts at the PARADE were all open to the idea that research should stick to the methods and techniques that make them robust, while nonetheless embracing approaches from participatory agricultural research to make their results more relevant to achieving development outcomes. So, I feel vindicated in using state-of-the-art methods and tools of economic and value chain analyses to identify relationships and trends in data collected from samples representing the population that our research programs are studying. However, tools from participatory agricultural research come in handy again when validating and making sense of the results of the econometric analysis. Our analyses are likely to be much more robust if their results have been confronted to, and compared with, the realities and understanding of the populations we are researching.

A writeshop with a limited number of participants followed the PARADE workshop to produce written products that spell out what participatory agricultural research is, how it helps make agricultural research for development more robust, and what tools and methods are available to undertake this approach. This blog post is a result of this writeshop. All products will be made available in due time on the PARADE wiki site.

Jo Cadilhon, Senior Agricultural Economist, Policy, Trade and Value Chains Program, ILRI

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