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Workshop and review of Innovation Platforms to enable scaling out of Conservation Agriculture-Based Sustainable Intensification in the Eastern Gangetic Plains

 

Innovation Platforms (IPs) have been implemented and supported since 2015 to enable scaling out of Conservation Agriculture-Based Sustainable Intensification (CASI) in the EGP (Eastern Gangetic Plains). IPs were designed to be multi-stakeholder forums linking private, civil and public sector stakeholders (including micro-entrepreneurs) to collectively identify and work towards overcoming barriers to improving agricultural productivity and profitability. They were established to (1) diagnose problems, (2) identify opportunities, (3) find ways to achieve goals, and (4) create mutual benefits with stakeholders for the benefit of farmers and farming communities through the EGP. A four-day Innovation Platforms Review Workshop was conducted at RDRS in Rangpur, Bangladesh with additional funds provided by ACIAR to support the “Sustainable and resilient farming systems intensification” (SRFSI) project in the EGP (CSE/2011/077). It was considered timely to review progress made and explore collective learnings of success or failure of IPs at the Node and District level over the past two years, and consider key policy and institutional issues.

There were 20 participants in attendance representing key local SRFSI partners that have been involved in establishing, running and supporting the Node and District IPs across the EGP. This included representatives from each of the implementing partners from Nepal, Bangladesh and Indian states of Bihar and West Bengal, researchers from CSIRO (Dr Peter Brown, Dr Toni Darbas), Curtin University (Dr Fay Rola-Rubzen), and CIMMYT (Dr Lennart Woltering, Sofina Marhajan), plus a support person from ACIAR (Dr Tamara Jackson with experience from Laos), an external reviewer (Dr Jay Cummins), and selected international experts who have established and run IPs in Africa (Dr George Mburathi, ACIAR consultant, Dr Felister Makini, KALRO). The workshop was facilitated by Peter Brown (CSIRO).

The workshop was highly flexible and shifted focus depending on the requirements of the participants. It covered expectations, focussed presentations, open and focussed discussions relating to benefits of IPs, areas for improvement of IPs, how to measure success (M&E and indicators), how to formalise IPs in national systems (policy), how to capture success and failures and/or stories for policy planning, how to involve input and output models (value chains) and business development framework/models, how to build sustainability of IPs, and development of a Guidebook, policy brief and a journal paper. The agenda and list of participants is provided in Appendix 1.

There are some 43(+) IPs now implemented (Table 1), mainly at Node level, but some District IPs are also emerging (plus 2 additional IPs looking at other systems such as fish and vegetable production).

Table 1. Number of Innovation Platforms (IPs) established in each Country, State and District

Country/State

District

No. Node IPs

No. District IPs

Additional nodes

Nepal

Sunsari

5

1

2

 

Dhanusha

5

1

 

Bangladesh

Rangpur

5

1 Upzilla IP; District IP planned

 
 

Rajshahi

5

District IP planned

 

West Bengal (India)

Malda

5

1

 
 

Coochbehar

5

1

 

Bihar (India)

Purnea

5

1

 
 

Madhubani

?

?

 
 

TOTAL

35

5 + 1 Upzilla IP

2

GRAND TOTAL = 43

Some of the problems discussed and collaboratively addressed (at least partially) through Innovation Platforms within the SRFSI jurisdiction include limited availability of quality fertilisers, herbicides and seeds at the right time, limited availability of machinery and lack of skills for repair and maintenance and limited technical knowledge and skills on crop management practices. IPs have also facilitated integration of food production with energy and water management considerations at a local level, where interest is driven by the practical solutions offered by SRFSI to overcome labour, energy and water shortages. In addition, IPs have looked to increase profit, seek win-win conditions for both providers and receivers, make extension more efficient, solving other problems to benefit the wider community, and allowing the evolution of IPs into agri-businesses (a range of models are emerging from different jurisdictions which are context specific).

It was highly valuable to compare the IP situation in the EGP with the African context (through involvement of George Mburathi and Felister Makini) and with Laos (through Tamara Jackson). Through their SIMLESA project, the African’s are about 5 years more advanced on development and implementation of IPs than South Asia. We explored similarities and differences between South Asia (EGP) and Africa with learnings flowing both ways.

Key recommendations for IPs include (some policy opportunities and sustainability issues are outlined in the draft Policy Brief, Appendix 2):

  • Capacity building: support needs to be provided for facilitating, technical aspects, markets, strategy mapping, soft skills, financial, business, supporting champion farmers, master trainers and for mentoring;

  • Links with value chains: there needs to be strong links with input and output markets;

  • Development on business models: to enable entrepreneurs, service providers and IPs themselves to run viable businesses; and

  • Build sustainability: incorporation into national extension policy and university curricula and creating enabling environment to ensure sustainability through master trainers, networking, and capacity building of lead (champion) farmers.

  • Monitoring and evaluation (M&E): importance to monitor change over time, and to capture success stories and learnings, and to share importance of gender inclusiveness and involvement of minority groups;

    The key attributes of effective IPs are:

  • Built on existing social infrastructure: develop and build capacity of existing farmer groups rather than creating new groups (which takes time): don’t reinvent the wheel;

  • Support existing extension mandates: assist government extension agencies (e.g. DOA/DAE/DADO) to fulfil group extension mandates;

  • Identify and access subsidies: to establish machine hub hire services;

  • Empower women and youth: include, employ and empower women and youth (e.g. CBFs, mechanics, drivers, poultry, fisheries, mushroom production, transplanter rice seedlings);

  • Build business models and increase bargaining power: input shops, maize contract, maize marketing, seed production, CASI machine services; aggregate input demand and produce for improved prices; and

  • Employ ICTs: use electronic payment systems, market information, pest, weed and disease diagnosis.

    Outputs from the workshop were:

  • Guidebook to provide a resource for people wishing to set up IPs in South Asia (or Eastern Gangetic Plains more specifically). It will be a web-based resource in local languages, featuring SRFSI e.g. business models, with short videos (e.g. role plays) & links to further resources. More work is required to complete this.

  • Policy brief: a 3-page communication to policy to seek support for Innovation Platforms (draft provided in Appendix 2); and

  • Journal paper: An outline of a paper on: “Utility of Innovation Platforms to catalyse adoption of conservation agriculture technologies in South Asia” was discussed. Everyone was invited to contribute.

Feedback was obtained through a feedback form at the conclusion of the workshop, and all responses to questions were “Strongly Agree” (8/10) or “Agree” (2/10), with 100% of participants indicating “Strongly Agree” to the statement: “It was a great meeting!”. Some comments included:

“Invaluable to have IP experts from Africa & South East Asia - led to very rich discussion & deepened awareness of similarities/differences in institutional contexts”

“Excellent meeting to share & learn experiences in IP”

“IP workshop covers all aspects of IP and sustaining IP including policy intervention. Thus it was grand success”

“This workshop is very good platform for me to know the success stories of Africa. This will be applicable in my areas for sustainability of IP”