Knowledge for a sustainable world

Jeremy Haggar, Richard Lamboll

Agricultural lands currently occupy over 37% of the Earth’s land surface. With global food production projected to double by 2050 to meet the demands of a growing population, it is vital that agricultural productivity is increased in a way that safeguards finite land resources and ecosystem services, whilst responding to climate change and other environmental concerns. In sub-Saharan Africa, there are increasing and multiple demands on agriculture, where it is a major contributor to economic growth and improving livelihoods, alongside food security.

Sustainable Agricultural Intensification (SAI) is concerned with increasing agricultural productivity with limited available resources, while protecting our living environment and conserving natural and agricultural biodiversity. The SAIRLA programme (Sustainable Agricultural Intensification Research and Learning in Africa), funded by the UK’s Department for International Development and jointly run by NRI, is also concerned with understanding the social implications of different pathways to achieving SAI.

Since 2015, the SAIRLA programme has been working to co-generate, share and facilitate use of evidence and tools by decision makers and other stakeholders to inform policy and investment processes that will support the development of SAI in ways that enable poorer smallholders, particularly women and youth in Africa, to participate in and benefit from agricultural development. The programme has commissioned eight major research projects and facilitated multi-scale social learning though National Learning Alliances within and across six countries in sub-Saharan Africa to understand, engage with and inform decisions in three major areas:

  1. Conditions and tools to address equity: SAIRLA-supported initiatives have gathered evidence on how to enable poorer smallholders, women and youth to participate in and benefit from SAI. Key areas include the level of access of these diverse groups to land and agricultural inputs and services, and the extent of decision makers’ access to locally relevant indicators and evidence. Engagement with local government decision makers has strengthened their capacity to achieve national targets for supporting women and youths (Tanzania), and facilitating dialogues around customary land titling (Malawi and Zambia).
  2. Managing social, environment and economic trade-offs in SAI: SAIRLA strengthened the capacity of stakeholders in agricultural development to understand and make informed decisions around trade-offs in SAI. Programme partners developed participatory tools and games for testing different scenarios, including enabling extension decision makers to start to shift the discourse away from technology adoption to supporting farmers’ decision making in their complex farming systems (Zambia), and a tool assessing environmental and productive trade-offs in agricultural development.
  3. Improving access and provision of appropriate services to all farmers in support of SAI: access to information is critical for farmers and other actors to make appropriate decisions. SAIRLA projects tested ICT options for two-way communication between farmers and extension services or input suppliers. Outcomes include: an established public-private ICT for Agricultural Extension platform which is informing implementation of national ICT extension policy in Ethiopia; district extension services have been empowered to guide national extension strategies in Malawi; in Ghana, through engagement with journalists and a national task force, the prevailing narrative for control of a major new insect pest, fall armyworm, was changed leading to a switch in government investment in pest control from synthetic pesticides to biopesticides.

More about SAIRLA can be found here

Photo caption links: SAIRLA partner explaining “ResLeSS: The Transformation Game: using the CLEANED R tool to negotiate inclusive and sustainable vision of transforming livestock value chains”, one of a range of ICT tools and approaches being shared at the SAIRLA-supported ICT IN AGRICULTURAL EXTENSION SYSTEMS IN ETHIOPIA: STAKEHOLDERS’ DIALOGUE AND MARKET PLACE EVENT.