Knowledge for a sustainable world

Climate change and the prospect of more frequent droughts in Africa is leaving farmers across the developing world facing an uncertain future and risks of food insecurity. A new €6.3m project was recently launched, to help farmers tackle this growing threat.

The new project is called ‘Leveraging the DeSIRA (Development Smart Innovation through Research in Agriculture) initiative for agri-food systems transformation’, abbreviated to DeSIRA-LIFT. The European Commission’s Directorate-General for International Partnerships (DG-INTPA) is the main donor, and the project will be implemented by the European Alliance on Agricultural Knowledge for Development (Agrinatura).

Through this project, Agrinatura will support DG-INTPA to deliver impact in one of its flagship initiatives. Its aim is to ‘contribute to climate-relevant, productive and sustainable transformation of agriculture and food systems in low- and middle-income countries’.

DeSIRA emerged from a growing recognition that many different people and organisations in the developing world help bring about agricultural innovation, each playing a crucial role to ensure success, but not necessarily working together in the most efficient way.

Training workshop Tanzania T Chancellor 750An initial set of DeSIRA projects began in 2019 with co-funding from selected European Member States, and others have been commissioned recently. DeSIRA also seeks to strengthen the institutional architecture for agricultural research. To this end, it provides funding to the Tropical Agricultural Platform hosted by FAO (the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN), and to the regional and sub-regional agricultural organisations in Africa. Further support is envisaged for the Global Forum for Agricultural Research, a multi-stakeholder network of organisations committed to strengthening agri-food research and innovation systems.

Knowledge generation is a key part of the innovation process, and scientific research is central to this. However, experience has shown that a combination of scientific research expertise and participatory research with farmers and a range of other ‘innovation actors’ is most likely to deliver impact.

This approach requires strengthening the capacities of the different organisations to work together effectively, sharing information and ideas and learning from their experiences.

NRI, through Dr Laxmi Pant, an agricultural innovation systems specialist, co-leads Work Package 2, which is providing support to the regional and sub-regional research and extension organisations in Africa. Dr Pant says: “NRI is one of the pioneers of agricultural innovation systems thinking and practice. We believe that the innovation and development performance of a region depends not only on scientific research excellence, but also on how different actors engage in co-creating and using knowledge and technologies. Now, the innovation systems approach has been widely adopted in building capacity for scientific research and technology development, as well as facilitating effective collaboration of the public, private, and non-profit private actors, such as through the formation of multi-stakeholder innovation platforms.”

Dr Tim Chancellor, NRI’s outgoing Director of Capacity Strengthening & Partnerships, and Vice-President of Agrinatura, helped to design DESIRA-LIFT. He explains: “Agrinatura works closely with DG-INTPA and draws on the complementary scientific expertise of our member universities and research organisations to help it address its development priorities. Through DeSIRA-LIFT, Agrinatura will contribute our experience from recent projects such as Capacity Development for Agricultural Innovation Systems (CDAIS) to share learning with partners, especially in Africa.”

Dr Chancellor adds, “NRI has a history of collaboration with Agrinatura members in projects such as Strengthening Capacity for Agricultural Research in Africa and the Platform for Africa-Europe Partnership on Agricultural Research for Development, and so we are familiar with each other’s structures and ways of working.”

“Last year we worked with two other Agrinatura members to assist with a capacity gap assessment carried out by three of the African partners, and DeSIRA-LIFT provides an opportunity to address some of the priority needs that were identified. We have also been working with FAO under its DeSIRA project to help identify entry points for strengthening innovation capacities in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.”

Wageningen University & Research has overall responsibility for managing DeSIRA-LIFT on behalf of Agrinatura. In addition to NRI, other Agrinatura members involved include the French organization for agricultural research and international cooperation for sustainable development – CIRAD, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, and the Instituto Superior de Agronomia in Portugal. The European Forum on Agricultural Research for Development is also a partner and brings in actors from civil society, the private sector and farmer organisations.

Agrinatura is an association of 35 universities and research institutes in 16 countries in Europe who are committed to support agricultural development in a sustainable manner in order to improve people’s lives. NRI hosts the Secretariat of the Agrinatura European Economic Interest Group which manages the business side of Agrinatura’s activities. The acting Director is Prof Andy Frost, who is standing in for Hanneke Lam while she is on maternity leave, and the Project Portfolio Officer is Anita Rahova.

To find out more about:

Events taking place during the “stakeholder engagement week” of Leap4FNSSA (EU project aiming at supporting the African Union/European Union dialogue on FNSSA )

  • 04/06/21, 9:00/11:00 (Brussels time): How research can better support innovation for the transformation towards sustainable agri-food systems in Africa?
  • 03/06/21, 15:00-17:00 (Brussels time): Leveraging the DeSIRA initiative for agri-food systems transformation: building on and with your experience and lessons learnt (WUR – DESIRA LIFT)

See the programme and registration: FNSSA Stakeholder Engagement Week | Leap4fnssa