Research for the Public Good
Major shifts have been taking place in agricultural research over the past half century, with a growing call for research to serve the public good. To do so, research needs to emphasize indivisible ecological, health, social, and economic goals as well as the needs and priorities of smallholder farmers. It also invites those involved in research to recognize and learn from diverse knowledge systems and ways of knowing, including those of Indigenous Peoples and farmers who have long recognized the interconnectedness between food systems, health, and the planet.
Collectively we have an opportunity to catalyze new ways of bringing together scientific institutions, practitioners, Indigenous Peoples, smallholder farmers, women, and youth, as well as other traditionally excluded stakeholders. FRNs and other like-minded approaches can help to create and uphold evidence from diverse sources, disciplines and perspectives, honoring multiple ways of knowing and the wisdom they contain.
FRNs bring together farmer groups, research institutions, development organizations, and other relevant stakeholders in a co-created process of sharing and building knowledge.
In keeping with this holistic and inclusive approach to research that advances agroecological transitions, the CRFS supports Farmer research networks (FRNs) in all regions where it works. FRNs bring together farmer groups, research institutions, development organizations, and other relevant stakeholders in a co-created process of sharing and building knowledge. These processes involve groups of innovative individuals working together to harness the power of collective action. The research being undertaken in these networks is designed to be locally relevant, transdisciplinary and inclusive. The knowledge the networks help to co-create and share supports the livelihoods and well-being of smallholder farmers, their communities and the land we all rely on for our sustenance.
Farmer Research Network Principles
In order to reflect this vision for farmer research networks, the CRFS developed a set of principles that guide the work. Each FRN is encouraged to reflect on these as they develop. Far from being prescriptive, they serve as a realistic aspiration and an inspiration. They are periodically revised, as needed, to reflect shifts in understanding and current thinking. Each principle has a set of sub-principles.
- Farmers who represent the social and biophysical diversity of their communities participate in the whole research process.
- Research is rigorous, democratized, and useful, providing practical benefits to farmers as well as insights on biophysical and social variation.
- Networks foster collaboration and opportunities for learning and knowledge sharing.
See the full set with sub-principles.
While each FRN has a different focus and engages in different processes, the research takes into account farmers’ needs and priorities, including those of women and other historically marginalized groups. It is carried out using participatory methods, with farmers, students, researchers and facilitators playing diverse roles throughout the research cycle. Skillful and engaging facilitation is often key to building a sense of trust among these actors so that they can work together collaboratively.
To do so, support is needed for researchers, their institutions and partners who are willing and able to work collaboratively with farmers and the organizations that represent them. This means engaging in committed relationships, over the long term. It involves changing mindsets and shifting more top-down ways of working. It also means listening and sharing different ways of knowing, for example, through “knowledge dialogues”. And it often means working across disciplines, to consider the many facets of reality.
The networks mobilized through FRNs facilitate collective learning, which can help to connect research and practice. Practices that have proven effective can be shared informally through social connections, or more formally through farmer exchange visits, community radio and other means of dissemination. Additionally, some actors involved in these networks may be engaged in advocacy work and can support policy proposals or actions from civil society.
Topics being studied in FRNs range from landscape restoration to improving soil fertility, developing ecological pest management options, enhancing crop diversity and so much more. If you are interested in more detailed information, you can search in the Resource Library here.
Sharing FRN Learning Within and Outside the CRFS
There are many ways in which the CRFS supports knowledge sharing and learning related to farmer research networks. One is through a working group that meets about once a month, involving grantees and those working with them. Presentations are shared here. At meetings of the communities of practice in each region, there are generally sessions devoted to FRNs as well as workshops and other activities that are organized more locally.
The CRFS is also connected to many like-minded organizations whose work inspires and informs a shifting paradigm for agricultural research and development. It is through our collective efforts and the work of millions of farmers around the world that we strive together towards a more just, creative and abundant future where people and planet thrive.