Farmer Research Networks

Context

Since 2012, the CCRP has been developing the idea and reality of farmer research networks (FRNs).  An FRN is a set of farmer groups that conducts agroecological research of relevance to its membership.  FRNs typically work in partnership with researchers, development organizations, and/or a broader networks. Because each FRN develops in response to its particular contexts and opportunities, FRNs are diverse, varying in their structures, aims, and organizational and leadership models.  They are, however, aligned by adhering to a set of principles (see below) and by sharing experiences and learnings.

FRN Principles

  1. Diverse farmers participate in the whole research process.
    • Farmers co-create the research agenda.
    • Farmers are engaged throughout the research process.
    • Farmers from marginalized groups are represented in the network.
    • Farmers strengthen their capacity to learn together.
  2. Research is rigorous, democratized, and useful, focused on AEI knowledge creation that provides practical benefits to farmers based on their social and biophysical context.
    • Research effectively addresses farmers’ problems and opportunities and is continually adapted based on reflection on experiences by FRN members.
    • Co-developed research plans are formalized through an agreement of all parties that covers principles, rules of engagement, and responsibilities.
    • Research is based on sound, appropriate, and participatory designs and protocols.
    • Relevant local, indigenous, and farmer knowledges are fully integrated into research.
  3. Networks are collaborative and facilitate learning and knowledge sharing.
    • Networks support learning and knowledge sharing among all members.
    • Networks are made up of connections among differently positioned actors and encourage the flow of learning throughout the network.
    • Networks facilitate learning and knowledge sharing among farmer groups and within communities.
    • Network members engage in iterative reflection and planning to guide network activities.

Vision for FRNs

FRNs are envisaged as a large-scale, grass-roots social innovation that is needed in order to enable the agroecological transformation of smallholder agriculture (see Nelson et al., 2016 for more on this idea). The way in which agricultural research and development (R+D) is conducted determines the outcomes of R+D.  CCRP leadership and engaged grantees are convinced that new approaches can better support needed transitions in agriculture and food systems.

Participation in FRNs can enhance smallholder farmers’ agency in the R+D process. They play key roles in envisioning and working towards the future they desire for their farms, landscapes, livelihoods, and food systems. Through individual and collective on prioritization, learning, investigation and adaptation, farmers can inform and inspire each other, improve the multi-dimensional performance of their production systems, and own the process and products of agroecological intensification.

Not only does this approach strengthen rural organizations, but it results in more relevant research that takes into account local contexts. It can represent a broad range of farmers as well as diverse ways of knowing. The networks’ collective action can more effectively match agroecological options to various social and biophysical contexts.

FRNs amplify the impact of farmer-centered innovation systems and allow farmers to tap into existing knowledge. They rely on their own experiments to learn and test new ideas but also learn from others in their networks. Recent digital advances allow for the sharing of information in new ways. A learning network enables ideas and methods to be tested, shared, discussed, adapted, and potentially utilized.

Strategy

The past half century has seen farmers’ roles gradually shift from passive recipients to active participants in research intended for their benefit. FRNs further strengthen the role of smallholders. Despite their importance, small farms’ heterogeneous needs and opportunities are poorly served by the centralized, transfer-of-technology approach that dominates agricultural research. The CCRP supports research advancing  agroecological farming, enabling smallholder farmers to adaptively blend local and experiential knowledge with modern scientific knowledge and methods to develop adequate solutions to their problems.

A range of challenges remain. How, for instance, can successful experiences and arrangements be scaled up and out?  How can ideas, information and data be efficiently shared among farmers and groups?  How can access to innovations be equitably ensured? How can effective feedback and accountability systems between those involved be built? FRNs work toward addressing these challenges in the agricultural research and development system.

Contact us about FRNs

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Grants

All Farmer research network (FRN) Grants

By the Numbers

404 Million

Of the approximately 525 million farms worldwide, 404 million are 2 hectares or fewer.

80 Percent

Family farms produce more than 80 percent of the world’s food in value terms, confirming family farming’s central importance in world food security today and for future generations. – FAO 2019

27 Active Projects

FRN projects are active in all countries that participate in CCRP’s regional communities of practice.

  • Participatory Action Research FRN in Bolivia

    This project operates in a relatively isolated region of Bolivia—two municipalities within the Department of Chuquisaca—where many members of farming households have migrated permanently. Farmers produce various crops, including potato, chile, maize, and groundnuts, both for sale and household consumption. Groundnuts are often the only cash crop, and many farmers grow organically specifically for the export market. To date, the project has focused on different themes of interest to these farmers, including organic peanut production (preferred varieties and management of pests and diseases) and an assessment of the agroecological systems functioning in their farms (exploring ecological/productive, economic/participatory, and cultural/organizational dimensions).

    Read Full Story
  • FRN–NGO in Western Kenya

    FRN–NGO operates in Kenya’s lake zone, one of the most densely settled parts of the country and a region where poverty, natural resource degradation, and food insecurity levels are high. Challenges include scarce land and water resources, declining soil productivity, high pest and disease incidences, changing climatic conditions, and limited access to resources for women, who are the main drivers of agricultural production. People are highly dependent on farming for their livelihoods, and rains are becoming less predictable and crop failures more frequent.

    Read Full Story
  • Seed Systems in Mali and Other West African Countries

    With high population growth, large proportions of rural populations, and high levels of malnutrition, including micronutrient deficiencies, Mali and the Sahel region in general rank among the lowest on the United Nations Human Develop­ment Index. Seed Systems in Mali is a long-term project now led by Baloua Nebie following Eva Weltzien-Rattunde’s retirement from ICRISAT in 2016. It focuses on various aspects of participatory breeding for improving sorghum- and millet-based systems in the Sahel region. The project has from its inception in 2006 worked with a network of large farmer organizations in all three West Africa CoP countries. The research network orientation taken by this project was seen as a promising approach for building capacities for expanding farmers’ seed systems. A key aspect was to expand farmers’ capacities in terms of increasing the crop and varietal diversity in their systems. A network of variety testers, seed producers, and seed marketing specialists was built within these farmer organizations to enhance the reach of the seed.

    Read Full Story

News & Updates