Since 2012, the CCRP has been developing the idea and practice of farmer research networks (FRNs), or a set of farmer groups that conducts agroecological research of relevance to their members. FRNs typically work in partnership with researchers, development organizations, farmer organizations, and/or broader networks. Because each FRN develops in response to its own contexts and opportunities, FRNs are diverse, varying in their structures, aims, and organizational and leadership models. They are aligned, however, by their adherence to a set of principles (see below) and by sharing experiences and learnings.
Vision for FRNs
FRNs aim to enable large-scale farmer participation in agroecological research and development in a way that enhances the agency of participants. They are envisaged as a social innovation that supports the agroecological transformation of smallholder agriculture and food systems. They play key roles in visualizing and working toward the future that farmer groups desire for their farms, landscapes, livelihoods, and food systems. Through individual and collective prioritization, learning, investigation, and adaptation, farmers can inform and inspire each other, improve the multidimensional performance of their production systems, and own the process and products of agroecological intensification.
FRNs strengthen rural organizations while contributing to more relevant research that considers local contexts. FRNs and the knowledge they produce 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.
FRN projects exist in all of the regions the CCRP supports. About 60 projects are currently working within a FRN approach. Each project focuses on a different topic, engages different stakeholders and partners, and is led by a different research institute, NGO, farmer organization, or federation.
As this timeline shows, from 2013 to 2020, a process of learning and sharing perspectives and understandings has evolved as FRNs have developed. This has been supported by two FRN convenings, a FRN working group, topical groups (such as a data group), and in-depth inquiries and learning syntheses. Each FRN is engaged in its own learning and development, which is periodically shared with the broader network of FRNs across the program. Increasingly, the CCRP is also connecting with like-minded researchers and practitioners from other local, regional, or global organizations who can inspire our continued development.
View the FRN timeline here
CCRP’s work on farmer research networks is guided by a set of 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.
To see the full set with sub-principles, click here
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 that advances agroecological farming, enabling smallholder farmers to adaptively blend local and experiential knowledge with knowledge produced through scientific methods. This develops adequate approaches to improving livelihoods and supporting sustainable agroecosystems.
A range of challenges remain. How, for instance, can successful experiences and arrangements be shared and spread? 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 to address these challenges in the agricultural research and development system.
Developmental Evaluation Processes for FRNs
From 2015 to 2017, the integrated monitoring evaluation, and planning (IMEP) team led a deep dive into four FRN projects. This enabled the program to learn more about FRN development processes, the ways in which FRN principles were shaping the work, and challenges faced in implementation. The work was periodically brought to the working group to inform discussions and, in 2018, a synthesis report was written to share the learning up to that point. Four projects were part of the deep dive:
- Participatory Action Research FRN in Bolivia
- FRN-NGO in Western Kenya
- Best Bets FRN in Malawi
- Seed Systems in Mali and other West African countries
FRN Working Group
The FRN working group began meeting in 2015 to discuss FRN development and learning processes as well as other emerging topics. It broadened and became more inclusive over time, as people with different connections to the CCRP began attending, participating, and sharing their reflections and work related to FRNs. The group is experimenting with providing simultaneous interpretations for English, Spanish, and French to make it a more inclusive space linguistically.
The FRN working group meets monthly. Here is a list of the main agenda items beginning in January 2019.
To see presentations made by project teams to the FRN working group, go to the FRN Resource Library.
If you are interested in participating, please contact Mary Richardson.
Data Topical Group
The FRN data topical group, a subgroup of the FRN working group, aims to bring researchers, practitioners, students, farmers, and other stakeholders together to share experiences on data and information flow in farmer research networks (FRNs). The data and information flow entail everything from the process of planning and designing research, data collection, analysis, interpretation, and report writing, to closing of information loops through results and dissemination and feedback outputs.
FRNs are guided by principles as outlined here to enable and guarantee research rigor and effectiveness and to bring about change in smallholder farmers’ livelihoods by improving their food and nutritional security using agroecologically driven approaches. The Group provides learning opportunities and a platform to discuss challenges and solutions in the data flow process to enhance its impact and that of the overall research.
For more information about the Data Topical Group, click here.
If you are interested in participating, please contact Nuru Kipato.