Farmer-Research Partnerships for Plant Varietal Options

Lead Organization:

Oxfam America

Partner Organizations:

Oxfam Novib and its Sowing Diversity=Harvesting Security (SD=HS) program, CIRAD, NARS, governments, NGOs, and private sector

Community of Practice:

East & Southern Africa, West Africa


Uganda and Senegal




Smallholder farmers’ success is critical for securing diverse, healthy diets for much of the world’s population. Their seed management skills and strategies are essential for maintaining and enhancing agricultural biodiversity. As environmental and socioeconomic conditions shift and climate change threatens rural communities, millions of farmers need access to new, more diverse varietal options to adapt, mitigate risks, and improve production and income.

Many seed system development initiatives fail to address diversity and include smallholder farmers’ diverse preferences and needs. Misguided policies and imbalances in power are contributing factors. Farmers’ knowledge in seed management, including their role and expertise in developing and managing plant genetic diversity, is often ignored. The project seeks to strengthen farmers’ role in seed systems by shifting power dynamics and relationships through institutional and social innovations that employ participatory approaches.

Experiences of Oxfam Novib, the CCRP, and CIRAD affirm the need for approaches that promote seed system development that contributes to agrobiodiversity, co-creation, and participation. Oxfam Novib has supported long-term collaborative efforts in Eastern Africa, including farmer field schools, a methodology that is part of the Sowing Diversity = Harvesting Security (SD=HS) program on plant genetic resources. There, a coalition of farmers and breeders work together to select, adapt, and develop new plant varieties that better fit their needs and preferences.

The institutions/organizations and their different partners, activities, and methods could complement one another by sharing resources and capacities, jointly learning how diverse seed system actors can collaborate effectively and equitably to increase food and nutrition security.

The project will work under the assumption that, to address the current climate and food crisis, an agroecological transformation of food systems is needed. This is only possible when current models of agrobiodiversity management change to increase the availability of better and diverse varieties of crops for farmers in diverse farming and agroecological systems. An integrated approach should consider an enabling environment under which tools, knowledge, and networks of farmers, Indigenous communities, and researchers are strongly connected and work together to find better and scalable solutions based on local diversity.

Grant Aims:

The inception phase’s overall goal is to design innovative models of farmer-research partnerships, methodological tools, and a program framework for future collaboration that will strengthen agrobiodiversity management.

Specifically, the project seeks to:

  1. Develop stakeholder mapping of seed system actors who could partner in the pilot phase.
  2. Based on participatory exchanges, identify innovative models of collaboration, methodological tools, and hypotheses with revised, improved, or combined tools and methodologies to be tried for at least one season in each country or region among coalition members, partners, and other stakeholders to be tested in further project stages.
  3. Define scale-up strategy and project proposal for a pilot phase and subsequent multiyear, multi-country program, including specific pathways, roles and responsibilities, objectives, timeline, and fundraising initiatives, based on inception phase results.

Outputs and Outcomes:

Grant Aim 1


  • Inventory of tools, methods, and networks engaged in seed system development in-country and of consortium members
  • Insights/hypotheses on variety innovation and collaboration opportunities with farmers on agrobiodiversity research and development and plant breeding
  • Mapping of stakeholders interested in becoming part of an initiative to test new ways of working between farmers and researchers
  • Baseline report characterizing seed sector and role of agricultural research in Uganda and Senegal
  • Joint in-country visits by consortium members to better understand on-the-ground collaboration of the others


  • Seeds systems actors, resources, challenges, and opportunities for a pilot phase in Uganda and Senegal better understood
  • Innovative model(s) for collaboration proposed/suggested by partners to “try out” in a pilot phase

Grant Aim 2


  • Participatory exchange (workshop) in Senegal resulting in proposed innovative model(s) and topics for collaboration; same in Uganda
  • Initial M+E framework developed to measure initiative’s success as well as a joint learning agenda to enable regional and cross-regional exchange
  • Comparison and assessment of existing methodological tools and experiences with participatory research and farmers-research collaboration


  • Framework for pilot phase developed to support longer-term multi-country, multi-year program

Grant Aim 3


  • Project proposal for pilot phase with proposed activities, roles, and indicative budget developed
  • Donor mapping and fundraising strategies for longer-term program developed