Pathways to AEI-III

Lead Organization:

Wageningen University

Partner Organizations:


Community of Practice:

West Africa






Farmers in southern Mali rely on cotton and livestock for income, and on maize, sorghum, and pearl millet as food crops, with crop-livestock interactions a key element. Rapid human population growth, stagnating crop yields, and decreasing labor productivity are worrying trends. Producing more food is challenged by natural resource degradation and climate change.

Agroecological intensification (AEI) is proposed as a way to increase agricultural productivity and nutritious food production while maintaining healthy ecosystems and equitably improving livelihoods. Several lessons were derived from the previous two phases of the Pathways to AEI project led by Wageningen University in southern Mali.

First, the team found that technical AEI options need to be combined with institutional improvements in farm management, collective action, and marketing. Second, because of the strong variability in returns on investment and increasing climate-induced uncertainty, risk mitigation strategies are a prerequisite to induce practice change. Third, the transformation of sub-Saharan African food systems requires interdisciplinary, adaptive approaches that bring together diverse stakeholders for co-learning and co-designing solutions.

Farmer research networks (FRNs)—with their focus on inclusivity, diversity, local relevance, and knowledge co-creation—can foster farmer empowerment and agency, which are key drivers in the transition to sustainable farming systems. Yet much remains to be done to translate the FRN to a transformative reality. A shared vision for the future of Malian farming systems could serve as a target for Pathways to AEI, laying out the steps and requiring enabling conditions to reach the vision, including the role of FRNs.

Grant Aims:

  • Contribute to improved agricultural productivity, resilient and equitable farmer livelihoods, food and nutrition security, and environmental health through AEI in the crop-livestock farming systems of southern Mali.
  • Contribute to two pathways of the CCRP theory of change by 1) identifying and assessing AEI options that improve the performance of agri­cultural systems, and 2) building the capacity of institutions and various stakeholders to support farming communities to advance along AEI pathways using an FRN approach.
  • Through an inclusive co-learning process, the project will empower smallholder farmers to drive the development process and benefit from contextualized agricultural research.

Outputs and Outcomes:

  • The co-design of AEI pathways will increase policymaker and donor community awareness of the multidimensional effects of trends (demography, climate, etc.) and interventions on farming systems.
  • Co-designed technical AEI options will be disseminated through leaflets, posters, videos, and new farmer involvement in the FRN. This will enable female and male farmers and development/extension agents to choose AEI options tailored to their contexts.
  • Decision support tools will increase farmers’ and farmer groups’ skills for planning, monitoring, and evaluation. This will improve management of farms, farmer groups, and collective action, and, in turn, may positively influence the adoption of AEI options and risk management strategies as well as the collaboration of farmers in the value chains.
  • Co-learning in the FRN will improve farmers’ awareness about AEI and available technical and institutional options. Farmer empowerment and improved agency will gradually change how the research agenda is set.
  • Planned capacity strengthening at multiple levels is expected to empower smallholder farmers and other stakeholders to move along pathways to AEI.


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