Institute for Sustainable Commodities (ISCOM)

Building social capital for agricultural innovation experiences with farmer groups in Sub-Saharan Africa


1 Introduction

1.1 Rationale

Ever since the general adoption of the Farming Systems Approach (FSA) in agricultural service delivery in SSA, research and extension have been working with different types of informal and formal FGs. Experience of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the International Federation of Agricultural Producers (IFAP), and other international organizations shows that the involvement of FGs (and more formal associations and organizations) and their capacity to provide effective representation and services especially for small farmers is a key factor in achieving more rapid and sound rural development (IFAD/IFAP, 1987; Rivera et al., 2000; WB, 2000). FGs at the community and village level represent the building blocks of any real farmer organizations. Empowerment of these groups into farmer organizations and platforms, which can become networks or federations to make their voices heard, is essential.

In order to understand how farmer organizations can better use the existing social capital, it is important to understand the role of different types of FGs in innovation development, as well as the different types of social capital involved. FGs have been established and emerged for a variety of reasons and with different socio-economic or political backgrounds and objectives. Groups can have different functions ranging from a production focus (management of resources, marketing) to consumption orientation (inputs, credit, household goods). However one of the important functions of FGs also concerns agricultural innovation development. Farmers have been innovating in agriculture for centuries through local traditional networks, often driven by food security, market forces and migration. Only in the last 100 years or so, has innovation development been supported through extra-community organizations. In SSA, these developments in agricultural research are even more recent and initially were based on ‘Western’ experiences and research styles with little attention for the traditional innovation systems. The idea that farmer organizations, networks and federations have a role in agricultural research and extension at national, meso- and local levels has only recently gained momentum (IAC, 2004; ASSP, 2004). Links to existing social capital for innovation, whether traditional or newly established, however, remain weak. This publication attempts to explore these linkages in greater depth and studies the results of FG involvement in agricultural innovation. It attempts to improve understanding of how FGs can become more effective in guiding agricultural development in SSA and other regions such that achievement of the MDGs may be accelerated.

1.2 This bulletin

This bulletin will particularly focus on: (i) informal FGs operating in the Agricultural Knowledge and Information System8 (AKIS) at the local level and opportunities for their strengthening; and, (ii) institutionalization of such groups into more formal structures. Concepts and different types of groups will be discussed in Chapter 1 and definitions used in the social capital theory and for different types of FGs in agricultural innovation will be presented, followed by a review of the main challenges of inclusion of the poor in the agricultural innovation system. In Chapter 2, an overview is given of the present situation in relation to social capital for innovation as well as the current institutional and organizational changes taking place with emphasis on the links between FGs and other actors in AKIS. Chapter 3 focuses on the functions of FGs and the challenges faced by the community-based groups, their establishment (whether based on existing groups or newly started) and membership, and internal dynamics, as well as their horizontal and vertical links with other groups and organizations. In Chapter 4, the actual current role of FGs in the different phases of innovation and development is presented. Chapter 5 highlights the existing experience with the Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) of social capital for innovation and the costs of FRG involvement assessed; Participatory Rural Assessment (PRA) tools for M&E are presented and challenges outlined. Chapter 6 reviews the requirements for successful FG involvement in agricultural innovation and emphasizes the need for a proper balance between the three core types of social capital (bonding, bridging and linking); the options for enhancing the role of community-based social capital are explored, Chapter 7 presents the required policy and governance changes to achieve a situation of true empowerment of FGs and organizations in the agricultural innovation system. A list of references used is included for further reading, and Box 6.2 refers to special tools for strengthening community-based social capital.

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