Towards developing scalable climate-smart village models: approach and lessons learnt from pilot research in West Africa.
This occasional paper presents a report from a project on "Developing community-based climate smart agriculture through participatory action research in CCAFS benchmark sites in West Africa" which is a joint initiative of CCAFS-West Africa programme and ICRAF-WCA. Other key players of the project are the national research institutes namely Institut de l'Environnement et de Recherches Agricoles (INERA, Burkina Faso), Savanna Agriculture Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR-SARI, Ghana), Institut d'Economie Rurale (IER, Mali), Institut Senegalais de Recherche Agricole (ISRA) and Institut National de Recherche Agronomique du Niger (INRAN). After three years of implementation, the present document is describing the approach used and the lessons learnt. The project used participatory action research approach to test combinations of innovations to address the triple goal of climate smart agriculture which are adaptation to climate change, mitigation of the effects of climate change and attaining food security. Results showed that despite differences in relation to the local contexts of the five CCAFS pilot sites in West Africa, the actions have been guided by a number of common elements. The first of the commonalities was building a strong partnership to develop agricultural systems that improve the resilience of ecosystems and people. The second element aimed to strengthening the capacity of key stakeholders (farmers, students and development agents) through vocational and academic trainings. The third targets awareness raising and information dissemination while the fourth involved identifying and testing, in a participatory way, the best fit agricultural practices addressing climate change issues both at plot, community and landscape levels. Finally, assessing the impact of the project activities on the biophysical and social changes was common to all national teams' project of activities. The field activities of the project included weather forecast information sharing, a combination of integrated soil fertility management, soil and water conservation, vegetation rehabilitation, drought-tolerant crop varieties testing and diversification, as well as the analysis of the change in behaviour of all actors involved in the activities and capacity strengthening. The local communities were more receptive of project interventions that involved individual actions as opposed to the collective ones. This observation led to more focus on individual activities by the national teams while reinforcing those of social capital-building as collective actions are also needed to address climate change issues at community and landscape levels. Training and awareness-raising activities are critical for this last aspect. An evaluation of the project through two consultants appointed by ICRAF reported that the project was well designed and was very relevant in the context of climate change as its objectives are in line with local needs especially national research/development goals. From their assessment, the most promising and sustainable outputs were found to be the individual, low cost and locally grounded technologies/innovations. In addition, farmers demanded soil and water conservation techniques (e.g., Zaï), agroforestry practices (e.g., Farmer-managed Natural Regeneration, fodder banks and fruit tree planting) and crop diversification (leafy vegetables). The main weaknesses of the project according to the consultants include lack of systematic baseline and actions about assessing greenhouse gas as indicated in the project document. Based on these weaknesses and achievements, recommendations for future actions have been formulated to be used to adjust the activities, particularly for the second phase.