Developing Partnerships to
Promote Local Innovation
In the past, mainstream rural development efforts were focused on technical innovations delivered from research through extension to farmers in a top–down, linear model of institutional support. In the South, these interventions generally failed to give poor families more secure access to food and to improve their livelihoods. Most of the introduced technologies were inappropriate for poor farmers in marginal, rainfed areas such as the drylands and mountains.
“Farmers” is used in this paper as a collective
term to refer to all people who produce and/or
harvest from plants, animals and aquatic
organisms. It includes peasant/family farmers
practicing cultivation, animal husbandry and/
or tree growing, mobile pastoralists, forest
dwellers and artisanal fisherfolk, among others.
However, some examples of effective alternative approaches to research and development (R&D) for sustainable agriculture and natural resource management (NRM) in marginal areas have emerged. These approaches – often pioneered by non–government organizations (NGOs) – try to capitalize on the knowledge and creativity of local people and to combine local and external knowledge in joint exploration and experimentation. Some examples are the Indigenous Soil and Water Conservation (ISWC) and Promoting Farmer Innovation (PFI) projects in several countries in Africa. These approaches involve discovering and recognizing what local resource users are trying to do in their own development and experimentation efforts, and building on these initiatives. They promote participatory action learning by resource users and supporting agencies in order to develop the local innovations and complementary techniques further (Reij and Waters–Bayer, 2001).