Knowledge for a sustainable world

Development Programme:
Capacity Strengthening for Agricultural Development and Food Security

The overall aim of the programme is to contribute to the sustainable development of the agriculture sector in low income countries by strengthening the capacities of different stakeholders in core areas where they need new skills.

The programme has four specific objectives:

  1. Assist agricultural researchers and agricultural research organizations to develop appropriate skills, management practices and strategies to reach high standards of research.
  2. Strengthen the capacities of farmers’ organizations, civil society, the private sector and other users of agricultural research outputs in identifying research and learning priorities and participating in multi-stakeholder research and development activities.
  3. Support agricultural education organizations to attain teaching excellence through the adoption of improved curricula and new learning and teaching methods.
  4. Influence decision-makers to create a more supportive enabling environment for the conduct of effective impact-oriented agricultural research and learning.

Capacity strengthening underpins much of our current work across all areas of research and teaching and our experience in these activities helps to inform our capacity strengthening programme. We are working with international and local partner organizations, including university networks, the private sector and non-government organizations. Partnership with university networks helps to ensure sustainability by embedding new approaches to skills development in the formal educational system. Collaboration with the private sector and civil society groups facilitates lifelong learning by enabling those in employment to acquire new skills and to contribute more effectively to agricultural research for development which directly benefits farmers.

Overall Strategy:

1. New approaches to learning

Faced with the emerging challenges of climate change, new pests and diseases, soil degradation and rapidly expanding populations the need among rural communities for new agricultural knowledge has never been so great. How can curricula and learning and teaching methods be improved to equip a new generation of agricultural researchers and practitioners to address these challenges?

The advent of the digital age has opened up tremendous opportunities to enhance learning and to extend the benefits of education to large numbers of people in low income countries. What are the most appropriate ways to share information, support experiential learning and link rural communities to knowledge centres, sources of finance and inputs, and markets?

We recently contributed to the development of training programmes in agribusiness which are offered at the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment in Gulu University in northern Uganda.  We have developed e-learning courses for actors engaging in agricultural innovation in several countries in West Africa.  These courses are especially aimed at young entrepreneurs.  We are supporting curriculum development at the Centre of Excellence for Innovative Rodent Pest Management and Biosensor Technology Development at Sokoine University. And we conducted a curriculum review for the Centre for Dryland Agriculture at the University of Bayero in Nigeria. 

We have undergraduate programmes in Environmental Science and Geography and an MBIOL in Biology. We also run postgraduate programmes in Agriculture for Sustainable Development, Natural Resources, Applied Food Safety and Quality Management, Food Safety and Quality Management by e-Learning, Food Innovation and Global Environmental Change. In addition, we offer a wide range of short courses which support the continuing professional development of our clients. These programmes and training courses are enriched by inputs from staff who are leaders in their respective fields and actively engaged in cutting-edge research.

2. Organizational and institutional strengthening

Training of individuals enables learners to acquire new skills that help them to function more effectively in their work. But the benefits of such training are not always fully captured when learners return to their place of employment or start new jobs. How can individual training contribute more effectively to organizational and institutional strengthening? And what are the most effective ways of identifying organizational and institutional capacity needs and addressing them through targeted interventions?

In the project Strengthening Capacity for Agricultural Research and Development in Africa (SCARDA) we led the development of an approach to institutional capacity analysis for agricultural research and education organizations. The approach was underpinned by a theory of change which was used by the participating organizations in ten countries in sub-Saharan Africa to improve their performance. There was a strong focus on facilitating the development of improved policies and practices on gender in these organizations. Experience was also gained in identifying and addressing the capacity needs of the various actors in multi-stakeholder innovation platforms. Together with our partners, we are sharing the lessons from these experiences with other initiatives to which we are contributing.

Capacity Development for Agricultural Innovation Systems (CDAIS) is a global partnership to improve capacity development for agricultural innovation systems. Launched in 2015, the overall objective of CDAIS is to make agricultural innovation systems more efficient and sustainable, and meet the demands of farmers, agri-business and consumers. Building on our experience in SCARDA, we are playing a leading role in the designing and testing suitable methods for assessing innovation capacity needs and in developing approaches for training national staff to support the capacity development process.

In other initiatives we are strengthening the capacity of a University in India to engage in multi-stakeholder research and development; in the UK and Africa, identifying and addressing capacity gaps in institutions and organisational systems oriented towards sustainable agricultural production; and enhancing the capacities of national agencies in Africa to design quality assurance systems for delivering quality food to vulnerable people.

3. Evidence for improved policies

The impacts of capacity strengthening are difficult to measure and may take a long time to become apparent. Decision makers often lack reliable information on the most suitable methods of capacity strengthening for different situations. They also seek guidance on how best to monitor outcomes and document impact.

We are helping to build the evidence base on what works and does not work in capacity strengthening for agricultural research and development in order to inform policy and practice.

In partnership with the Centre for Development Innovation at Wageningen University, we reviewed the current policies and programmes of European countries on capacity development for agricultural research & development and made recommendations on future directions.

We carried out a Systematic review for FCDO on the effectiveness of capacity strengthening interventions and extent of the main capacity gaps in African Agricultural Research.

Together with our European partners we are using lessons learned from the CDAIS project to inform policy makers about effective ways to strengthen agricultural innovation systems in developing countries so that they can stimulate inclusive economic growth and development.

We are working with partners in the UK, Africa and Australia to better understand which mechanisms for investing in science, technology and innovation capability in low and middle-income are most effective; and discussing with decision makers how the findings can be used to promote stronger knowledge systems.