Smallholder Horticulture Marketing Programme (SHOMAP), Kenya. John Rimui and his wife in his greenhouse near Leshau, Nyandarua County, Kenya. ©IFAD/Susan Beccio


Leveraging innovative practices for agricultural excellence

The impact of climate change droughts, floods desert-locust invasions in Sub-Saharan Africa is exacerbated   by food insecurity, poverty, inequality and high rates of unemployment among young men and women. If climate change issues are not addressed, sub-Saharan Africa is likely to become the epicentre of a global food crisis. Although Africa’s transition to a new climate economy is underway in many sectors, more innovative approaches are needed to provide solutions to complex multiple socio-economic challenges linked to the agricultural sector.

In the last decade, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has worked tirelessly to put new innovative solutions in place.  The  Catalogue of Innovations – Enhancing Smallholder Agriculture and Food System Resilience published by IFAD’s East and Southern Africa Division (ESA) and the Sustainable Production Markets and Institutions Division (PMI) of showcases a series of 23 successful agricultural innovations that cover a wide range of thematic topics –such as crop production, natural resource management, rural finance and markets. The Catalogue demonstrates the importance of innovative agricultural practices and summarizes a decade of lessons learned from IFAD interventions in ESA, where extensive work has been done with a wide range of partners and stakeholders.

The guiding principles covered in the United Nations (UN) Innovation Toolkit are central to enriching work in the area of innovative agricultural practices. The Toolkit provides a series of tools that help accelerate and scale up innovations that offer successful tailored solutions. Three of these tools are exemplified in three innovations that are outlined in the IFAD Catalogue. They cover: scanning the context of an intervention, ensuring fruitful partnerships for the implementation of projects and sharing results and lessons learned. These principles can therefore be useful to individuals who are responsible for the constant innovation and adaptation needed in the development sector.


Navigating the development ecosystem to implement successful innovations

In recent decades, Sub-Saharan Africa has seen a growth of the developmentalist configuration. This has resulted in a wide spectrum of institutions, agencies, actors, practitioners, and scholars who focus on development strategies and initiatives.  Many interventions that seek to improve livelihoods have been put in place with ranging levels of success.

As a result, organizations are trying to avoid redundant initiatives to ensure that their work is aligned and, where possible, complements the work of other comparable agencies and organizations. This makes scanning and analysing the context and environment of your innovative solution imperative. For this the UN innovation Toolkit provides the Ecosystem Analysis tool, which enables users to explore a number of resources that guide the scanning and analysis process that precedes an intervention.

The IFAD Catalogue reflects on how innovations were built as well as on lessons learned from scanning and analysing the environment to select the right partners.  It presents a thorough overview of the stakeholders - from public to private entities- that were involved in each initiative. In the “Strengthening Landscape-Level Baseline Assessment and Impact-Monitoring in East and Southern Africa” story, the overall goal was to enhance the contribution of available Earth Observation approaches (based on geospatial analysis of land) to improve the food security and resilience of smallholder farming and agro-pastoral systems in Eswatini, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi and Uganda. Following this, a user-centred dashboard was built and co-designed with different stakeholders: government, project managers, investors, NGOs, land managers and farmers. The 23 IFAD innovations detailed in the Catalogue demonstrate how the Fund has collaborated with development partners who were already working in the area of intervention.  

By scanning and analysing the environment it has been possible to join and strengthen efforts that benefit a wide range of stakeholders and beneficiaries.


Landing non-traditional partnerships to ensure better outcomes

The IFAD Catalogue demonstrates why a wide range of partners are crucial to successful innovative solutions. We showcase the innovative methods and results that emanate from IFAD’s “4Ps” approach: “public-private-producer partnerships”, defined as a cooperation between the government, business agents and small-scale producers, who work together to reach a common goal or carry out a specific task while jointly assuming risks and responsibilities, and sharing benefits, resources and competencies.

As the Finding Partners tool of the UN Innovation Toolkit puts it, finding non-traditional partners can bring unique value to address mutual goals. In our experience, we have seen many cases where smallholders and producers are considered sole beneficiaries of development interventions. As a result, they are often   relegated to the receiving end and are overlooked as value adding partners. The 4Ps approach ensures that smallholder producers are respected as partners, as they play an active role in the negotiations and partnership arrangements (both formal and informal), governance and monitoring. The 4Ps are an effort to execute true partnerships in which each partner has clear roles and responsibilities, and shares risks and benefits1.

The Catalogue portrays the 4Ps approach in the context of rural finance and access to markets. The lessons learned from the seven-year programme “Marketing Infrastructure, Value Addition and Rural Finance Support (MIVARF)” in the United Republic of Tanzania exemplify the approach.  The project aims to support sustainable and profitable links between smallholders and markets. It tries to fill the market information gap that marginalizes smallholders and limits their ability to produce and market in-demand commodities. In this case, the 4Ps approach was implemented and a consortium model that develops partnerships in an inclusive manner was created. The initiative took the form of a trading platform that pulls together all the actors in the value chain to form a mutually beneficial network. Through this, actors are better informed and responsive to market needs. This has increased their chances of improving service delivery and has positioned smallholders in a way that allows them to partner effectively and profit from business relationships and market intelligence.

For other development actors interested in exploring new approaches to partnering, The UN Innovation Toolkit provides key resources that are useful for finding and implementing non-traditional partnerships.


Sharing tales of innovative solutions with the world

Development interventions promote change. People and communities adjust to them and the technical and implementation teams adapt to the lessons learned. These initiatives often produce valuable data and knowledge, which sometimes remains in the hands of few stakeholders.

To aid information sharing, the UN Innovation Toolkit’s Innovation storytelling tool promotes effective communication practices that can make findings attractive to a range of stakeholders. The tool considers stakeholder preferences and interests, and varied communication to ensure that information resonates with different groups.

Acting on this, the ESA and PMI teams joined forces and developed the Catalogue of innovations to share the knowledge of a decade of hard work in innovative strategies and approaches. The Catalogue presents 23 different innovations that have been organized and divided into thematic categories. This information has been designed to be attractive to different audiences. Each innovation tells a story to inspire readers and serves as a lesson or a call to action to development practitioners working in different specializations.  The document is a rich resource for technical specialists, project and programme managers, monitoring and evaluation officers, portfolio advisors, students and beneficiaries of development initiatives.

The tools covered in the UN innovation Toolkit have been extremely beneficial for a number of projects. They are easy to understand, and applicable to different contexts. The challenge is for different stakeholders to recognize the value of the Toolkit and to integrate some of the tools into planning, research and policies needed to implement successful development initiatives.


1 IFAD. 2016. How to do Public-Private-Producer Partnerships (4Ps) in Agricultura Value Chains.