The NBDC sent five representatives including two local innovation platform (IP) members to a special session on ‘engagement platforms’ at the sixth Africa Agricultural Science Week (AASW) organised by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), 15-19 July.

The session was organised as a Challenge Program for Water and Food (CPWF) event and featured representatives from the three African basins: Limpopo, Nile and Volta.

Andenet Deresse (instructor at Ambo University) and Dr. Mussie Haile Melekot (professor at Bahir Dar University) represented the Nile Basin Innovation platforms in a talk show hosted by Dr. Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, Chief Executive Officer of the Food Agriculture and Natural Resource Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN).

Watch the video: Harnessing innovations for food security – innovation platforms in Ethiopia’s Nile Basin Development Challenge

With additional support from Zelalem Lema, research officer at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Addis Ababa, the Nile delegation also shared some lessons and hopes regarding engagement platforms:

  • Incentives are key! It is difficult for IP members to remain motivated but capacity development on research, networking etc. really helps. Unforeseen incentives that appear along the way also strengthen members buy in and IP teams should pay attention to these.
  • Financial incentives give a hint about sustainability. Will IP members still come to the meetings and remain engaged in the process if we stop paying them? We have to ask these questions early on and find out if people are ready to invest in IPs by themselves. This says a lot about the potential sustainability of these platforms.
  • Formalising IPs is a great way to clarify roles and responsibilities and limit problems of participation. The NBDC developed terms of reference and a legal structure which explained who should be part of it, when and how to meet etc. Despite this, membership turnover did hamper progress and some discussions that had been dealt with in the past kept resurfacing.
  • Balancing long term natural resource management with short term value chain benefits: As an overall take home message, the NBDC team learned that a value chain approach brings short term results and perhaps they should use this approach – around fodder interventions for example – to create good impact and incentives for all IP members.

The session also featured presentations by Dr. Alain Vidal (Director of the Challenge Program for Water and Food) and Dr. Olufunke Coffie (Basin Leader for the Volta Basin Development Challenge). After the IP talk show, participants zoomed in on five different topics: how to set up IPs, how to engage with policy (using IPs), how to scale them up, how to deal with power and representation and finally how to ensure they are working?

These group discussions generated additional insights on issues of purpose, engagement, sustainability and impact:

A thorough analysis upfront paves the way for a good engagement process: a strong situation and stakeholder analysis, assessing social networks and alliances in presence, understanding the local cultural context are all helpful to limit marginalisation of certain groups and ensure their proper involvement in engagement platforms.

The sustainability issue is also sensitive but some measures of connecting ongoing IPs with other networks and platforms, organising field tours, farmer field days, exchange visits etc. offer ways to progressively embed an engagement platform in a wider social environment. On the other hand, as these platforms are multi-functional and dynamic, they may cease to exist once they have fulfilled their purpose. Or they may morph into another type of platform that fills other gaps in the wider system.

Finally, measuring the impact of engagement platforms remains a difficult undertaking, all the more so for IPs that focus on natural resource management (with long term tradeoffs and benefits) as opposed to value chain-focused IPs.

The CPWF morning side event built on a series of 12 draft ‘practice briefs‘ on innovation platforms developed with funding by the CGIAR research program on Humidtropics and harnessing experiences and insights from several years of work with such platforms.