Innovation platforms as a tool for improving agricultural production: The case of Yatenga province, northern Burkina Faso

A recent article in the Journal of Field Actions investigates the impact of innovation platforms (IPs) on improving agricultural production in northern Burkina Faso.  IPs are a series of meetings designed to bring together different stakeholders, with different backgrounds and interests, on an equal level to share their knowledge and find solutions to a common problem. The theory on IPs suggests that these heterogeneous stakeholders will be better able to identify effective solutions than homogenous stakeholders (such as agricultural cooperatives). The diversity that innovative platforms can deliver is particularly useful in agriculture because agricultural issues tend to be complex.

The study is based on four villages in Northern Burkina Faso which are part of the Volta2 project, which was launched in 2010 and focuses on improving integrated management of rainwater for crop and livestock agro-ecosystems through the use of IPs. The main goal of the overall project is poverty reduction and an improvement in agricultural resilience. This goal is especially relevant to the region, as northern Burkina Faso is very dry and is characterized by a long dry season and a short wet season, which poses challenges for agriculture and food security. The specific targets set forth in the project were improved management of natural resources (water and soil) for agricultural production, as well as improved product marketing within the value chains for black-eyed beans, corn, sheep, and poultry.

Potential IP members were identified at the start of the project in the target villages through a rapid assessment of the study region and stakeholder mapping.  The IPs included farmers, NGOs and other civil society partners, microcredit institutions, researchers, state and regional authorities, and traders. Meetings took place at various levels including village, provincial, and national levels. The members of the village IPs were all farmers, some of whom were also traders or processors; the ultimate goal of the project was to support these stakeholders’ agricultural production and resource management. The IP meetings provided a forum for the exchange of information and knowledge between the various platform participants, as well as a variety of training sessions about agricultural production, new livestock feeding and husbandry techniques, market access, composting, construction of livestock pens, etc. The IP meetings also helped bring the members of the same village closer together and to facilitate the villagers’ access to various agricultural development services.

The study collected quantitative and qualitative field data over a six month period in 2013 to evaluate the impact of the IPs. This included discussion groups with the IP members and individual surveys of 57 IP members. The questionnaires asked about the structure, management, and performance of the IPs, how the IP members perceive the IPs, and their impact on agricultural activities.   Overall the study finds that there was an improvement in the project beneficiaries’ (farmers and traders) human and social capital through the IP intervention. There was also improvements in beneficiaries’ production of livestock (sheep or poultry) and crops (black-eyed beans or corn).  

The article highlights that collaborative planning of activities undertaken by value chain stakeholders contributed significantly to improving agricultural production. This was accomplished by creating closer working relationships among members in the same village through an exchange of information, planning and solving shared problems, as well as introducing members to new partners, such as micro-credit institutions. Moreover, IP members indicated that through meetings between farmers and traders, members learned that they had to contact traders even before producing crops or livestock; this knowledge helped reduced the uncertainty surrounding product market values at harvest time. The regression analysis also shows that members’ participation in the IPs had a positive effect on the perceived increase in their agricultural production. According to the platform members, this link is attributable to improved skills that the IPs provided.  The article highlights that these results corroborate the findings of other studies that IPs can be an efficient tool to support a complex, multi-stakeholder system for developing agriculture and agricultural value chains in developing countries. The study calls for further research over longer periods of time, as well as more focus on the impact of these projects on non-beneficiaries in order to gain a better understanding of the impact of an IP project on an entire community.

By: Bas Paris