A Farmer Research Network (FRN) is a collection of farmer groups that engage in research, together with researchers and development organizations.
Farmers: Why engage smallholder farmers in research?
There are about 525 million farms worldwide, 404 million of which are smaller than two hectares. These small farms provide a source of livelihood to roughly one third of humanity, including 70 percent of people living in extreme poverty. This is why smallholder farmers are considered to be the backbone of global food security. Over the past 50 years, there has been a gradual shift in the role of farmers from passive recipients to active participants in research intended for their benefit. FRNs aim to further strengthen the role smallholder farmers play in all phases of agricultural research projects.
Research: What is the vision for FRNs and how does it complement traditional research?
Despite their importance, the heterogeneous needs and opportunities of small farms are only partially-served by the centralized, transfer-of-technology approach that still dominates agricultural research today. CCRP has promoted the sustainable intensification of agroecological farming methods, advocating the enablement of smallholder farmers to adaptively blend their local and experiential knowledge with modern scientific knowledge and methods, in order to develop adequate solutions to their problems.
Yet challenges remain in learning how to: (1) scale up successful experiences and institutional arrangements, (2) ensure equitable access to agricultural innovations, and (3) build effective feedback and accountability systems between all actors involved in the innovation process. FRNs are seen as way to work towards addressing these challenges in the R&D system.
Networks: Why emphasize networks?
Farmer research networks have the potential to amplify the impact of farmer-driven innovation systems. We know that farmers routinely and spontaneously rely on their own experiments to learn and test new ideas, but they also learn from the ideas and experiments of others within their social network, including scientific researchers. Furthermore, it is estimated that 250 million farmers in developing countries belong to a grower organization, which allow farmers to build social capital, to learn collectively and to manage their shared natural resources. In short, a network enables ideas and methods to be tested, shared, discussed, refined and adopted, if relevant.
For over half a decade the CCRP has been working to advance FRNs, illustrated above. By participating in FRNs smallholder farmers experience improved agroecological performance, more sustainable livelihoods, and enhanced agency. We expect to see farmer groups and organizations, NGOs, government bodies and researchers collaborating in rigorous, pertinent research in a broad range of contexts, which provide large networked datasets combining local farmer knowledge and global academic knowledge. We also expect to see stronger, more vibrant rural organizations as institutional capacity is strengthened and farmer organizations are engaged in genuine collaborative research.