In the cotton zone around Koutiala, in southern Mali, farmers rely on cotton and livestock for income and on maize, sorghum and millet as staple food crops. Crop-livestock interactions are a key element of these farming systems. Increasing population pressure, climate change and urbanization are some of the drivers of change in this region, which is also characterized by a vicious cycle of land degradation and decreasing soil fertility, compromising crop yields. Agro-ecological intensification is proposed as a promising way to address the challenge of increasing food production, while preserving the environment and improving farmer livelihoods. Even though past research and development projects have identified and promoted various technologies for improved farm productivity, adoption rates are often limited. This is often caused by insufficient knowledge of farmer constraints and priorities and there is a need to move from pushing best-bet technologies to tailoring options that fit well with different farm types. This project uses a participatory systems analysis approach to better understand the farm systems in the region, their components and the interactions and trade-offs at farm and village scale, and to analyze the effect of intensification options on livelihoods, agricultural productivity and environmental health.
The project combines participatory on-farm experimentation with simulation modeling, to explore the multi-faceted implications of interventions and various trajectories of change. Based on a farm M&E Network, the project partners and stakeholders in the region engage in the different aspects of the research in an open and adaptive learning process. This process is geared towards stakeholders’ enhanced capacity to drive the development process and benefit from contextualized agricultural research, as well as researchers’ enhanced capacity to conduct systems analysis. With the participatory approach of co-learning together with various stakeholders the project endeavors to create positive change in the behavior, knowledge, skills and attitude of male and female farmers, traders and private investors, development workers and extension agents, researchers and policy makers. These outcomes are monitored and evaluated on a regular basis, so that our project methodology and actions can be adapted each year. Through working towards the outcomes, this project contributes to realizing impact in four domains, including increased agricultural productivity, improved household food security and livelihoods, environmental health and empowered farmer organizations.