MANHATTAN, Kan. – Researchers from Kansas State University recently participated in a new kind of partnership to teach and share innovative agricultural practices among farmers in Senegal.
The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sustainable Intensification (SIIL), which is one of four labs funded by USAID and housed at K-State, agreed in 2017 to partner with Peace Corps/Senegal and the Senegalese Institute for Agricultural Research (ISRA) to provide education, research and outreach by cooperatively focusing on what each agency does best.
“Peace Corps volunteers are already on the ground, in that country, speaking the native language, working with the farmers,” said Vara Prasad, director of the SIIL. “We can work with them to translate some of the great research we are doing into the farmers’ fields.”
The concept of sustainable intensification refers to finding ways of producing more food without adding stress to the environment – preferably with positive effects on natural resources and society.
“Solving the problems of food security is a critical challenge as the global population is expected to approach 10 billion by 2050,” said John Floros, dean of Kansas State University’s College of Agriculture. “Through the SIIL, we’re able to take decades of knowledge and experience from K-State and not only share it around the globe, but also learn from people in many other countries, then bring those lessons home to continue improving. Sharing in the innovation process makes us all better.”
Each partner serves multiple roles, but primarily:
- The SIIL provides technical training on sustainable intensification and developed a system to understand what keeps farmers from adopting new ideas and technologies.
- ISRA serves as the research hub for transferring the practical aspects of better ways to farm, including crop seed varieties, appropriate technologies and proven practices.
- The Peace Corps/Senegal demonstrates and teaches farmers, in person, what they can do to improve their operations.
From March 21-24, 2018, the partner agencies conducted their first joint training session in this pilot project. Five team leaders worked with 35 participants, including 24 Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs), seven research students, and four technical staff members from the Peace Corps.
Leaders from each of the three organizations directed the workshop sessions. The SIIL was represented by Prasad and B. Jan Middendorf, associate director, both based at Kansas State University. The Peace Corps was represented by Famara Massaly, food security coordinator for Senegal, and Adam Keally, system intensification coordinator. ISRA was represented by SIIL country coordinator and head of the regional soil, water, and plant laboratory, Aliou Faye.
“ISRA and Peace Corps have similar goals in addressing food security with different approaches, so watching the teams work together was very inspiring” said Faye. “The ISRA attendees shared technologies they were developing and the PCVs discussed ways to integrate the ideas in the communities where they work.”
The Peace Corps Training Center in Thies, Senegal, was the host site of the training titled “Creating Enabling Environments to Enhance Innovation Adoption.”
Much of the first day was spent on participatory techniques for information sharing, which require a deep understanding of the people and communities where the work is being done. On the second and third days, the large group divided into smaller teams and traveled to local villages. There, they worked closely with village leaders and farmers to gather information about needs, values and decision-making processes.
On the fourth day, the large group reconvened to analyze what was learned about barriers to adopting new agricultural practices and how that would inform their plans moving forward.
“The participatory approach of the workshop was beneficial for both the ISRA researchers and Peace Corps Volunteers,” said Massaly. “Attendees learned from each other and discussed ways to further develop their partnership and engage in the future.”
The SIIL’s leaders hope their collaborative work with the Peace Corps and a Senegalese government agency could serve as a model for future collaborations. As U.S. leadership emphasis on foreign aid points toward more efficient, more effective and well-managed programs while also seeking to encourage other countries to contribute to aid efforts, the SIIL-ISRA-Peace Corps partnership models how USAID funds can be extended farther and more strategically.
“As we partner together, we learn from each other and strengthen our own capacities further,” Prasad said. “Each agency leverages the other for expanded capacity that benefits us all. Ultimately, through projects such as this, more people will be able to rise out of poverty, build their incomes and, in time, their countries will see demand grow for goods and services from other countries.”