Holistically assessing the diversity of pathways towards sustainable intensification of African agriculture: methodological issues and challenges

This workshop has been organized by CIRAD and its partners in the frame of the European project ProIntensAfrica. It gathered about 40 participants, from 12 nationalities, half of them having attended the FSD conference.

Initial expectations from the meeting:

The overall aim of this workshop was (1) to identify and characterize what are the existing, emerging, potential or possible pathways for sustainable intensification, and (2) to define what could be an adequate framework for describing what a pathway may entail, and how it can best be characterized. Analytically, three main dimensions seem to be needed to characterize any existing or emerging pathway:
- A biophysical / technological dimension, which relates to the type of seeds and inputs used, the type of energy, the combination of crops, trees and/or animals, etc.
- A socioeconomic dimension, relating to the intensity and form (family/wage workers) of labor mobilized, intensity of capital, territorial/cultural embeddedness, configuration and length of agrifood chains, norms and standards applied, etc.
- The configuration of actor networks that engage in, support and/or promote the different pathways could form a third valuable dimension.

The workshop was dedicated to methodological contributions and detailed case studies focusing on (1) describing and comparing the diversity of on-going pathways to sustainable/ecological intensification in diverse contexts (including proposals for developing a typology of pathways) and (2) examining critically the various frameworks, approaches, criteria and indicators being used or proposed to assess the multi-dimensional and multi-scale performance of such pathways and their associated systems as well as the triggers and drivers they seem to respond to. Examples and case studies have been taken from Sub-Saharan Africa.

Some findings derived from the meeting:

Domains have been identified :

- The domain called "Actors’ Networks" is the main place where changes are engineered which drive changes in agriculture and farm management. Economic forces, social conditions and changes, opportunities and events shape relationships, conflicts, alliances. Flows of goods, finance, knowledge and influence take mainly place in such networks. Such networks are often geographically embedded: local networks, provincial and national networks, international networks. Complex interactions exist between different networks at different geographic scales. Opened markets have given an overwhelming weight to international actors in those networks in emphasizing competition and giving importance to comparative advantages.
- The domain called narratives and discourses is composed of all moral and regulatory systems composing a local, national, regional or global reference for attitudes and decision making. This referential composes a theoretical basement for decision making and eventually for correcting deviant attitudes or decision making. It feeds speeches from leaders, decision makers, entrepreneurs, and eventually composes the reference for institutions. Conflicts between the sphere of actors’ networks and the sphere of narratives and discourses happen because there are several different categories of narratives and speeches sustaining the mode of action of different actors’ networks. Narrative and discourses are often vehicles for vested group interests. Some institutions are settled for controlling some contents of narratives and discourses (ex: WTO).

The assessment of drivers for change in agriculture may hardly be driven without considering drivers for transformation in the economies and in local societies. The assessment of factors and drivers in agriculture requires a fair combination of social, cultural, economic, organizational and technical changes. Agricultural policies are addressing transformation in agriculture. Therefore, the specific domain of agricultural intensification is difficult to isolate from other domains of public intervention: support to the development of production chains, support to investment in local economies, financing infrastructures, promotion of education and training. Public support to research is an important lever for agricultural policies. However, the role of private innovation driven by entrepreneurs and organized stakeholders in agriculture is larger today than the role of public investment for generating change in agriculture. Harnessing private initiative for an identified public goal is a challenge.

The main drivers for transformation in agriculture impacting intensification of farmers’ practices have been tentatively ranked:
- Demography (and urbanization);
- Financing investment;
- Power relationships;
- Opening markets.


Eve Fouilleux, CIRAD CNRS, Montpellier (eve.fouilleux@cirad.fr)
Florent Maraux, CIRAD, Montpellier (florent.maraux@cirad.fr)
Bernard Triomphe, CIRAD, Montpellier (bernard.triomphe@cirad.fr)