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Globally, it is accepted that Participatory Agricultural Research and Development can play a significant role in reducing rural poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition.  The international development community is giving increased attention to agricultural innovation processes and systems that lead to outcomes at scale. Inclusive multi-dimensional and multi-stakeholder learning processes are seen as important.  Smallholder family farmers become more central in the design and implementation of research processes as partners in planning and implementation processes.

Key trends or changes in Participatory Agricultural development thinking are moving from:

  • Increase in production to improvement in local livelihoods
  • Technology transfer to local innovation development
  • Beneficiaries of projects to influential stakeholders within programmes
  • Technology transfer to co-development of innovation systems
  • Functional participation to empowerment and
  • Applied and adaptive research to strategic and pre-adaptive research.

In South Africa different participatory approaches and processes  have developed  primarily through North-South partnerships and include methodologies such as PRA/PLA (Participatory Rural Appraisal/Participatory Learning and Action),FPR (farmer Participatory Research) and FSR (farming Systems Research and Extension),  PTD (Participatory Technology Development) and PID (Participatory Innovation Development), PAR (Participatory Action Research), CBNRM (Community Based Natural Resource Management), SLA (Sustainable Livelihoods Analysis) and other gender and stakeholder analysis methods such as AKIS (Agricultural Knowledge Information Systems) and RAAKS (Rapid Appraisal of Agricultural Knowledge Systems).  Most of these methodologies have been introduced in KwaZulu-Natal through Non Government Organisations and researchers associated with Universities, Parastatal Agricultural Research Institutions and Corporate Social Investment bodies.  Although some of the rhetoric has filtered into government programmes through these channels, implementation and funding from government sources invariably do not include these approaches.

There are two basic trends in terms of Participatory Research and Development (PR&D) in Kwazulu-Natal, for the few organisations that consciously work in this field:

  1. Participatory Innovation Development; primarily NGO based and supported through international donor funding or CSI based and supported through for example Grain-SA and Wesbank. The latter is only now (the last 2-3years) coming to the fore as this sector finally rises to the challenge of providing meaningful support to smallholders. To a lesser extent the Parastatal Research Institutes have dabbled in the process.
  2. Participatory Action Research; this research paradigm appears to have become primarily, the domain of the Universities with both UNISA and UKZN focussing on these processes quite strongly. This ‘learning’ paradigm is one that can suite universities better in terms of the scope and scale of projects that they can confidently tackle through supporting pre-and post-graduate students.

For those organisations that also have an advisory/extension role (Universities and Colleges, Parastatal Research Institutes and Non Government Organisations) Agricultural Innovation Systems and Sustainable Livelihoods Approaches have come to the fore.

Mostly the emphasis on participatory work will be led through specific projects or programmes, often donor funded and led by individuals with a strong vision and commitment to such processes.

Participatory Agricultural Research and Development is almost entirely absent from Government Departments and extension, outside of sporadic donor funded projects, despite policy and programmatic rhetoric

Given the disparity between the commercial and smallholder family farming sector and the extreme politicisation and fragmentation of the government sector nationally, provincially and locally, it is proposed that research, education, the private sector and non government institutions work together in multi stakeholder partnerships to provide a home for Participatory Agricultural Research and Development, until the political will shifts more towards providing meaningful support to rural dwellers in South Africa. A concomitant focus on the growing of local organisations and movements with the ability to lobby and advocate for change is required. There are already a few working examples of such partnerships.

Specific actions required in policy development throughout the spectrum of stakeholders at local, provincial and national level include: Convincing donors, organisations and governments to change the way they fund agricultural research; supporting innovation platforms and other multi-stakeholder alliances at different levels; developing innovation brokerage capacity; strengthening the pivotal role of agricultural advisors and to integrating the innovation systems approach into education.

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