Expanding the role of African farmers
85% of agricultural output across Africa is produced by small-holders. What do they need to simultaneously maintain ecological balance and sustain a continent?
“The dynamism of smallholder knowledge, practice and innovation is astonishing and we are continuing to grow this rich knowledge store.”
PIPFA aims to develop models for the designing new food systems in ways that empower smallholder livelihoods and regenerate local ecologies. The urgency to do so stems from the fact that current agricultural systems are eroding environments and failing to deliver sustainable prosperity in inclusive and equitable ways.
The endeavour to redesign prosperous agricultural futures must thus foreground local knowledge, practice and innovation. This framework is particularly pertinent for the wider development industry, a sector that has a rich history of innovating large-scale transformations of global food systems yet has repeatedly failed to engage with the practice and lived realities of farming livelihoods on the ground.
PIPFA’s proposal for new farmer-centred frameworks of agricultural design build from a portfolio of ongoing work with innovative, self-defined ‘digital farmers’ in Elgeyo-Marakwet County. With these communities, we have co-designed research which places contemporary farming practices in a historical context and explores the ways in which smallholders have improvised in a creative way.
An archive of historic and contemporary crop varieties is being built in conjunction with qualitative interviews and quantitative information on cropping practices. Thus far 23 landrace varieties of finger millet and sorghum have been documented alongside over 400 unique cropping combinations of 31 crop types. The dynamism of smallholder knowledge, practice and innovation is astonishing and we are continuing to grow this rich knowledge store.
The PIPFA partnership has also provided the core foundations for an ongoing project entitled ‘Cultivating through Crises: Empowering African Smallholders Through Histories of Creative Emergency Response’ (CCEASH). With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic coupled with droughts, severe flash flooding and the worst desert locust outbreak for 70 years, CCEASH will urgently explore how farmers innovate within the context of these multiple crises. The project will build a historiographical account of smallholder emergency response with the aim of foregrounding local agronomic innovations within times of crisis, empowering local knowledge and practice.
These innovations in which the IGP, and more broadly The Bartlett, is playing a leading role are paving the way for robust, informed policy initiatives to support long-term farmer-led agriculture that maintains balanced ecosystems. More broadly, this work is a crucial component of our wider research ambitions to build new pathways to prosperous livelihoods.