Originally published at: http://humidtropics.cgiar.org/the-road-to-self-reliance-for-an-innovation-platform-in-uganda/
Innovation platforms are structures that bring together different stakeholders from the same area to identify solutions to common problems. They exist as long as necessary to handle existing challenges and new ones that might emerge during the process, and they take advantage of opportunities that help them create solutions to existing problems. Past experience has shown that when platforms are driven by specific projects, there is often a risk that they will cease functioning if funding no longer becomes available. For platform members, stakeholders, and the communities who benefit from the platform's research initiatives, a long term vision in necessary to ensure that investments are not lost, and that livelihood enhancements are sustainable through time. For this reason, some platforms choose to look for alternative means to sustain themselves, and build strong partnerships with local stakeholders as an investment in the future.
Growing soybeans. Photo by IITA.
That is exactly what the Humidtropics Innovation Platform of Kiboga/Kyankwanzi in Uganda, did.
The Research Initiative
The Innovation Platform was launched with key community members in February 2014. Entry points were selected (maize, legume – soybean, banana, poultry, piggery and agroforestry) based on members' knowledge of the area, and in line with Humidtropics' development objectives to increase income, increase production, improve nutrition and health, and enhance natural resource management. Soybean was one of the key commodities selected because of its impact on nutrition due to its high protein content, and for its potential to improve soil fertility through fixing nitrogen into the ground.
Immediately afterwards, a Situational Analysis was conducted and its findings confirmed the validity of the entry points selected by the Platform: there is a high percentage of stunting and underweight children, which stands at 39% and 13% in Kiboga and Kyankwanzi districts respectively. The main reason for this is the low protein consumption, which arises due to lack of protein sources like animal protein. The findings also showed that soils are exhausted while 85% and 88% of people in Kiboga and Kyankwanzi depend on agriculture for a living.
In early 2014, the Platform, in partnership with Makerere University, N2Africa, Bioversity International and International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), set up soybean and maize demonstration plots within farms in these two districts, and provided them with training on:
- Best agronomic practices;
Production of quality seed;
Nutrition: how to utilize soybean within their diet at household level.
The training sessions were attended by a number of farmers and key community members who quickly saw the benefits of cultivating and consuming soybean
. At the end of the first experimentation cycle, results were compiled in a Soybean Monitoring Report
that was presented and circulated amongst Platform stakeholders and partners. From this point on, demand for soybean, and soybean seeds has been increasing day after day among households, schools, farmers with livestock, traders, etc.
In response to the increasing demand for quality soybean seeds, the Platform saw a golden opportunity to provide quality inputs (seeds) to the farmers, while at the same time finding a way of sustaining itself financially, as the Platform facilitation funds are meant to be given only for a specific period of time.
Assisted by Humidtropics, Platform members wrote a business plan aimed at enhancing the production and profitability of soybean in Kiboga/Kyankwanzi and becoming financially independent. During six months they saved their facilitation monthly allowance, which added up to US$1,000, and used these funds to implement their business plan. The money was used to buy seeds from the farmers who were trained to produce quality seeds, which were subsequently distributed to even more farmers who agreed to pay back double the amount of seeds given to them.
Graphic representation of the seed production system used by the Kiboga/Kyankwanzi Platform. Infographics by Anna Sole/IITA.
Humidtropics also provided farmers with rhizobia to enhance their crop growth while more nitrogen is fixed. The enthusiasm for soybean has grown so much that many farmers, farmer groups and schools registered to be given seeds. Unfortunately, for this first season, the Platform didn’t have enough seeds, as they only bought seeds from trained farmers. Therefore the Platform is making sure that the farmers who were given seeds pay back double the seeds given so that there is more seed available for next season to enhance scaling up. Humidtropics is also helping Platform members in developing scaling up models in order to explore other pathways through which more farmers could receive quality soybean seeds.
Left: Anna Marie, Innovation Platform Treasurer, paying farmers for their soybean seeds. Right: Farmers bring their soybean seeds to be sold to the Platform. Photos by IITA.
But the enthusiasm for soybean did not stop with the districts of Kiboga and Kyankwanzi; the other Humidtropics Platform in Uganda, located in the peri-urban districts of Mukono and Wakiso near Kampala, heard about the success of the Kiboga/Kyankwanzi Platform and was interested in the soybeans produced by its farmers, because soybean is an important component for animal feeding. As a result, traders from the Mukono/Wakiso Platform were linked to the farmers in Kiboga and Kyankwanzi, thus gaining access to good quality produce to feed their livestock.
A Story of Success
The Kiboga/Kyankwanzi Platform has had a real and tangible impact on the livelihoods of farmers in the two districts:
- Farmers were trained on how best to produce soybean, which led to a rising demand for it: many farmers have planted it yet more of them are demanding quality seeds;
- Soils are being replenished by the nitrogen-fixing soybeans, leaving the land capable of nourishing maize crops planted either at a later date, or alongside the soybean;
- Thanks to the nutrition training, schools and households are using soybean in their diets, and therefore improving their nutrition;
- The Platform is exploring ways to be financially independent, while at the same time sustainably providing their farmers with good quality inputs;
- The Platform’s business plan was developed and is being implemented.
Through hard work and determination to make a difference it the lives of smallholders, the Kiboga/Kyankwanzi Platform can be a source of inspiration for other platforms. It's an excellent example of sustainability through time, and can encourage others in the process of scaling up.
The Partnership Behind the Success Story
The following institutions and groups played an important role in building the capacity of the Kiboga/Kyankwanzi Platform and its farmers towards self-reliance:
Blog by Anna Sole and Moureen Awori, both Consultants at IITA. Blog edited by Valérie Poiré, Communication Officer, Humidtropics.
- Bioversity International
- Action for Rural Women Empowerment (ARUWE)
- Makerere University
- NGO Forum
- Farmer Forum
- Agro Empowerment
- World Vision
- Kiboga District Local Government
- Farmer groups