A decade of CIALCA: Lessons learned from integrated systems R4D in the Great Lakes Region

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The Consortium for Improving Agriculture-based Livelihoods in Central Africa (CIALCA) emanated from three individual project proposals submitted by IITA, Bioversity International, and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) that were approved by the Belgian Directorate General for Development Cooperation (DGD) in 2006. As the projects were to operate largely in the same parts of Rwanda, Burundi, and DR Congo, with similar national partner institutes, and with complementary activities, the three institutes agreed to operate together to improve operational efficiency and livelihoods impact. Initially, their research-for-development (R4D) agenda focused on enhancing crop production technologies (i.e., improved germplasm, soil management, and pest control) in legume- and banana-based systems, while creating an enabling environment for the uptake of these practices. CIALCA was one of the first agricultural R4D projects investing in an area that was torn apart by years of civil strife and — back then—dominated by humanitarian relief aid.

Successful development, testing, and scaling of banana and legume technologies

Throughout the first phase of CIALCA (2006-2008) several cropping systems and pest management technologies were tested. CIALCA became particularly known for its work with local stakeholders on on-farm testing and validating of improved germplasm, pest control and integrated soil fertility management technologies in banana and legume systems. The project also restarted collaborative activities between the national researcher organizations from Burundi, Rwanda, and DR Congo, while providing PhD and MSc training to several of their staff in partnership with local and Belgian universities. Based on CIALCA’s initial success, the consortium’s contract with the Belgian donor (DGD) was approved a second phase (2009-2011). CIALCA now focused more on the scaling of agricultural innovations through communication, partner training, novel value addition options, and assisting farming communities with new business models. More than 1000 trainers from partner organizations were trained on novel production technologies, such as new varieties and improved soil management, and novel processing technologies, such as soybean milk. CIALCA was also at the forefront of combatting the BXW— the bacterial wilt disease that wiped out banana production in entire farms and villages.

Moving innovations from the plant to the plot to the farm

From 2009 onwards, CIALCA has been testing banana-coffee mixed systems for climate change mitigation, pest reduction, and diversified farmer income. It turned out to be a very good match! The story on coffee/ banana intercropping was picked up by BBC Africa Network with a live radio interview, and by AFP, Reuters, and other large media houses. It led the Rwanda Agricultural Board to start their trials on banana/coffee intercropping, which was controversial as the Rwandan Crop Intensification Program (CIP) does not promote intercropping. Based on good results, the Minister of Agriculture requested additional research on coffee cup quality. Results were supporting intercropping and—although the CIP policy was not formally adjusted—banana/ coffee intercropping was since then tolerated by the Rwandan government in large parts of the country. CIALCA also introduced novel cassava-legume, maize-legume, and banana-legume systems, increasing smallholder farm productivity by improving soil fertility management with novel intercrop arrangements and practices. Farmers that tested the innovative practices on-farm became ‘technicians’ and not ‘unemployed’ people in their eyes. Supported by local structures and partners, collective marketing and collective seed production (e.g., banana macropropagation) became important drivers for increased income and collective action. Choice experiments in Burundi showed that farmers had a strong preference for climbing bean varieties that resulted in higher yields and improved soil fertility, while the maturation period and the responsiveness to fertilizer were less important. Such choice experiments take into account farmers’ preferences and accelerate the agricultural innovation processes.

From farming systems to integrated livelihood systems

By the end of its second phase in 2011, reforms had started to reshape the CGIAR landscape with the arrival of the CGIAR Research Programs (CRPs). CIALCA became a key operating platform for the CRP on Humidtropics. With its multi-CGIAR center and multistakeholder model, CIALCA was well placed in Humidtropics. By building on many years of innovation investments and partnerships, CIALCA was able to jump-start activities and mobilize multi-stakeholder networks in Burundi, Rwanda, and eastern DR Congo. The integrated systems approach includes understanding livelihood diversity, gender, value chains, nutrition, markets, natural resource improvement, institutional innovation, and scaling of successful innovations through multistakeholder partnerships (Fig. 1).

Major CIALCA impacts

• An impact assessment conducted in 2014 by the IITA Impact Group concluded that in South Kivu, DR Congo and Rwanda, CIALCA has contributed to lifting an estimated number of about 560,000 people out of poverty. Changes in poverty rates due to CIALCA are between 3%, 10%, and 21% for Burundi, South Kivu (DR Congo), and Rwanda, respectively. • CIALCA’s strong science capacity building resulted in the training of over 10 PhDs and 40 MSc students in a region that had lost of much of its science capacity during years of conflict. Many former CIALCA MSc and PhD students are now in key positions in Ministries and NARS in Burundi, Rwanda, and DR Congo. • CIALCA has trained over 50 partner organizations and more than 1000 trainers in—among others—seed multiplication technologies (e.g., macropropagation) and effective pest and disease control (e.g., BXW management), good agricultural practices and intercropping techniques, new crop varieties, postharvest processing, and collective marketing. • CIALCA has contributed significantly to advancing science related to integrated soil fertility management (Lambrecht et al., 2015b; Vanlauwe et al., 2014), climate-smart opportunities for smallholders (Ekong, 2015, van Asten et al., 2015) and the effectiveness of agricultural extension and other partnership modalities in supporting (specific groups of ) farmers (Lambrecht et al., 2015c; Schut et al., 2016).

Looking to the future

CIALCA has shown to continuously reinvent and reorient itself. This will remain needed. In the field of research for development, CIALCA will further strengthen its strategic engagement with policy actors and other investment actors. CIALCA contributed to a continental study on drivers of the food security of African smallholders (Frelat et al., 2015). This study showed that while there are clear opportunities to strengthen agricultural production, marketing and income for many of the ‘better-off’ farmers, a large proportion of smallholders (20-40%) seem incapable to significantly improve their livelihood through agriculture and off-farm income is key. Strengthening the capable farmers with improved production, handling and marketing innovations will need to be accompanied with efforts to strengthen (agricultural) job opportunities for the vulnerable groups, including youth and women. This will require working with public- and private sector investors in a holistic approach. The multi-stakeholder platforms and tools identified a clear need for institutional innovation (e.g., with alternative land tenure arrangements, and service provision to farmers), which will require more attention and concrete investments in future integrated systems programs. Other areas that need more attention are the use of ICT in agricultural innovation processes, technology development and service provision. Reinvention and reorientation of CIALCA is ongoing to accommodate these and other future systems research and development challenges.


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