The N2Africa approach

Photography: Eva Thuijsman

Successful legume yields and biological nitrogen fixation depend on the interaction between a legume, a rhizobium strain, the environment and farm management. That is the core concept of N2Africa. But how could this concept be put to work?

A lot of effort has been put into developing new legume varieties for African countries. However, smallholders are not always able to realize the full benefits of these new legume varieties because they are faced with nutrient deficiencies, drought, weeds or pests and diseases. Successful legume yields and biological nitrogen fixation require the right combination of a legume variety and rhizobium strain, with the right environmentaland management factors. This concept became the core of N2Africa.

N2Africa worked in two phases. In the first phase of the project (2010-2014), the researchers provided a ‘proof of concept’ by showing significant legume yield increases and household benefits across all regions with many farmers. The results from this phase also showed that the management factor accounted for up to 90 per cent of the legume yield gap.

Video: Explanation of N2Africa as a ‘Development to Research’ project. Produced by Taskscape Associates

Farming systems analysis

Crop management cannot only be considered at the field level: it is related to decision-making and resource allocation at the level of the whole farm. All N2Africa activities were therefore embedded in a (farming) systems approach. This approach recognizes and embraces the wide diversity of farms and farming systems. This diversity has implications for the different possibilities that farmers have for the cultivation of legumes on their farm.

All N2Africa activities were embedded in an approach that embraces the wide diversity of farming systems

For instance, farming households with sufficient land and labour benefit most from value-chain, market-led approaches that allow them to sell the extra produce resulting from yield increases. Poorer, often female-headed, households instead tend to benefit from the opportunities that grain legumes offer for intensifying production on small farms and processing legumes into nutritious food for the household. Different types of farmers may therefore be interested in different legumes or management practices.

The farmer Peter Mukwenya showing off his common bean varieties in Zimbabwe. Photo: Isaac Chabata

Learning loops

N2Africa made use of an innovative ‘Development to Research’ model where the large-scale Delivery and Dissemination (D&D) campaigns of the improved legume techniques were combined with strong feedback from Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E), to provide the basis for ‘feedback learning loops’. These learning loops drove the Research component of the project: how to tailor the technologies that were disseminated to the needs of a diversity of farmers.

The ‘Development to Research’ model of N2Africa.

Over time the majority of partnerships supported capacity building, input and output markets and technology dissemination, with only few strategic research partners.

The ‘learning pathways’ led to best-fit recommendations. In most cases, recommendations were the result of the agronomic performance of varieties and technologies in demonstration trials, in combination with feedback from farmers. This feedback was either given on field days at demonstration trials and/or in survey evaluations.

Other information sources were results from agronomic trials to diagnose the response to different nutrients, adaptation trials in which farmers planted on their own fields, or government and private sector partners who had developed and introduced a new variety, fertilizer blend or inoculant. The best-fit recommendations for different legumes, countries and regions remain available for the use of future projects in a Recommendation Tool.

Theresa Ampadu-Boakye

Learning loops in practice

Theresa Ampadu-Boakye, Monitor & Evaluation (M&E) coordinator at N2Africa, tells how the learning pathways that were captured from the ‘Development to Research model’ functioned in practice.

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