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Scaling up successful agroecological initiatives in Latin America and the Caribbean

Miguel A. Altieri, Daniel Buckles, Rolando Bunch, Simon Carter, Antonio Casanova, Paul Engel, Ruben Figueroa and Carlos Venegas.

In Latin America and the Caribbean there are many NGOs involved in promoting agroecological initiatives that have demonstrated a positive impact on the livelihoods of small farming communities in various countries ( see for example special issue of Environment, Development and Sustainability Vol 1 No ¾, l999 for a detailed description of various projects). Many of these projects were promoted by organizations associated with the Latin American Consortium on Agroecology and Development (CLADES), in collaboration with the Sustainable Agriculture Networking and Extension (SANE – a UNDP sponsored project) which initiated the establishment of various demonstration farms (lighthouses) where farmers adopting agroecological models achieved significant levels of food security and natural resource conservation. Given the benefits and advantages of such initiatives , two basic questions emerged: (l) why these benefits have not disseminated more widely and (2) how to scale-up these initiatives to enable wider impact? One important factor is that NGOs involved in such initiatives have not analyzed or systematized the principles that determined the level of success of the local initiatives, nor have been able to validate specific strategies for the scaling-up of such initiatives.

For this reason a second phase of SANE was initiated in 2000 under the sponsorship of the International Development Research Center (Canada). The general objective of SANE-LAC-II was to promote the scaling-up of agroecological principles, approaches and techniques from already successful experiences in four countries (Cuba, Peru, Honduras and Chile), through a planned and monitored process, recognizing that areas chosen have contrasting potentials in terms of institutional capacity, social organization and environmental and economic conditions. In the context of this project , scaling up is defined as the dissemination and adoption of agroecological principles over substantial areas by large numbers of farmers and technical staff. In other words, scaling up means achieving a significant increase in the knowledge and management of agroecological principles and technologies between farmers of varied socio-economic and biophysical conditions, and between institutional actors involved in peasant agricultural development.

                         The goals and activities of the scaling up process

The scaling up strategy of SANE-LAC II involves several components and activities, including:

Provision of methodological support to four NGOs (CET, CIED-EDAC,ACTAF and COSECHA) in a process of institutional articulation, coordination and exchange of experiences in Chile, Peru, Cuba and Honduras respectively.
Development and implementation in each country of scaling up strategies appropriate to the national or regional context.
Conduct a comparative analysis of the impact of such strategies on the diffusion and adoption of agroecological principles and techniques in each country
Collective systematization of the lessons learned in each scaling up process in order to derive principles and methods applicable in other zones and wider groups of farmers.
Widely disseminate the results obtained, particularly the principles that underline successful scaling-up at the local and regional levels.
SANE-LAC II members formulated as its principal working hypothesis that the scaling up is possible if the involved NGOs can:

partner more effectively with farmers organizations and other research-extension institutions
strengthen exchanges, training, technology transfer and validation in the context of farmer to farmer activities, as well as enhancing the role of rural promoters
to enhance the participation of small farmers in niche markets
Country approaches

In order to test this hypothesis each NGO developed a scaling up strategy focusing on one of the above approaches, depending on the conditions and challenges faced in each target region. Clearly, in each country there are restraining factors such as lack of markets, and lack of appropriate agricultural policies and technologies which limit scaling up . On the other hand, opportunities for scaling up exist , including the systematization and application of approaches that have met with success at local levels, and the removal of constraining factors. As a result four scaling up strategies are being implemented by SANE in LAC:

EDAC-CIED : the focus of this initiative is to strengthen the role of local promoters in participatory research and technological extension, and the support of producers’ organizations through alternative marketing channels (ferias campesinas organicas) as a way of scaling up agroecological approaches and sustainable development in Cajamarca, Peru . The main idea is to evaluate whether the promotion of alternative farmer-led markets constitute a mechanism to enhance the economic viability of the agroecological approach and thus provide the basis for the scaling-up process.
COSECHA: this project is testing different ways of rescuing/collecting/evaluating promising agreocological technologies generated by experimenting farmers (AE) and making them known to other farmers for wide adoption in various areas. Mechanisms to disseminate the technologies with high potential involve farmer exchange visits, regional-national farmer conferences, and publication of manuals that explain the technologies for the use by technicians involved in agroecological development programs.
CET’s strategy in the southern island Chilean of Chiloe, is to develop collaborative links with the Instituto de Desarrollo Agropecuario (INDAP- the main government agency supporting small farmers) in order for this organization to encourage adoption of agroecological principles in their extension programs. Simultaneously CET has partnered with the Chiloe Model Forest ( Bosque Modelo), a project that convokes national and regional institutions aimed at the sustainable utilization of the native forest by small farmers. It is hypothesized that agroecological farming can be a key component of the livelihood strategies of forest users, and therefore the Model Forest is a key institution with which to partner.
ACTAF: the focus of this project is to develop linkages between the Organic Agriculture Group of the Cuban Association of Agricultural and Forestry Professionals (ACTAF) and the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP). Such alliance between technicians and farmers is critical for the dissemination of successful agroecological production systems emphasizing biodiversity management and rational use of natural resources. This component of the project looks for ways to replicate the successful Cuban experience with "agroecological lighthouses" established in Havana province during the first phase of SANE I.
                                            Monitoring the scaling up process

From the beginning of the implementation of phase II of SANE it was clear that the scaling-up of agroecological approaches constituted a major research challenge. The main difficulty lied in the design of a methodology to monitor and evaluate the impacts of the various strategies on:

The increase in the knowledge and management of agroecological principles among farmers in various socioeconomic and environmental contexts, technicians from various organizations and policy makers-development agents.
The enhancement of the social-geographical coverage or "reach" of the application of agroecological principles and technologies in different socioeconomic contexts , of varying land tenure systems and heterogeneous ecological conditions.

The first task of each NGO consisted in defining the categories of farmers, professionals and policy makers intended to be reached with its strategy, delineating concrete and measurable goals for posterior evaluation. It was assumed that each target category and goals can be modified according to obtained results and lessons learned during the scaling up process. Each NGO also had to define its goals in terms of social and geographic covertures for the application of agroecological approaches.

As part of a base study, each NGO described and analyzed the actual context and dominant trends in their spaces of operation, considering the following aspects:

Social actors pertinent for agroecological scaling-up , their vision, interest and institutional policies and other relevant issues. Level of organization of farmers organizations and their local-regional influence/ relevance.
Level of interest and role of local-regional governments in promoting ecological agriculture
Existing legislature/policies that may limit or favor expansion of agroecological approaches
Status of the natural resource base including soils, agrobiodiversity and water
Level of technological development at the local level, and degree of dependency on NGOs and government institutions, existence of local networks for the exchange of experiences, etc.
Existence of local and external market niches and availability of supply of agroecological products as well as levels of demand.

In addition to this base study observations, the SANE group defined five dimensions key for the monitoring of the ongoing scaling-up process:1.Techno-productive development: rescue and validation by farmers of generated technologies; adoption of new technologies and integration of technicians’ teams with farmers.

2. Organizational development: establishment and strengthening of farmers organizations; diversification of the membership including micro-entrepreneurs; generation of proposals and development of skills.

3. Inter-institutional articulation: involvement of local universities and agricultural institutions; creation of dialogue spaces; training of technicians, collaborative evaluation of effectiveness of agroecological technologies; creation of services (credit, certification, etc)

4. Commercial development: monitoring of markets for agroecological products; capacity building in commercial matters; diversification of marketing strategies; identification of niche markets; develop products that reflect the essence of peasant agriculture; articulation with commercial chains linked to consumers.

5.Political alliances: Creation and strengthening of linkages with other institutions at local, regional and national levels.

Each dimension is being monitored using a set of criteria and indicators that measure the level of influence that the interventions have over set periods on the various issues within each dimension.

                                            Expected outcomes

The SANE-LAC II process was initiated a year ago. It was conceived as both an action and research project whose main goal is to achieve a significant increase in the knowledge and management of agroecological principles and technologies among farmers of varied socio-economic and biophysical conditions, and between institutional actors involved in peasant agricultural development. The project aims to execute the strategy for scaling-up described here (farmer to farmer networks, niche markets, institutional articulation, etc) and to evaluate the impact of this approach on the broader goal of SANE-LAC II.

The main expectation of the project are that it will expand the geographical coverage of participating institutions and their target agroecological projects while allowing an evaluation of the impact of the strategies employed; and that the methodology used will allow for a comparative analysis of the experiences learned, extracting principles that can be applied in the scaling-up of other existing local initiatives, thus illuminating other development processes.