The need for building sustainable agricultural research and development capacity was considered from the start of the program. SIMLESA implementation strategy is centred on maximum involvement of key stakeholders like national agricultural research and extension systems (NARES) and smallholder farmers using participatory approaches. It was discovered that for the approach to work, capacity gaps within NARES were supposed to be identified and addressed. Country specific gaps were assessed and analyzed at the inception of the program. A capacity building plan was developed with main activities focused on trainings, resource provision, continuous mentorship, and tertiary educational support to young scientists.
SIMLESA program funds unlike other programs, are managed by NARES at country level with professional back up support from CIMMYT both administratively and technically. In addition, SIMLESA is working with other regional and technical institutions in strengthening NARES capacity and mentorship. These collaborators include: Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), Agricultural Research Council (ARC) of South Africa, Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI), International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).
Numerous NARES trainings were conducted as part of capacity building. These included SIMLESA technologies, financial management, program planning and implementation, international conferences, monitoring and reporting. SIMLESA’s capacity-building initiatives target researchers, extension practitioners, farmers and other actors along the maize and legumes value chains. The trainings conducted included APSIM and household modelling (facilitated by QAAFI), legume inoculant production (Centre for Rhizobia Studies (CRS Murdoch University), program management (CIMMYT), Applied Principles of Biometry, Conservation Agriculture, Soil Health, and Innovation Platforms (ARC-SA) and gender capacity building by ASARECA. Each year program progress is reviewed using participatory methodologies during annual review program meetings as part continuous mentorship and taking stock as well as corrective measures on time. These review meetings are also attended by donor representatives, program steering committee members which include country directors of NARES and program management committee members.
Other notable beneficiaries of the program’s capacity-building measures have included young people who have been supported for postgraduate training. For example, through the program, 23 doctoral students have enrolled at various universities across South Africa, Australia, Ethiopia and Kenya. A further 42 students are pursuing Master of Science degrees at national universities in SIMLESA partner countries. The young professionals who completed their studies are contributing immensely to NARES skill base in their respective countries particularly in plant science and agricultural economics.
SIMLESA also supported national agricultural research institutions with physical capital assets such as vehicles, irrigation facilities, information technology and laboratory equipment to strengthen research and agricultural development activities. This reinforces and enables human capacity building efforts conducted by the program.
Benefits of SIMLESA Approach
NARES capacity improved greatly to the extent that they are now able to effectively implement research in development programs. The holistic approach has not only assisted the NARES but also smallholder farmers through community extension trainings, field days, exchange visits and innovation platforms. Fifty eight innovation platforms were established in the five countries to help farmer groups and partners exchange sustainable intensification experiences, share knowledge and establish functional market linkages. SIMLESA approach has built a strong sense of ownership and trust among farmers and NARES which is crucial in sustaining program outcomes beyond its life span.