Challenges and opportunities
In general, in all SIMLESA countries food security attainment is adversely affected by a number of challenges, namely climatic and institutional, particularly in Southern Africa. In addition to flooding in some parts of Malawi in 2014 for example, moisture stress due to erratic rains and the overall effect of climatic change in other sites, were some of the main problems experienced in all the SIMLESA countries. In Malawi and Mozambique, for instance in 2015/16 season, rains were too little, too late, and this was due to the effects of El Nino. Contrary to this, Tanzania received excessive rains in 2016 while southern African countries also experienced excessive rains in early 2017. In Eastern Africa the effects of El Nino has resulted in a devastating drought and famine affecting more than 10 million Ethiopians.
In Malawi, it was discovered that most seed companies’ staff involved in seed multiplication programs had little experience in seed production and they required constant backstopping by the Department of Agricultural Research Services (DARS) as well as training to be conversant with seed production issues. Lack of irrigation facilities for most seed companies limited their seed production.
Limited resources are some of the major challenges being faced by most African countries. Huge investments, like establishment of irrigation schemes which is ideal in addressing adverse effects of climate change will not be possible without adequate resources.
The chronic problem of overstretched national agriculture research system partners and limited number of new recruits not coming into the system (Malawi and Kenya) is still a challenge in implementing a rigorous field level research, particularly getting comprehensive and quality data on time. The capacity to produce quality reports and timely is gradually improving compared to the first phase. The series of quality presentations and synthesis shared at the 5th Annual Review and Planning Meeting (ARPM) in Harare, Zimbabwe and at the 2015 Mid Term Review (MTR) as well as the 6th ARPM held in Lilongwe, Malawi, was appreciated by the Program Steering Committee and MTR team and partners.
The program has developed videos, used television and radio and, in some countries, especially Mozambique, has embarked on an innovative delivery of information to farmers and rural communities through SMS/mobile phone technology mainly through the assistance of QAAFI team. There is need to enhance ICT system in the program particularly on SMS-based tools for site-specific decision support to deliver:
(1) simple heuristics for crop management and other information at key times during the year to registered mobile users (service includes information from global seasonal climate forecasts, and in-crop nitrogen management tools).
(2) technical, social networking (e.g. information on field days, trials, farmer to farmer exchanges (m/f), etc.), and market information to farmers, extension officers and other participants in the maize-legume value chain.
SMS approaches will be scaled out to other SIMLESA countries. Already, content development has been done in Kenya, based on QAAFI-led process in Mozambique. The process was rolled out in Tanzania (November 2015), in collaboration with CABI. CABI has existing sms programs in Tanzania, and possesses valuable lessons. Plans were being laid for similar work in Malawi and Ethiopia.
In all SIMLESA operational countries, it was noted that farmers, key stakeholders and members of the community were ready to work and scale out the program technologies. Participatory methodologies used in the selection process of the best bet technologies empowered the communities and gave them a sense of ownership. Farmers’ efforts were also being complemented by the established local agricultural innovation platforms (AIPS) giving more sense of belonging. This enables effective transfer of SIMLESA technologies to many farmers in a sustainable manner.
The implementation of the Competitive Grant system is bound to enhance scaling out effort. The emergence of local seed companies provides SIMLESA with an opportunity to create access for new generations of maize and legume varieties leading to improvement of food and income security across the SIMLESA countries.
There are local champions in each country and community where SIMLESA activities are implemented. These include SIMLESA PSC members, ministry of agriculture staff, extension agents, technicians, NGOs and private seed companies that are championing sustainable intensification production systems as an integral part of climate smart agriculture strategy.
ASARECA, SIMLESA and its partners organized a ministerial level SIMLESA High-Level Policy Forum hosted by Uganda at the end of October 2015. The objectives were to build a consensus to promote SIMLESA technologies in the respective countries and beyond, and ensure buy in from regional bodies and donors (AU, COMESA, USAID and the World Bank, among others).
The linkages with new programs within CIMMYT and outside CIMMYT (N2Africa, AGRA Soil Health Program) will improve the potential impacts of SIMLESA.
SIMLESA Looking beyond 2018
SIMLESA has been mindful of the need to sustain program activities and benefits in selected communities and beyond as evidenced by the strategic choice of implementing through NARS. However, there is need to develop a comprehensive and documented exit strategy through consultative process of key stakeholders.
There is need to enhance NARS technical capacity in sustainable intensification issues in SIMLESA countries. The program has laid down the foundation for developing CA-based sustainable intensification options, including integration of improved maize and legume varieties identified for their compatibility in CA practices; promoting technology adoption by both female and male farmers; capacity building for national agricultural research systems (NARS) of partner countries; the creation of enhanced partnerships and collaboration with established innovation platforms for a coordinated scaling out SIMLESA generated options and practices. However in ensuring sustainability of the program there is need to strengthen NARs capacity to be able to scale out SIMLESA technologies effectively.
It will be great to establish strong collaboration of SIMLESA with relevant institutions. As noted by the 2015 SIMLESA MTR team, SIMLESA should strengthen partnerships beyond the research domain. These should include partnerships with ministries for agriculture and major development finance institutions (IFAD, AfDB, WB, EU, USAID, BMGF etc.) so that SIMLESA concepts, principles and technologies can be scaled-out through investment programs financed by and implemented through the ministries and their financiers.
Strengthening of partners through the competitive grants scheme will be ideal before the end of the program life cycle. Competitive grants scheme should be implemented in such a manner that its benefits will spill over beyond 2018. Areas of capacity building for the partners who should drive the process beyond SIMLESA could be Program Management, Financial Management and Monitoring and Evaluation.
There is no doubt that SIMLESA has managed to achieve the bulk of its planned activities and has made strenuous efforts to remain relevant to its stakeholders despite serious challenges which have remained in the implementation chain.