Data-Driven Extension: Insights for Collaborative Learning and Action

Jun 19, 2019

An event sponsored by the Feed the Future Developing Local Extension Capacity Project

Event Summary

The Feed the Future Developing Local Extension Capacity (DLEC) project hosted its second annual Community of Practice convening in March 2019 in Kampala, Uganda. The Convening was attended by representatives from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Uganda Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), Uganda Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services, Makerere University, Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services, and implementing partners from the private sector, civil society, and research. Under the overarching theme of data-driven extension, the Convening was an opportunity for extension and advisory service practitioners, researchers, and policymakers to share learning and results from their programs and experiences and find commonalities across diverse programs and countries. Sessions highlighted current research, learnings from practitioners, and public sector priorities for data-driven extension with the goal of encouraging peer-to-peer learning and collaboration across programs and countries to strengthen data-driven extension and advisory services for smallholder farmers.

The Convening was kicked off by DLEC’s project co-directors – Kristin Davis, Senior Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute, and Karin Lion, Vice President of Strategy at Digital Green. Following this, Beatrice Byarugaba, Director of Agricultural Extension Services at MAAIF gave the keynote address. Director Byarugaba highlighted the priorities of the Ugandan government and emphasized the importance of data for planning and budgeting to provide smallholder farmers with the support and advisory services they need. Although Uganda has a pluralistic system for extension and advisory services with many actors collecting information, data to support collaboration and determine gaps in extension services is not readily shared, and, if it is, not always usable. She called participants to action, asking them to think about how the agriculture sector can learn from the successes of the health and education sectors, which use household and village level data to inform decision making and ensure quality.

The Convening agenda was organized around three rounds of lightning talks highlighting research and practitioner collaboration and a panel discussion on the public sector perspective. Martin Fowler, Agriculture Advisor at USAID Uganda, gave closing remarks at the end of the day-long discussions.

Lightning Talks – Round 1

The first round of lightning talks featured Marc Schut from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Jamie Arkin from Viamo, Simrin Makhija from the International Food Policy Research Institute, and Rex Chapota from Farm Radio International.

Speakers highlighted the divide between researchers and practitioners that limits data-driven extension due to different motivations, timelines, audiences and incentives. The researchers argued that their strength is not in thinking about how to scale solutions operationally because of the day-to-day realities of their research scope; on the other hand, they can be more demand-driven and engage with practitioners to understand data and evidence needs and use cases. Open communication, partnership and aligned interest in evidence are key to successfully bridging the gap between research and practice. For example, radio and mobile platforms are pushing the possibilities for a datadriven extension by enabling feedback loops in real time.

Lightning Talks – Round 2

The second round of lightning talks featured Maureen Miruka from Care International, David Spielman and Vivian Hoffman from the International Food Policy Research Institute, and Mayambala Godfrey from the Uganda-based Zirobwe Agailawamu Agribusiness Training Association.

In addition to the challenge of generating evidence on what works to strengthen data-driven extension, another key challenge is implementing results in a sustainable manner. Speakers highlighted the importance of partnering with government stakeholders, both at local and national levels, as they have the ability to implement data-driven recommendations sustainably on a large scale. One successful example of research-practice collaboration is the partnership between Zirobwe Agailawamu Agribusiness Training Association and the National Agricultural Research Organization on fall armyworm outbreaks in Uganda.

Lightning Talks – Round 3

The final lightning round session featured Moussa Senge from One Acre Fund, Steven Franzel from World Agroforestry, Patrice Djamen from the West & Central African Network for Rural Advisory Services/Global Rural Forum for Rural Advisory Services, and Fredrick Bagamba from Makerere University.

Within the context of engaging youth in agriculture, this session highlighted that building momentum for experimental approaches to generate data while simultaneously unlocking opportunities to scale innovations based on evidence are two sides of the same coin and critical to sustaining agricultural innovation for future generations.

Using Evidence and Data: Public Sector Perspective

The first three sessions of the Convening highlighted the perspectives of the research and practitioner communities in addressing challenges to data-driven extension. The final session of the Convening was a public sector panel discussion featuring Patience Rwamigisa, Commissioner, Agricultural Extension Services, MAAIF; Boniface Akuku, Director of ICT, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization; and Chimdo Anchala, Senior Director for Production and Productivity, Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency.

The panel surfaced critical themes such as the need for quality data generated by credible, neutral sources. Policymakers are faced with difficult questions - Why do African countries with the most comparative advantages in agriculture have some of the worst outcomes? Why does the micro-environment of smallholder farmers appear uniform regardless of the differences in macroeconomic realities of each country? Policy can help address problems, but they must be understood with data. In some cases, there is an overload of data, but it’s a challenge to transform that raw data into evidence that can be contextualized and support reform in a systematic, multi-disciplinary way.

The panellists emphasized the role that practitioners can play as intermediaries between research and policy. Our collective calling, as the global extension community, is to package the information constantly being generated and get it to the right people at the right time in the right context. We must leverage current relationships. For example, farmer organizations have the power to hold governments responsible and demand policies that meet their needs. Civil society can be data evangelists. We must also leverage technology to disrupt the existing system and address weak extension-research linkages, digitize data to speak to context-specific needs and be committed to data transparency. Only then can we ensure that the data generated by research and practice feed into sound policies and strategies that reflect ground reality and are implemented by organizations that are closest to where smallholder farmer needs are.

Closing Remarks

In his closing remarks, Martin Fowler from USAID Uganda emphasized that while we can all agree that more data is needed, we also have to be wary of the potential of too much data, which can be overwhelming and provide contradictory information. It is critical for donors, civil society, and research to support the Government of Uganda’s efforts around evidence-based policy.

Following the event, Kristin Davis and Karin Lion published a blog post on the research-practitioner divide and reasons for optimism.

If you’d like to follow up on any of the presentations or reach out to the presenters, please email Suprita Makh (suprita@digitalgreen.org).


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