IITA’s new social science research agenda

Social science research is one of the major disciplinary areas supporting innovation processes at IITA for achieving a sustainable reduction in food security and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. As a core instrument targeting the poor, agricultural research requires a social science context to ensure its relevance in the processes of discovery, adaptation, adoption, and diffusion of new technologies, policies, and institutions. Understanding and overcoming the challenges facing the poor in sub-Saharan Africa is important in achieving greater impacts through agricultural research.

Social science research at IITA aims to lift 20-25 million out of poverty by 2020. Photo by IITA.
Social science research at IITA aims to lift 20-25 million out of poverty by 2020. Photo by IITA.

The new social science agenda in IITA aims to contribute to the Institute’s goal of lifting 20–25 million out of poverty in Africa by 2020 through the following:
• Gender-disaggregated agricultural research priorities defined through ex ante analyses of impact and commodity situation and outlook
• Improved understanding of the social, cultural, gender, and economic dynamics and determinants of agricultural transformation, rural livelihood strategies, and pathways out of poverty
• Improved understanding of gender-differentiated end-user preferences and the extent, determinants, and pathways of adoption of technological innovations for guiding technology development and delivery efforts
• Alternative institutional arrangements and policy options relating to technology delivery, input supply, and output markets identified and advocated for increased market participation and commercialization among the poor and the marginalized.

Focus of the new agenda
First, social science research establishes a strong knowledge base through geospatial analysis as well as studies of strategic impact and commodity outlook. All these contribute to an increased understanding of the drivers of agricultural transformation and the role of agricultural technology. These guide investments in agricultural research and complementary public goods for agricultural growth and poverty reduction. For example, smallholder production and marketing constraints and opportunities vary according to existing agroecological and socioeconomic circumstances. Thus, descriptions of smallholders’ production systems and analysis of critical production constraints and opportunities, with an assessment of the prospects of alternative investments and technological solutions, are important instruments for priority setting and targeting of research investments for the increased effectiveness of agricultural research and an improved impact.

Secondly, social science research generates knowledge on end-user technology preferences through on-farm participatory evaluation—involving farmers, traders, and processors—and consumer preference studies and market demand analyses. Social science research also assesses early adoption and the impacts of technologies to track the pathways and extent of adoption, to measure adopter-level gains in yield and income, and to identify the socioeconomic, infrastructural, institutional, and policy factors promoting or hindering the adoption of technology. Efforts aimed at raising the productivity and incomes of smallholder farmers involve developing technologies that address key production constraints and have the traits that are preferred by various end-users.

A researcher conducting a training for farmers. Photo from SP-IPM.
A researcher conducting a training for farmers. Photo from SP-IPM.

Several social, economic, institutional, policy, and infrastructural factors may hinder the uptake of profitable technologies. Addressing the priorities and constraints facing smallholder farmers and other actors along the value chain is the necessary condition for greater technology uptake and impacts. On the other hand, early adoption studies documenting the extent and determinants—such as socioeconomic and institutional factors—of the uptake of IITA’s technologies and adopter-level productivity and income gains provide important information, not only for evaluating the adoption potential of new technologies but also for enhancing adoption and impacts through improved policies and institutions. Not only are there gender differentials in technology adoption but technology adoption may also have differential effects within and across households, due to the influence of social structures, and gender imbalances in access to productive assets and support services.

Thirdly, social science research identifies alternative institutional arrangements and policy options for improved technology delivery, input supply, and output markets with a view to enhancing smallholders’ income gains through increased market participation and commercialization with significant feedback effects on technology adoption. Here, niche markets and other high-value product markets are identified and strategies for linking smallholder farmers and entrepreneurs to such markets are promoted. Institutional arrangements and frameworks for enhancing efficiency along input supply and product value chains are identified and promoted.

Fourthly, international research institutes, such as IITA, are confronted with the task of developing prototype technology options and other innovations, usually from specific sites but with an expected applicability to a wider environment for achieving greater impacts. Generic technologies from specific sites must prove successful in their sites of origin but should also indicate high potentials for adaptability in similar areas outside the research sites. The whole issue about the targeting of innovations is to improve our understanding of the processes and strategies that could facilitate the adaptability of generic technologies to a wider environment to achieve significant impact.

Two broad approaches that are complementary for achieving impact are considered: the “geographic” targeting and the “social” scaling of innovations. The geographic targeting applies GIS, GPS, and remote sensing tools to define recommendation domains through aggregating information to higher spatial levels. The social scaling considers the scale-dependency of organizational and policy parameters; it refers to the transfer of the appropriate knowledge to each organizational level through a better understanding of the social and policy processes involved in the adoption and adaptation of innovations.

Fifthly, social science research measures the long-range impacts of IITA’s research investments on food and nutrition security and poverty reduction, thus demonstrating accountability to donors as well as providing feedback to the research process. With improved targeting of technology development and delivery, the benefits of social science research are thus realized through increased adoption and impacts of the products of IITA’s research.

Scientist explaining the concept of biocontrol to farmers. Photo by IITA.
Scientist explaining the concept of biocontrol to farmers. Photo by IITA.

Social science research at IITA recognizes the role of sociocultural influences on differential gender rights, roles, and privileges, which provides insights into the most appropriate pro-poor interventions, beneficial to both men and women. With the recognition that agricultural research and development interventions affect men and women differently, social science research at IITA will contribute to an increased understanding of gender imbalances in access to assets and the determinants of technology, and market participation. The purpose of this line of research will be to ensure that technology development and delivery systems and commercialization strategies are inclusive of gender issues with a view to achieving gender-equitable impacts of agricultural research with improved benefits to women and the marginalized groups in rural areas.

Apart from the major efforts aimed at mainstreaming and integrating gender issues into much of the social science research agenda, targeted gender analysis will be conducted on the roles, livelihood strategies, constraints, and preferences of men and women, the youth, and marginalized groups in different sociocultural systems. This will help to identify gender-differentiated technology needs, choices, and constraints, and test mechanisms that enhance technology targeting, delivery, and equitable access for greater impact on both men and women.

The social science research agenda contributes to IITA’s 10-year strategy for 2011–2020 that has the goal of moving 20–25 million people out of poverty. The formulation of the social science research agenda also takes into consideration the new CGIAR Research Programs (CRPs), particularly those programs in which IITA is involved. It also incorporates findings from the 2009 Stripe Review of Social Sciences in the CGIAR.

Note: The Social Science Working Group was composed of V.M. Manyong (v.manyong@cgiar.org), A.D. Alene, T. Abdoulaye, J. Rusike, E. Ouma, M. Yade, O. Coulibaly, J. Gockowski, A. Tegbaru, and H. Kirscht.

Conserving cowpea using GIS tools

Diversity of cowpea seeds. Photo by IITA.
Diversity of cowpea seeds. Photo by IITA.

The germplasm collections in genebanks are an invaluable resource for the future. The conservation of this biodiversity is tied to agricultural production and represents a safety net for the food security of future generations.

In addition to the conservation, multiplication, regeneration, and characterization of these collections, another central function of a genebank is the expansion of germplasm collections to cover as much agrobiodiversity as possible.

IITA works on cowpea improvement and holds the largest cowpea germplasm collection in the world (15,115 accessions); 10,814 (71.5%) of these were collected in Africa or acquired from African national programs.

High protein food legume
The cowpea is a very important, widely adapted, and versatile grain legume of high nutritional value. It is mainly produced and consumed in Africa where it provides a major low-cost dietary protein for millions of smallholder farmers and consumers who cannot afford high protein foods, such as fish and meat. Food legumes, particularly cowpea, have high protein contents. Cowpea contains 24% protein, 62% soluble carbohydrates, and small amounts of other nutrients.

It is a very low-input crop, traditionally grown in intercropping systems. Cowpea contributes to soil fertility through nitrogen fixation and is also cultivated to prevent soil erosion.

The worldwide area cultivated with cowpea in 2008 was estimated to be 11.8 million ha with an annual production of 5.4 million t of dried grains (FAOSTAT 2010).

Production in Africa represents about 91% of the global production. West Africa, with 10.7 million ha, accounts for most of Africa’s production, with Nigeria and Niger being the leading cowpea growing countries (FAOSTAT 2008). The area planted with cowpea is substantial in Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Bénin, Togo, Chad, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Angola, Somalia, Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Madagascar (NRC 2006).

Ex situ conservation in IITA genebank: long-term storage, −20 °C. Photo by IITA.
Ex situ conservation in IITA genebank: long-term storage, −20 °C. Photo by IITA.

Cowpea diversity
At IITA, cowpea is maintained in two storage conditions, medium (5°C) and long-term (-20°C) at an optimal water content of 7−8% fresh weight basis. The viability of most accessions stored at –20°C for 25 years remains as high as 90%.

To avoid losses of genetic diversity and to guide future sampling, researcher Anne Rysavy of the University of Hohenheim (now with the University of Tuebingen), GIS Specialist Kai Sonder (now with CIMMYT), and the head of IITA’s Genetic Resources Center, Dominique Dumet, assessed the geographic coverage of the current collection to get an overview of the crop’s conservation status. The study identified areas in Africa where the probability of finding more and diverse Vigna unguiculata accessions is highest and where further collection should be done.

GIS tools
Gap analysis is an evaluation technique applied to provide wide geographic information on the status of different species and their habitats using satellite data and different computer tools and by digital map overlays in a geographic information system (GIS). Gaps refer to geographical areas that are underrepresented in the collection and where cowpea is expected to occur based on agrometeorological and other factors.

GIS can be a powerful tool for analyzing spatial distribution of a species. Combined with biophysical information from germplasm collections, it can help in conducting surveys and prioritizing future sampling areas. Areas that have not yet been sampled can be targeted for collecting missions so that the material can be conserved ex situ or using in situ conservation strategies.

Specifically, the study analyzed, corrected, and georeferenced the available passport data for cowpea. It also applied different GIS tools to identify gaps in previous collection areas, and predicted areas where new diversity is likely to be collected and/or areas where diversity erosion risk is highest, e.g., from climate change, civil war, deforestation, etc.

This study used spatial analysis tools and software applications, such as FloraMapTM, HomologueTM, ArcGISTM, and DIVA-GIS, including the predictive models EcoCrop, BIOCLIM, and DOMAIN to perform the gap analysis on the existing cowpea germplasm collection at IITA and identify potential areas for future conservation activities.

First the country coverage of georeferenced cowpea accessions was determined. Then, ecogeographical site descriptors (temperature, precipitation, length of growing period, and altitude) were extracted to determine areas with environmental conditions favorable to cowpea. Based on this, regions with similar environmental conditions were identified using GIS techniques.

Distribution of the 10,814 cowpea accessions
Distribution of the 10,814 cowpea accessions

Gaps in cowpea collection
Study results provide an overview of the actual distribution, agroclimatic preferences, and potential distribution of cowpea.

The geographical scope of the study focused on sub-Saharan Africa. Results indicated that cowpea can be found approximately between 15°N and 20°S, and over a large range of climates—temperature as well as precipitation. However, it occurs most likely in subtropical to tropical conditions characterized by warm temperatures (annual average >20°C) and relatively high annual precipitation (>250 mm).

The distribution of the total number of cowpea accessions held in the IITA genebank is very diverse with a certain concentration in West Africa (see map). Nigeria and Niger account for nearly 50% of all accessions. The origins of the remaining 50% are unequally distributed across the continent. Several countries such as Burundi, Equatorial-Guinea, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Namibia, and Rwanda are not represented.

Depending on the country, the total number of accessions collected within Africa ranged between one (Algeria and Angola) and 3,813 (Nigeria). Nigeria ranked first with 35.3% and Niger second with 11.6% (1,249 accessions).

Cameroon, Botswana, and Zambia accounted for 15% of the total number of accessions, each contributing 5%. Tanzania, Malawi, Bénin, Egypt, Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Senegal accounted for 24.4%.

All the methodologies used identified areas where, according to agroecological similarities, the probability is high of finding more cowpea accessions and no collections have been carried out yet, or very few accessions have been collected. They proved to be useful approaches to conserving the genetic diversity of crop species.

Based on the predictive models, the following countries were identified as the priority for the acquisition of new germplasm: Angola, Burundi, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Equatorial-Guinea, Namibia and Rwanda, especially since no collections have yet been made in these countries. In addition, further sampling is recommended in countries with small numbers of georeferenced accessions, such as Botswana, Congo, DRC, Gambia, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Swaziland, and Uganda.

Germplasm acquisition will be done through the duplication of existing national collections at IITA with the support of the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT), and specific collecting missions to capture missing diversity. The GCDT has commissioned IITA to lead the development of a global conservation strategy for the genetic resources of cowpea and its wild relatives with an emphasis on Africa.