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.