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Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sustainable Intensification

Raising crop response: bidirectional learning to catalyze sustainable intensification at multiple scales

Lead Institution: Michigan State University 
Award amount: $996,746 
Focus country: Tanzania 
Principal investigator: Sieg Snapp - snapp@msu.edu

Summary: The project is fully engaged with Africa RISING, CIAT and AGRA efforts in Tanzania and ready to address five "unknowns" that impede broad scaling-up of Sustainable Intensification (SI).

  1. It is currently unclear what constitutes 'best practices' for organic-matter technologies (OMT) such as push-pull, pigeonpea rotations, doubled up legumes and manure over the range of microenvironments, within which smallholder farmers operate. Our work will overcome these knowledge gaps.
  2. The project will measure on-farm nitrogen fixation of OMTs and test threshold levels of soil-organic carbon (SOC) and other aspects of soil quality, below which crops respond poorly to inorganic fertilizer. OMTs have been shown to improve nitrogen fixation, phosphorus availability, SOC and related processes, however performance on-farm is rarely documented and the number of years required to rehabilitate highly degraded soils enabling crops to respond favorably to fertilizer is not understood, nor are the range of factors that influence this.
  3. Knowledge is needed concerning effectiveness of novel approaches to outreach. Bidirectional learning supports an iterative process by which information providers (agrodealers, extension services and NGOs) and farmers fine-tune recommendations on OMTs, seeds and fertilizers. The team will test if this bidirectional learning, linked to mini-packs of inputs, is an effective means to support limited-resource farmers, and particularly women, to adapt and adopt these technologies.
  4. It will be estimated what little is known about the effects of OMT/SI take-up on nutritional outcomes of women and children.
  5. The project will quantify system-wide barriers to OMT/SI and engage with the Tanzanian government to guide the design of policies and programs for supporting and scaling-up SI in maize- and bean-based systems of Tanzania.
The team brings to this project deep engagement and long experience in the region, with a proven record of enhancing local capacity and graduating African students with field knowledge of how to conduct research for development, based on participatory action and bidirectional learning. This is the foundation for farmer-approved SI trajectories and nutrition gains in East Africa, particularly for female farmers and woman-headed households as has been documented in Malawi.