What do small-scale farmers, private-sector investors, development partners, and policy-makers have in common?
They all need robust evidence to inform activities and management decisions and ultimately get more bang for their efforts. Understanding the outcomes of changing farm management has been the central question for agricultural research for development for more than 50 years. Still today, however, these data are not used as widely by policy makers, program designers and farmers as it could be. This information is arguably needed now more than ever.
Management practices and technologies are important building blocks of resilient agriculture; regional and national policies, climate-smart services, and investments are built around how farms are managed. Access to robust information on which agricultural management options work where and at what costs can better equip program developers and implementers to facilitate changes in how agriculture is practiced. Being able to understand expected shifts in production, livelihoods or environmental outcomes, farmers can adapt resource management strategies and be better prepared to manage risks.
Actions speak louder than words
Despite extensive talk about data for decisions, unfortunately bringing agricultural research to the table hasn’t been a principle objective of the research community. Though significant agricultural research has explored ways in which practices produce changes in productivity, farmers’ income, livelihoods and the natural environment among others over the past 50+ years, little efforts have been put forth to systematically compile the evidence available and to translate big piles of data into relevant information to relevant users. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses target only limited numbers of crops and management practices, often ignoring the vast numbers of ways farmers management their land and program managers and investors design projects.
Since 2012, scientists at the World Agroforestry (ICRAF) have been working on ways to deliver information needed. The result is the big-data platform, “Evidence for Resilience Agriculture”, also known as ERA. Built around the largest agricultural meta-analysis to date, ERA is designed to support science-based decision-making and the identification of locally adapted but scalable options.
What is ERA?
ERA was born out of the need for robust information on what kind of agricultural technologies work at different locations, and on the effects of shifting from one technology to another on yields, net returns, resource use efficiency, biodiversity, among many other outcomes.