Centring innovation in Cameroonian agriculture

Training upskills 16 local leaders to facilitate multi-actor innovation partnerships
New innovation facilitators and teaching team. Photo by Laureanne Mefan/CIFOR-ICRAF

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To stimulate innovation, it is important—indeed, vital—to ensure interaction between the various stakeholders, including producers, researchers, and outreach agents, sp that they can pool their ideas, opinions, and knowledge in order to solve the problems or meet the challenges they face. 

In that context, the European Union’s Development Smart Innovation through Research in Agriculture (DeSIRA) initiative has adopted a multi-actor innovation partnership approach. It seeks to bring together a wide range of stakeholders to exchange ideas and combine resources, as a means to carry out coordinated activities to advance their innovations.

However, the creation of such a partnership does not happen spontaneously, let alone systematically; facilitation services are very useful in bringing such partnerships to life. “As this is a new profession, it’s very common for people to ask what an innovation facilitator is,” explained Kola Nomande Prosper, a trainer at the DeSIRA-LIFT (Leveraging the DeSIRA Initiative for agri-food systems transformation) facility, during a training for 16 local leaders in Garoua, Cameroon. “An innovation facilitator is a professional who guides and supports those involved in an innovative project. Their main role is to create an environment conducive to the emergence of new ideas, collaboration and problem-solving,” he concluded.

Facilitators are recruited to lead the various multi-stakeholder partnerships that have been adopted and designed as part of the various DeSIRA projects. To carry out their tasks successfully, these facilitators need a certain number of hard and soft skills. These include technical, methodological, partnership or network and interpersonal skills. 

DeSIRA-LIFT trainers Kola Nomande Prosper (left) and Ola Dolinska (centre). Photo by Laureanne Mefan/CIFOR-ICRAF

With this in mind, the DeSIRA-LIFT programme designed a training to enable facilitators to acquire the skills needed to help the various partners and stakeholders in the partnerships to achieve their chosen objectives. The first such training was held in August 2023 in Cotonou, Benin, and the second in Madagascar. 

For the third and Cameroonian cohort, the programme teamed up with the Strengthening Innovation Systems in North Cameroon (ReSI-NoC) and Innovation for Adaptation to Climate Change (INNOVACC) projects to conduct the training. 

The four-day course had three specific objectives for its learners: to learn how to steer a multi-stakeholder innovation process, to organize and facilitate multi-stakeholder innovation partnerships, and to engage stakeholders in a sustainable way. 

Participants during the training session. Photo by Laureanne Mefan/CIFOR-ICRAF

The 16 learners, selected from these and other related projects (such as Green and Resilient Northern Cameroon (CaSeVe) and Farmer-led Research and Innovation (FORI)), came from a wide range of backgrounds, but had a single common objective: to become the innovation facilitator needed to implement their project. 

The training was divided into three modules. The first focused on understanding the agricultural process and the importance of multi-actor partnerships therein. The second was centred on facilitating multi-stakeholder partnerships, through collaborative frameworks and mechanisms such as co-construction workshops. The last dealt with how to involve stakeholders in the innovation process on a long-term basis. The learning methods used included live sessions, individual and group practical work, one-to-one mentoring and individual feedback from the trainers. 

The training had a profound impact on the participants, many of whom expressed their satisfaction with the skills they had acquired. For instance, Berthe Mewo, a junior scientist at ReSI-Noc, said that she had been unfamiliar with several of the project’s key concepts—such as innovation tracking—but she came to understood these deeply through the training process. 

Mvondo Valentin, a researcher at Cameroon’s Institute of Agricultural Research for Development (IRAD) and the manager of one of the INNOVACC project’s demonstration fields in the Bang climate-smart village, similarly admitted that he had previously had no idea about the concept of facilitating innovation.

“I learned a lot about innovation tracking,” he said, “and I got a better idea of how to organize workshops, draw up a discussion diagram, involve stakeholders, and apply the micro-skills needed to be a good facilitator.”

Ola Dolinska, DeSIRA-LIFT co-trainer and facilitator for West and Central Africa, shared her perspective on the broader impacts of the event. “It was really great to see the participants take the elements of what we were proposing and relate them to their activities in the field and the challenges they face in their projects,” she said. “This gives us confidence that the elements they have received will actually be applied.”

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