In the past decades, SEARCA has engaged in action research such as the “social laboratory” and “integrated area development” projects as well as pilot testing of farm technologies. Action research is another capacity building modality that the Center is revisiting under its 10th Five-Year Plan (10th FYP) which focuses on inclusive and sustainable agricultural and rural development (ISARD).
SEARCA's 50 year-experience in ARD provides a fertile ground for harvesting lessons, principles and concepts, and good practices and technologies that characterize an effective agricultural system or ISARD model. The Piloting and Up-scaling Effective Models of ISARD Projectis SEARCA's way of walking the talk. Through theactive engagement of, and collaboration with, rural communities and relevant organizations (i.e., universities and research institutions, local governments, civil society, private sector), this initiative is expected to facilitate increased and better communication among major stakeholders; strengthen their capabilities; and make meaningful difference in the lives of participating farmers and rural communities.
While up-scaling effective models of ISARD, the pilot-testing areas will become "real-time experiential learning laboratories" for ISARD models. In general, the Project aims to a) harvest SEARCA's 50 year-experience on ARD and bring this to bear upon the lives of the rural poor and vulnerable sectors in the region; b) enhance the capacity of communities and partner institutions in effective agricultural systems that demonstrate increased benefit for the poor and vulnerable groups through integrated ground-level intervention; and c) assess the enabling environment, processes and performance in implementing effective agricultural systems.
Specifically, the project will:
Showcase need-based productivity-enhancing and environment-friendly technologies and practices and other critical elements of people-centered development;
Draw lessons and identify best practices that can be replicated and expanded in other areas;
Institutionalize active community and local institutions’ participation to ensure sustainability of ISARD models and projects; and
Identify anticipated outcomes and impact, and use them to formulate adaptive measures/interventions as well as to integrate the design of impact evaluation studies within the Project design.
Participatory approach to project planning and management
The project will employ a participatory bottom-up approach to project planning and management (e.g use of Participatory Rural Appraisal, needs assessment and community planning). Primary and secondary stakeholders will be actively involved in project planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation processes to ensure that adoption rate will be high during the implementation phase, and project sustainability will be achieved upon project completion.
Ecosystems and landscape approach in identification of sites and interventions
The project will deviate from the traditional practice of identifying a project site based on political boundaries and will focus more on the agro-ecological systems of a potential project site.
The project will be delineated and implemented based on agreed and pre-determined ecosystem boundaries using the ridge-to-reef approach or landscape continuum. The landscape ecologies of upland, lowland, coastal and marine ecosystems, including ecotones, will be the deciding factor in delineating system boundaries. Local government units in and around a watershed or micro-watershed ecosystem, lake ecosystem including its tributaries, and the like, will be tapped as partners, but the ecosystem boundary will determine the extent of the project experimentation sites.
Systems Oriented, Interdisciplinary and/or Transdisciplinary Approach to Research and Capacity Building
Current environmental and resource management issues today are of such complexity and scale that they cannot be addressed from within a single discipline and experts and institutions from various disciplines need to come together and collectively develop solutions. Interdisciplinary and innovative approaches are needed to achieve continuous and steady improvements in sustainability outcomes. SEARCA has been engaging in more interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research and development undertakings as it addresses climate change, natural resource management, poverty and food security.
Key Approaches in Designing, Pilot-testing and Up-scaling Effective Models of ISARD/Agricultural Systems
The pilot projects shall be guided by the defining elements of ISARD under SEARCA’s 10th FYP, namely social inclusion and environmental sustainability, specifically with focus on the following strategic thrusts:
Strengthening value chains and agribusiness systems
Linking small-scale farmers—including women, indigenous peoples, and youth—with commercial food systems
Food and nutrition security
Productivity-enhancing innovations and modern technologies
Rural entrepreneurship toward off-farm and non-farm businesses
Climate change adaptation and resiliency, risk mitigation and management, and climate-smart agriculture
Natural resource management
Sub-regional cooperation in trade and investments
Regional economic integration
Government policies, institutions, and governance mechanisms and reforms
Basic Elements of an Effective ISARD Model/Agricultural System
The key element to an effective ISARD model or agricultural system is the introduction and implementation of appropriate and integrated grassroots-level interventions that are site-specific and takes country context into account. It is characterized by the following basic elements:
Presence of committed and strong local institutions and local champions;
With well-defined capacity building plan;
With well-defined sustainability and resiliency plan;
Employs relevant knowledge management strategy; and
Linked to policy development.
General Components of ISARD Model
At the core of the ISARD model is a specific rural community in a well-defined agro-ecosystem or landscape involving the following key stakeholders: civil society/farmer organizations, local government units, partner academe or research institution, and the private sector as appropriate. It has the following components:
Small Grants for Technical Assistance;
Institutional Development and Capacity Building;
Knowledge Management; and
Linkaging and Networking for Support Services.
Through the integration of these components, the ISARD model is expected to strengthen capacities of and empower the target local institutions and individuals towards an inclusive and sustainable agricultural system that contributes to the goals of food security and poverty alleviation.
Figure 1. ISARD Program Implementation Model
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Expected Outputs and Outcomes
The Project is expected to enhance the capacity of communities and partner institutions in effective agricultural systems that demonstrate increased benefit for the poor and vulnerable groups, as well as assess the enabling environment, socio-economic processes and overall performance in implementing effective agricultural systems.
Therefore, the expected results are:
A well-established set of need-based productivity-enhancing and environment-friendly technologies and practices and other critical elements of people-centered development;
A set of recommendations based on lessons drawn and identified best practices that can be used to formulate strategies for replicating and expanding the project in other areas;
Institutionalization of active community and local institutions’ participation, through local legislation, that is meant to ensure sustainability of ISARD models and projects; and
Identified set of outcomes and impact that can be used to formulate adaptive measures and interventions, and integration of the design of impact evaluation studies within the Project design.